McCarthy says GOP members are concerned Cheney can't "carry out the message"
Washington — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed frustration with House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney on Tuesday, saying he has heard from some GOP representatives who are concerned Cheney can't "carry out the message" ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
McCarthy's comments are a sign of the escalating tension between the two, as Cheney has continued to criticize former President Trump and his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol while McCarthy has sought to downplay the event.
A vote to replace Cheney could happen as early as next week. A spokesperson for Cheney told CBS News "this is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies."
Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection in January. She fended off an effort by some conservatives to oust her from her leadership position in early February, with support from McCarthy. But McCarthy said in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday that more Republican members were losing confidence in Cheney's ability to lead.
"There's no concern about how she voted on impeachment. That decision has been made," McCarthy said. "I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message."
Cheney has repeatedly pushed back against Mr. Trump's false claim that the election was stolen. Cheney said Monday that Republicans could not accept the "poison" of this claim or "whitewash" the January 6 attack by Mr. Trump's supporters, CNN reported.
"We can't embrace the notion the election is stolen. It's a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy," Cheney said in remarks at a conference in Georgia. "We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."
McCarthy was critical of Mr. Trump in the immediate aftermath of the attack on January 6, saying on January 13 that the former president bore "responsibility" for the incident and arguing in favor of censuring him. But McCarthy has since backtracked his comments and sought to tie himself closer to Mr. Trump. Republicans have the chance to retake the House in 2022, with McCarthy in line to become speaker. As Mr. Trump is still very popular among GOP voters, some congressional Republicans have continued to defend the president and his falsehoods about the election to ensure their support.
"We all need to be working as one if we're able to win the majority. Remember, majorities are not given, they are earned. And that's about the message about going forward," McCarthy said on Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson for Cheney responded to McCarthy's comments in the "Fox & Friends" interview, saying that Cheney would not promote falsehoods about the election or downplay the attack on the Capitol.
"This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue," spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in a statement to CBS News.
GOP Senator Mitt Romney tweeted his support for Cheney on Tuesday, making him one of the few prominent Republicans willing to defend her publicly.
"Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie. As one of my Republican Senate colleagues said to me following my impeachment vote: 'I wouldn't want to be a member of a group that punished someone for following their conscience,'" Romney, who was one of seven Republicans to vote to convict Mr. Trump in the Senate, wrote.
Cheney has broken with McCarthy several times in recent months over Mr. Trump's role in the future of the Republican Party. She has disagreed with him about the scope of a commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol, arguing that it should be tightly focused on the events of January 6 instead of also looking at demonstrations over the summer protesting police brutality. Cheney also said at the House Republican policy conference last week that McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are the leaders of the party, not Mr. Trump.
President Biden, asked about the Cheney saga on Wednesday, said he hardly knows Republicans anymore.
"It seems as though the Republican Party is trying to identify what it stands for and they're in the midst of a significant sort of mini revolution," the president said at the White House. "...We need a two-party system. It's not healthy to have a one-party system."
Nikole Killion contributed to this report.
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