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Cheney says "I will not sit back" in speech on eve of vote to remove her from leadership post

Cheney speaks on eve of vote
Cheney speaks on eve of vote 06:43

Washington — Congresswoman Liz Cheney, on the eve of a vote among Republicans to remove her from her leadership post, vowed on the House floor on Tuesday night that she would not remain silent as a faction of the GOP continues to side with former President Trump.

"This is not about policy, this is not about partisanship, this is about our duty as Americans," Cheney said. "Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy." 

A source familiar with the GOP's plans confirms that, should Cheney be removed, there will be a candidate forum for potential replacements for the conference chair position on Thursday with an election on Friday. At present, the only candidate to replace Cheney is Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who has the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. 

But in a sign of the simmering tension among House Republicans over the future of the party, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus cautioned against electing Stefanik to replace Cheney as GOP conference chair. 

In a memo to fellow House Republicans, Congressman Chip Roy of Texas said that the party was "falling prey to the high drama of swamp politics" with the high-profile fight to oust Cheney. The Wyoming congresswoman has drawn the ire of Republicans for her repeated criticism of former President Donald Trump, as well as her insistence that GOP members should not downplay the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by a mob of Trump supporters. Cheney survived an effort to oust her after she voted to impeach Mr. Trump in January.

"This is actually why Liz Cheney will lose her job as Chair this week: she forfeited her ability to be our spokesperson by pulling us into distraction," Roy argued in his memo, which was first reported by Politico. "From a position specifically designed to speak for all of us, she has been looking backwards while repeatedly and unhelpfully engaging in personal attacks and finger-wagging towards President Trump rather than leading the conference forward with a unifying message both on elections and more broadly."

Roy, who initially backed Cheney during her first leadership challenge, said that he believed Republicans needed a conference chair who reflected conservative values. He criticized Stefanik's voting record, such as her vote against Mr. Trump's $1.9 trillion tax measure and her previous support for ending Mr. Trump's emergency declaration to fund a wall on the southern border. Stefanik also voted for the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ Americans, in 2020, but not in 2021.

"We must avoid putting in charge Republicans who campaign as Republicans but then vote for and advance the Democrats' agenda once sworn in," Roy said. "Therefore, with all due respect to my friend, Elise Stefanik, let us contemplate the message Republican leadership is about to send by rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats."

Although Stefanik has occasionally sided with Democrats, she has become a staunch ally of the former president in recent years, and voted to overturn Electoral College results in several states. Mr. Trump has endorsed her to replace Cheney, as has Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But Roy argued that "we should either choose someone who reflects our conservative values, or perhaps leave the position vacant."

"The future of our republic is at stake, and the message 'better than radical Democrats' will neither guarantee victory in 2022 nor win the minds and hearts of Americans to rally them to the cause of securing the blessings of liberty," Roy said.

Roy is the first conservative House Republican to publicly come out against Stefanik, although others have reportedly privately complained about her voting record. But it's unclear whether the opposition of Roy and perhaps other Freedom Caucus members will be enough to halt Stefanik's momentum.

"We have a great deal of support from the Freedom Caucus and others," Stefanik told reporters on Tuesday.

Rebecca Kaplan and Caroline Linton contributed to this report.

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