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WASHINGTON - In an extraordinary move, U.S. House Republicans removed one of their most prominent members, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, as a leader in the party.
The move to depose her as House Republican Conference Chair, the third-ranking GOP position in the House, came in a closed-door caucus vote. The votes of the 22 Texas Republicans were not immediately clear. Most members have stayed silent on the issue.
Leadership shake ups in the middle of a Congressional term are highly rare. But this decision to remove Cheney was more than a mere changing of the guard.
Her removal marked, perhaps, the final consolidation of support for former President Donald Trump within the Republican Party, even as Trump left office nearly four months ago. At issue was Cheney's continued criticism toward Trump for his repeated lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and for inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Cheney, who will remain in the House as a rank-and-file member, went down swinging as an unrepentant Trump critic.
"Today we face a threat America has never seen before," she said on Tuesday night from the House floor. "A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him."
"He risks inciting further violence," she added. "Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words but not the truth. As he continues to undermine our democratic process sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all."
The ouster came via a voice vote within the conference. No one objected, including Cheney, to the move to push her out. Because there was no recorded vote, there was no tally to gauge how much support she did or did not have among her colleagues.
At least one Texas Republican was at the forefront of her ouster. U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell forecast her removal last week, predicting she would be out of the position by the end of the month.
"It’s official- Liz Cheney has been fired from House Leadership and I was proud to vote against her," he tweeted amid a GOP House Republican meeting Wednesday morning.
Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, echoed the sentiment.
"Today I voted to remove Liz Cheney as our Conference Chair. Our freedoms are under ATTACK by the radicals in the Democratic Party," he tweeted. "To save our country, we need leadership that's 100% focused on WINNING. We will TAKE BACK THE HOUSE in 2022. I'm sure of it! #MAGA."
Leading up to the vote, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, announced in a memo to Republicans that he would vote to remove Cheney as GOP conference chair because "she forfeited her ability to be our spokesperson by pulling us into distraction."
In the letter, Roy depicted Cheney's defiance of the former president as "personal attacks" and "finger-wagging."
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said in a statement that he respected the decision of the Republican conference.
"As we start this new chapter, Republicans must remain focused on getting good work done on behalf of hard-working Americans; work that will protect conservative values and uphold the Constitution," he said. "I remain optimistic in our party’s ability to take back the majority in 2022 and show the American people we are ready to lead.”
In a statement, Congressman Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, echoed the sentiment from most Republicans that she was simply "out-of-step with a majority of the conference."
"That said, we owe Rep. Cheney a debt of gratitude for stepping up to lead the conference at a difficult time," he said. "I wish her only the best. Now, we are moving forward to focus on America’s priorities, and that is a good thing."
Predictably, the House Democratic campaign arm criticized two Texas U.S. House Republicans who are anticipated targets for Democrats in the 2022 election cycle, U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio and Beth Van Duyne of Irving.
“Today’s voice vote makes abundantly clear that the House GOP belongs to conspiracy theorists, not those who value the truth," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Monica Robinson. "Tony Gonzales and Beth Van Duyne owe Texans an answer on whether they voted to punish Rep. Cheney for doing the bare minimum: telling the truth and standing up for our democracy. While Tony Gonzales, Beth Van Duyne, and House Republicans ‘unify’ behind a toxic and backwards brand, Democrats will continue focusing on delivering relief to hard working families and getting our economy back on track.”
Five months ago, Cheney led the charge from the Republican side of the aisle for Trump's second impeachment in January. At the time, it appeared that her stature would offer political cover for more reluctant Republicans. Cheney easily survived a previous attempt to oust her in February, but that support wilted as she continued to criticize Trump.
Months later, Cheney found herself in a lonely fight to defy Trump.
Prior to the insurrection, Cheney was considered one of the fastest rising GOP stars and among the toughest of hard line conservatives — particularly on foreign policy.
She spent much of her career working in the State Department and as a Fox News contributor. In 2014, she launched an eventually aborted U.S. Senate campaign in her family's home base of Wyoming. She ran again in 2016, but this time for the state's at-large the U.S. House seat, and easily won.
At the end of her freshman term in 2018, Cheney won her chair position by a unanimous voice vote and was widely considered a top contender for the speakership at some point in the future. In the role of conference chair, she ran the internal business of the conference and made frequent media appearances.
The Cheney family has deep ties to Texas. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney's father, lived in Dallas between his tenure as President George H.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense and as President George W. Bush's vice president. In that time, he was the CEO of Halliburton, an oilfield services company.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik is expected to replace Cheney as GOP conference chair. An upstate New Yorker, Stefanik evolved over the course of the Trump presidency from a hesitant Trump supporter to one of his fiercest backers in the chamber.
In his Tuesday letter, Roy expressed skepticism at the prospect of Stefanik to helm the Republican conference as chair because of her somewhat moderate voting record. Stefanik has voted in line with pro-Trump positions 77.7% of the time, which has drawn her some criticism from Republicans like Roy.
"We must avoid putting in charge Republicans who campaign as Republicans but then vote for and advance the Democrats' agenda once sworn in — that is, that we do not make the same mistakes we made in 2017."