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House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy backs Liz Cheney's primary challenger Harriet Hageman

Censure for Republicans investigating January 6
Republican National Committee censures members investigating January 6 attack on the Capitol 09:55

House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has endorsed Congresswoman Liz Cheney's primary challenger in Wyoming, trial attorney Harriet Hageman.

In a statement confirming the endorsement, first shared with The Federalist,  McCarthy praised Hageman's ties to Wyoming.

"The most successful Representatives in Congress focus on the needs of their constituents, and throughout her career, Harriet has championed America's natural resources and helped the people of Wyoming reject burdensome and onerous government overreach," McCarthy wrote.

"I look forward to welcoming Harriet to a Republican majority next Congress, where together, we will hold the Biden Administration accountable and deliver much-needed solutions for the American people," he added.

Hageman said in a statement that she's "grateful" to have McCarthy's support.

House Republican Leaders Hold Press Conference At The Capitol
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) whispers to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) during a House Republican Leadership news conference in the U.S. Capitol on February 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. Al Drago / Getty Images

"I pledge that when I am Wyoming's congresswoman, I will always stand up for our beautiful state and do the job I was sent there to do," she added. "[Liz] Cheney is doing nothing to help us, she is actively damaging the Republican Party – both in Wyoming and nationally – and it's time for her to go."

"Wow, she must be really desperate," Cheney campaign spokesperson Jeremy Adler said, in response to news of McCarthy's endorsement. 

McCarthy's backing of Hageman follows months of public disputes involving Cheney and the Republican Party, stemming from her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

Cheney had previously served on McCarthy's leadership team as the House GOP's conference chair, before she was voted out in May 2021.

The woman who replaced Cheney on the House GOP leadership team, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, announced she was endorsing Hageman, too. In a statement, she said Cheney had "abandoned her constituents to be a Far-Left Pelosi puppet" and suggested the Wyoming congresswoman was out of step with her state, which had overwhelmingly voted for Trump.

The Republican National Committee censured Cheney and Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger earlier this month because of their roles on the House committee investigating the January 6 attack. 

Cheney denounced McCarthy's support of Trump in an interview with "60 Minutes" in September.

"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," she said. "That, to me, is unforgivable."

Hageman has also been endorsed by Trump. She has lagged Cheney in fundraising and raised about $746,000 compared to Cheney's $7.2 million in all of 2021. But Hageman reportedly brought in more contributions from donors in Wyoming, per the WyoFile

The RNC's censure said that it would no longer provide resources to Cheney. Separately, Wyoming's RNC members signed a letter to allow the RNC to get involved in Cheney's primary challenge and provide support for her opponent. 

"It's an internal rule that's available to us and we just chose to use it," Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne told CBS News earlier this month

The national party is only supposed to provide resources to candidates who have secured the nomination or are running unopposed in a primary. 

When asked about McCarthy's decision, Republican Florida Senator Rick Scott, who chairs the Senate Republicans campaign arm, told CBS News "That's a choice for the House. I'm not getting involved in primaries."

Meanwhile, there's a push from Wyoming lawmakers to change the laws around voter registration in the state. The bill, SF0097, would end the ability for voters to change their party registration on primary day. If passed, this could make it more difficult for independents and Democrats who might want to vote for Cheney in the primary to do so.

Instead, voters would need to change their party affiliation about three months before a primary. Voters have to be affiliated with a party in order to participate in that party's primary. Currently, Wyoming voters have the ability to change their registration on primary day. 

In a statement Thursday, Trump endorsed the bill, saying, "It makes total sense that only Democrats vote in the Democrat primary and only Republicans vote in the Republican primary."

State Senator Bo Biteman, who introduced the bill, said on the Senate Floor that "it's important that people feel confident their vote isn't going to get canceled out."

There is some concern among Republicans that Democrats would change their affiliation to back Cheney in her primary —there are no Democrats running for Cheney's seat.

After Governor Mark Gordon won his primary in 2018, some Republicans accused Democrats of swaying the vote, but an analysis of registration changes found that there weren't enough Democrats changing parties to sway the results. 

Wyoming's primary is August 16. 

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