WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney warned on Wednesday that her Republican Party is "at a turning point" as it prepares to try to remove her from leadership for rejecting former President Donald Trump's false claims the election was stolen from him.
The No. 3 House Republican's warning came in an opinion column published in the Washington Post as top members of her party, including Trump and No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise, publicly endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik for Cheney's job as chair of the party's conference. A vote could come as early as next Wednesday.
"Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this," Cheney said in the column.
"The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution," Cheney said.
Trump flexed his muscles anew this week, releasing seven public statements in three days reiterating his false claims that President Joe Biden's 7 million vote margin of victory was the result of fraud, and attacking Republicans including Cheney and Sen. Mitt Romney who rejected him.
Multiple courts, as well as state and federal election officials, rejected Trump's false claims of widespread fraud. But Republican-controlled state legislatures are using Trump's claims to justify legislation imposing new restrictions on voting.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger earlier on Wednesday praised Cheney for standing by her criticism of Trump for his fiery Jan. 6 speech, in which he urged his followers to "fight" his election defeat immediately before hundreds of them launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"They are trying to remove Liz for telling you the truth, consistently," said Kinzinger, who like Cheney voted to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting the Capitol riot.
The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page also urged Republicans not to oust her.
"Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party," it said in a Wednesday opinion piece.
Democratic President Joe Biden said a "mini-revolution" over identity appeared to be underway in the Republican Party.
"Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point," he told reporters at the White House.
Stefanik moves in
Stefanik, a 36-year-old New York state Republican whose status in the party rose after she aggressively defended Trump during congressional hearings ahead of his 2019 impeachment, also has Trump's support.
Trump spoke with Stefanik by phone on Wednesday, said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and President Biden's radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair," Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine said in a statement.
Cheney's office did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
During Trump's presidency, Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress. They are now looking to oust narrow Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate in 2022's midterm elections.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday told an interviewer that Cheney's repeated criticism of Trump's falsehoods about the 2020 election were distracting Republican messaging against Biden, who won the November election and became president on Jan. 20.
Cheney, 54, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, held off an initial challenge to her leadership position earlier this year after joining Kinzinger and eight other House Republicans in impeaching Trump.
Stefanik lobbied other members by phone about Cheney's job on Tuesday, according to the person familiar with the situation. The source said Stefanik told colleagues she would run for election to the position if Cheney stepped down, adding that lawmakers on both sides of the caucus have been receptive.
"Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair," Trump, who is weighing another run for president in 2024, said in a statement on Wednesday.
House Republican aides have said they believe Cheney is unlikely to resign.
Facebook's oversight board on Wednesday decided to uphold the company's suspension of Trump, a move that followed the Capitol riot by his supporters that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Cheney, Wyoming's only House member, won re-election with 69% of the vote in November. But multiple Republican hopefuls, including two state legislators, have said they plan to launch primary challenges against her next year.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)
© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021