Washington — With the internal battle in the House Republican conference over the future of the party poised to reach its culmination in the coming days with a vote to oust Congresswoman Liz Cheney from GOP leadership, Congressman Adam Kinzinger said his Republican colleagues need to stop "peddling in conspiracies" and admit President Biden fairly won the 2020 presidential election.
"Tell people the truth and quit peddling in conspiracies, because that's what we've seen in this party," Kinzinger, of Illinois, said of his fellow Republicans in the House who have maintained loyalty to former President Donald Trump. "They're going to get rid of Liz Cheney because they'd much rather pretend that the conspiracy is either real or not confront it than to actually confront it and maybe have to take the temporary licks to save this party and the long-term of this country."
Cheney, the Republican Conference chair, survived an attempt in February to oust her from her post, but tensions have risen with House GOP leaders as she remained steadfast in her opposition to Mr. Trump continuing to lead the GOP due to his role in the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Cheney was among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president for incitement of insurrection, and she has repeatedly criticized Mr. Trump for continuing to claim the presidential election was stolen, while urging her GOP colleagues not to accept his falsehoods.
The GOP's intraparty fight is poised to reach a tipping point this week, when House Republicans will again vote to strip Cheney of her position as the chamber's third-ranking Republican. This time, Cheney has lost the backing of Republican leaders, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday threw his support behind Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, who is campaigning to replace Cheney as conference chair.
Kinzinger, an ally of Cheney's, said the Wyoming Republican has simply been saying what McCarthy himself argued in the immediate wake of the insurrection — that Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the attack — and has been doing so consistently while McCarthy backed off his criticisms.
"What the reality is as a party, we have to have an internal look and a full accounting as to what led to January 6," the Illinois Republican said. "Right now, it's basically the Titanic. We're like in the middle of this slow sink. We have a band playing on the deck, telling everybody it's fine, and meanwhile as I've said, Donald Trump is running around trying to find women's clothing to get on the first lifeboat. I think there's a few of us saying, 'Guys, this is not good, not just for the future of the party, but this is not good for the future of this country.'"
Kinzinger said the message from Republicans who want to replace Cheney is to put the January 6 insurrection in the past, as if the riot occurred 10 years ago rather than four months.
"We have so many people including our leadership in the party that have not admitted that this is what it is, which was an insurrection led by the president of the United States, well-deserving of a full accounting from Republicans," he said.
Mr. Trump has continued to claim the presidential election was stolen, though all 50 states certified their election results and Mr. Biden's victory was formalized when all 538 presidential electors voted in the Electoral College in December. Congress, too, reaffirmed the president's win over Mr. Trump when it gathered January 6 to tally the electoral votes, though the constitutionally mandated meeting was disrupted by the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol.
Still, a CBS News poll conducted last month found 70% of Republicans do not consider Mr. Biden to be the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.
Kinzinger, however, said those GOP voters believe the election was stolen because Mr. Trump has continued to claim that it was.
"This is why you have this real battle right now in the party, this idea of let's just put our differences aside and be unified. You cannot unify truth with lies," he said. "The lie is that the election was stolen. The truth is Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. And I'm sorry that 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. They weren't disenfranchised. They were simply outnumbered, and as a party let's focus on now, how do we go out and win more people."
Kinzinger said Mr. Trump had no future in the Republican Party after January 6, but blamed McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise for restoring him as the GOP's leader because they believe he can help Republicans win back the majority of the House in 2022.
"Make no mistake, he was done. He was sulking away to Mar-a-Lago, didn't even go to the inauguration," he said. "And two weeks later, when you look at the financial side of it and you look at the fact there's an election in two years and we want the majority, Kevin McCarthy went and so did Steve Scalise, and they put the paddles on Donald Trump and resurrected him in the party. And everybody after that became scared to death of who Donald Trump was again. And that's what empowered him. And everybody went quiet."
The Illinois congressman said every Republican, from those in Congress down to state legislatures, has to decide whether they want to perpetuate Mr. Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
"To everybody that grew up in Sunday school like me, that thinks somehow accepting a lie is OK because maybe we can win the bigger battles, I got to tell you, you know, the Christ I follow, the Jesus I know, never says anything about it's OK to lie to the people as long as the end state is the same," Kinzinger said. "Truth matters. And that's what this party has to come to grips with no matter the cost."