House Republicans, divided and angry, meet to decide fate of Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene
WASHINGTON – When House Republicans meet Wednesday, they’ll be a odds over what to do about Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene, controversial figures representing the two wings of an increasingly fractured party.
But the closed-door gathering also could reveal a lot more about the direction of a party openly warring with itself while charting a future without Donald Trump in the White House but very much on GOP voters’ minds.
Denver Riggleman, a former Virginia GOP congressman who lost reelection last year to a more conservative Republican, told USA TODAY Tuesday he fears the party will have a hard time shaking off Trump.
So he expects that Cheney who voted to impeach Trump could be in trouble despite her deeply conservative credentials, while Greene will get off with no more than a rap on the knuckles because of her allegiance to the president and his claims the Nov. 3 election was stolen.
“This is all about being reelected,” said Riggleman, a former Air Force officer and National Security Agency contractor who writes about extreme belief systems in his new book “Bigfoot … It’s complicated.” “So it all goes back to polling. And that polling is suggesting that ‘Stop the Steal’ messaging is going to be effective in a lot of these Republican districts in 2022.”
Cheney, the GOP Conference chair from Wyoming and the third most powerful House Republican, faces scorching backlash from Trump loyalists. They argue she should no longer be part of leadership given her vote to impeach the then-president following the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump supporters trying to overturn the Nov. 3 election President Joe Biden won.
“We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party, and I intend to win it,” Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fierce Trump loyalist said during a fiery speech in Cheney’s home state last week. “You can help me break a corrupt system. You can send a representative who actually represents you, and you can send Liz Cheney home – back home to Washington, D.C.”
Greene, a freshman from Georgia and a strong backer of Trump, has drawn furor from establishment Republicans. Not only do they dismiss her continued claims the election was stolen from Trump but they question her fitness after recently unearthed social media posts from her past show her “liking” calls for violence against prominent Democrats, describing school shootings as staged events, and outlining conspiracies such as space lasers causing deadly wildfires in California.
“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a statement Monday while defending Cheney. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.”
So which wing will prevail?
House Republicans were mostly tight-lipped Tuesday evening when asked about what might happen at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I’m sure they’ll be a nice family discussion,” Ohio Rep, Jim Jordan said.
Riggleman said Gaetz’s decision to take on a party leader in her home state and GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy’s trip last week to visit Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate both say a lot about the party’s direction. And it’s not to the benefit of establishment types like Cheney.
“There’s so much consternation because crazy is helping with fundraising … and disinformation has become cemented into the base,” the former congressman said. Greene “is becoming the voice of the conspiracy resistance which gives her a leg up on fundraising and that’s what’s really difficult for the conference.”
Some in Congress are defending her, saying she should be given a chance to explain her views.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who told reporters Tuesday he had “a very pleasant experience” during a ride with Greene to Georgia recently, said she deserves a chance to respond.
“Are these postings accurate? I want to hear from her,” he said. “Before I judge what to do about her, I want to know what the facts are. If these are not accurate postings (or) they’ve been manipulated, I’d like to know that. If they are accurate, do you still hold those beliefs? So I’m going to wait for her to come forward and tell us exactly what’s real and what’s not and what she believes.”
But Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney has already made up his mind.
“I think we should make it very clear that she does not represent us on any way,” he said Tuesday. “Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks.”
The Senate appears poised to acquit Trump later this month when it holds an impeachment trial on a charge that he incited the riot. His allies stepped up attacks against Republican House members who backed impeachment – including Cheney – who could face Trump-backed challengers in GOP primaries next year.
Trump’s approval ratings initially fell to record lows after last month’s riot at the Capitol. But more recent surveys show him regaining support among Republicans. A Morning Consult/Politico poll this week said 50% of Republican voters say he should play a “major role” in the future of the party.
McCarthy, himself, seems emblematic of the whipsawing opinions within the Republican caucus.
A week after the assault, he said Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence at the Capitol. Two weeks later, McCarthy retreated from the criticism, saying “I don’t believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally” before the attack.
After his meeting with Trump last week, McCarthy’s office released an upbeat statement that Trump is “committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022.”
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who joined Cheney as one of the 10 Republican House members in voting to impeach Trump, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday that the GOP has “lost” its way.
“It’s time we just tell the truth and the truth is we have totally lost our way,” he said. “But we have a great rich history to tap into and you know what, honestly, if it costs us an election to save our soul I’m fine with that.”
Contributing: Sarah Elbeshbishi, David Jackson