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Liz Cheney on being a Republican while opposing Donald Trump

Liz Cheney: The 60 Minutes Interview
Liz Cheney: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:43

This past week, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol shifted into a higher gear. 

On Thursday, it subpoenaed four of former President Donald Trump's top advisers, including his chief of staff, for documents and depositions about the former presidents' actions on the day of the siege and days leading up to it.

At the center of the select committee's probe is Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney. Like a lone ranger riding out of the West, she is one of the few Republicans willing to, daring to, stand up to Mr. Trump and House Republican leaders who opposed her joining the committee.

When we spoke to Congresswoman Cheney at the Capitol on Wednesday, we asked about a call she got from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Liz Cheney: She called me. And asked me to be a member of the committee. And I accepted and--

Lesley Stahl: Right away?

Liz Cheney: Right away.

Lesley Stahl: No hesitation?

Liz Cheney: None, because it's so important. And-- and because I also know that-- that my participation in the committee makes that committee bipartisan. No one will question, you know, my conservative credentials.

Lesley Stahl: But most Republicans in the House see what you're doing as a betrayal. They look at Nancy Pelosi-- even you have said-- you said this, I've got a quote here. You said, "The Democrats under Nancy Pelosi's leadership have become the party of antisemitism, infanticide, and socialism." Direct quote from you. And yet, here you are. It's considered Nancy Pelosi's committee.

Liz Cheney: I think that millions of people around the country have been betrayed and misled, and deceived by Donald Trump. He has said that the election was stolen. He continues to say that. He continues to say things that aren't true, and continues to raise money off of those claims. And so to me, there's just not a question.

Liz Cheney with correspondent Lesley Stahl

She's one of only two Republicans on the 9-member committee and a prominent face of it, since she was elevated to vice chair. 

Liz Cheney at July 27 Committee Hearing:
We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House...

Lesley Stahl: Republicans in Congress feel that by joining this January 6 panel, you are helping to keep the focus on Trump instead of on the shortcomings of the Biden administration.

Liz Cheney: Those who think that by ignoring Trump, he will go away, have been proven wrong. And in my view, the American people, they deserve better than having to choose between what I think are the really disastrous policies of Joe Biden-- in a whole range of areas, really bad for our economy. From a national security perspective, what's happened, what he's done in Afghanistan: very dangerous policies for the country. But the alternative cannot be a man who doesn't believe in the rule of law, and who violated his oath of office.

Her unabashed defiance of Donald Trump has him fighting back. 

Donald Trump at rally: The Liz Cheneys of the world, we've got to get rid of them.

He singled her out at his rally on January 6 and later said she's a "warmongering fool" and a "horrible human being." He's made defeating her next year in her re-election in Wyoming one of his top priorities. She's risking her political career.

Lesley Stahl: Most Republicans we've spoken to feel that you miscalculated, that you didn't figure out ahead of time that it was going to be this intense, this hot, this perpetual.

Liz Cheney: You know, it wasn't a calculation.

Lesley Stahl: You didn't weigh and measure?

Liz Cheney: No.

Lesley Stahl: There wasn't a yellow pad with the pros and the cons and--?

Liz Cheney: No. It was: This is what-- what he has done. 

Trump supporters on January 6: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

Liz Cheney: I watched while the attack was underway-- understood very clearly what he did on January 6, what he failed to do on January 6. Instead of stopping the attack while it was underway, he was busy calling up senators trying to get them to delay the count. So, there was no calculation. 

Liz Cheney: I think he's very dangerous.

Liz Cheney says she is not ready to cede the GOP to “extremism” 03:22

Here in Wyoming, Liz Cheney, at 55, is having to fight like hell to win her fourth term as Mr. Trump endorsed one of her opponents, Harriet Hageman, a long-time Cheney supporter and family friend. 

Lesley Stahl: The Republican Party here has disowned you. They've called for your resignation. We've been told your approval rating here is down around 30%. Can you win this seat?

Liz Cheney: Absolutely. I think it's going to be the most important House race in the country in 2022. And—and it will be one where people do have the opportunity to say, "We want to stand for the Constitution."

Lesley Stahl: Do you think a vote against you is a vote against the Constitution?

Liz Cheney: A vote against me in this race, a vote for whomever Donald Trump has endorsed is a vote for somebody who's willing to perpetuate the big lie, somebody who's willing to put allegiance to Trump above allegiance to the Constitution, absolutely.

Being in trouble in Wyoming is almost unfathomable for a Cheney.

Despite criticism of her father Dick Cheney's tenure as vice president - when he pressed the case for the broadly-discredited war in Iraq and harsh interrogation techniques - he's been long-admired here, having been Wyoming's congressman for ten years.

Lesley Stahl: Did you go to your father and ask for his advice on this? And did he encourage you to wage this rebellion?

Liz Cheney: Well, I talk to my dad probably just about every single day. And he sees things the way that I see them. 


She was exposed to the highest levels of power in Washington when her father was President Ford's chief of staff.

But she says her roots are in Wyoming, where the cowboy ethic of the maverick loner runs deep.

She's been called steely and "as emotional as algebra." But she softens up when she talks about her family.

Liz Cheney: I miss these years when they were little babies.

Most people don't know that she's been married for 29 years and is the mother of five children, ranging in age from 15 to 27. As they grew up, she became a "rodeo mom." 

Lesley Stahl: One is a rodeo barrel racer.

Liz Cheney: Gracie is, that's right. She gave me the phrase, "cowgirl up," which is, you know, if things are- things are rough, you gotta 'cowgirl up,' and—and keep going. 

She's having to "cowgirl up" a lot in Washington. In May, her fellow Republicans stripped her of her leadership position in the House and she began denouncing Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in scathing and personal terms.

Rep. Cheney: “Isolationism is very dangerous” 02:11

Liz Cheney: What he's done is embrace Donald Trump. And if I were doing what he's doing, I would be deeply ashamed of myself. I don't know how you explain that to your children. When you are in a situation where you have somebody who did what Donald Trump did, it is absolutely clear he cannot continue to be somebody you embrace. 

Lesley Stahl: But are you saying you can't support anybody who supports him?

Liz Cheney: I'm saying that there are people who supported Donald Trump because of his policies. But there's a difference between somebody who voted for Donald Trump and being the Republican leader after an insurrection, and setting all of that aside and going to Mar-a-Lago, and rehabilitating him, bringing him back in. That to me is unforgivable.

Once she began assailing Donald Trump and Republicans who support him, a record amount of money has poured into her campaign, some of it we're told, from Democrats.

Lesley Stahl: You have become in a way a hero to the liberals, which is kind of funny because as you say yourself, you're one of the most conservative members of the House. You're anti-abortion.

Liz Cheney: I'm-- yeah, I'm pro-life, yes. 

Lesley Stahl: You're pro-life.

Liz Cheney: Yes. 

Lesley Stahl: You're pro-gun rights. And you voted to repeal Obamacare. Do you regret that vote?

Liz Cheney: I do not. No. 

Lesley Stahl: Waterboarding, aka torture.

Liz Cheney: Well, it's not torture.

Lesley Stahl: But you support waterboarding.

Liz Cheney: I do. Absolutely. 

And then there's her long-held opposition to same-sex marriage, which prompted a bitter falling out with her sister, Mary.

Lesley Stahl: Your sister's gay. She's married. She has children. And in 2013 you came out against same-sex marriage while your father went the other way. And it was looked upon as courageous when he did that. How do you defend what you did?

Liz Cheney: I was wrong. I was wrong. I love my sister very much. I-- love-- her family very much. And-- and-- and I was wrong. It's a very personal issue-- and very personal for my family. I-- believe that my dad was right. And my sister and I have had that conversation. 

Lesley Stahl: Wow, I was not expecting that. 

Liz Cheney: This-- this is an issue that we have to recognize you know, as, as human beings that we need to work against discrimination of all kinds in our country, in our state. We were at, at an event a few nights ago and, and there was a young woman who said, she doesn't feel safe sometimes because she's transgender. And nobody should feel unsafe. Freedom means freedom for everybody.

Liz Cheney now supports same-sex marriage 02:01

Her change of heart is a rare break for her from traditional party orthodoxy.  

Once Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president in 2016, she supported him.

Lesley Stahl: You stuck with him through the 

Hollywood Access tape, through his insults on John McCain, through his bullying tweets. 

Liz Cheney: I supported Donald Trump's policies. I voted with him something like 93% of the time because his policies were, were the right ones in many ways. When I disagreed with him, I spoke out. But on the issues that mattered--

Lesley Stahl: But not on-- not on character.

Liz Cheney: On the issues that mattered for Wyoming, I stood with him. You know, you can say you disagree with him, you think that his character was bad, which it was-- all of those things. But the line that can't be crossed is what happened after the election.

It's not that Liz Cheney doesn't have any Republican support. Former President George W. Bush is holding a fundraiser for her. And Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have sent in donations from their political action committees. But most Republicans in office have shied away. 

Lesley Stahl: Have members of Congress, Republicans, come up to you privately and whispered in your ear, "Way to go Liz," and encouraged you, but won't come forward and say that publicly?

Liz Cheney: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: A lot?

Liz Cheney: Yes. Both in the House and the Senate.

Lesley Stahl: I mean, if they really think what you're doing is right, and they admire it and they encourage it, and they won't do it, what is that? 

Liz Cheney: The argument that, that you often hear is that if you do something that is perceived as against Trump that, you know, you'll put yourself in political peril. And that's a self-fulfilling prophesy because if Republican leaders don't stand up and condemn what happened then, the voices in the party that are so dangerous will only get louder and stronger.

Lesley Stahl: Polls say that 78% of Republicans do not think that Joe Biden was legitimately elected. And I wonder how do you fight an untruth? How do you stand up to the anti-vaxxers? How do you stand up to QAnon? How do you stand up to a president who says the election--falsely--that the election was rigged?

Liz Cheney: When you look at the, the spread of these mistruths and the spread of the disinformation, you know, silence enables it. Silence enables the liar. And silence helps it to spread. So the first thing you have to do is say, "No. I'm not going to accept that we're gonna live in a post-truth world. It's a toxin, Lesley, in, in our-- in our political bloodstream. Because when we allow that to continue to go on in the face of rulings of the courts, in the face of recounts, in the face of everything that's gone on to demonstrate that there was not fraud that would have changed the outcome, then we all-- if we do that, we are contributing to the undermining of our system. And it's a really serious and dangerous moment because of that.

Produced by Richard Bonin. Associate producer, Mirella Brussani. Broadcast associate, Wren Woodson. Edited by Sean Kelly.

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