Watch CBS News

McCarthy sets vote to remove Cheney from House Republican leadership

Moderates defend Cheney as some in GOP seek ouster
Moderates defend Cheney as GOP looks to purge Trump critics 02:06

Washington — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told House Republicans on Monday that there would be a vote to recall Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney as chairwoman of the GOP conference on Wednesday, saying it's "clear" there needs to be a change in the ranks of House Republican leadership.

"If we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country, these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team," he said in a letter to House Republicans obtained by CBS News. "Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it's clear that we need to make a change."

McCarthy's relationship with Cheney has noticeably chilled since he supported her during a previous failed effort by some House Republicans to oust her from her post as conference chair in February after she voted to impeach former President Trump on a charge of inciting the January 6 attacks on the Capitol. 

On Sunday, McCarthy publicly backed Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, who is vying to be Cheney's replacement, to join House GOP leadership. Mr. Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise have already endorsed Stefanik for the position.

Cheney, though, has continued to defend her stance and try to steer the party away from Mr. Trump, even as McCarthy stopped making public appearances with her after she said she didn't believe the former president should be playing a role in the GOP. The Wyoming Republican faced renewed calls for her removal from the post of conference chair — the position in the House GOP leadership responsible for messaging — after she said at a party retreat last month that she viewed McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, not Mr. Trump, as the national heads of the Republican party.  

In his letter to colleagues, McCarthy said he wants the party to focus on regaining control of the House in the 2022 midterms, and told them that "each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future."  

"This is no time to take our eye off the ball," he wrote. 

McCarthy went on to describe the GOP as a "big tent party" that embraces "free thought and debate," but added "our leadership team cannot afford to be distracted from the important work we were elected to do and the shared goals we hope to achieve. The stakes are too high to come up short." 

Though there is no formal effort to count the votes ahead of Wednesday's meeting, multiple Republican aides told CBS News that Cheney is certain to be ousted from her role.  

"The conference frustrations with Cheney have been bubbling for weeks, and with both McCarthy and Scalise coming out against her now, there's virtually no chance she survives the vote on Wednesday," one GOP leadership aide told CBS News. 

A source familiar with Cheney's position said the Wyoming congresswoman is "definitely not stepping aside" from her position, so her colleagues will have to vote on whether to remove her from her position. The vote is likely to be conducted by secret ballot or voice vote due to internal party rules. 

A GOP aide also told CBS News that a vote to elect Stefanik, the sole contender to replace Cheney in the position, will likely take place later this week or next to allow members time to ask her questions in a candidate forum. The aide said Stefanik has indicated to fellow Republicans she will only serve in the position until 2022.  

Cheney, who was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection, has consistently urged her Republican colleagues to distance themselves from the former president due to his role in the January 6 assault on the Capitol and false claims the 2020 election was stolen.

But her calls for the GOP to move away from Mr. Trump has irked McCarthy and Scalise, who have both visited the former president at his South Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, and believe he will be crucial to helping Republicans win back the House majority.

Some Senate Republicans have remained mum on the internal battle raging within the House Republican conference, but Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted to convict Mr. Trump in his impeachment trial in January and has faced backlash from the Utah GOP, has come to Cheney's defense. 

"Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won't gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few," he tweeted Monday.

GOP Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa also expressed support for Cheney, telling reporters Monday that Republicans should be focused on winning seats in the midterm elections.

"I feel it's okay to go ahead and express what you feel is right to express and, you know, cancel culture is cancel culture, no matter how you look at it," she said. "And unfortunately I think there are those that are trying to silence others in the party."

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, has also remained a vocal ally of Cheney's. In an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday, he said Republicans are trying to oust Cheney because they are afraid of Mr. 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," he said of Mr. Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Jack Turman contributed to this report

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.