Rep. Liz Cheney, under fire from former President Donald Trump and his staunchest defenders, is picking up support from some influential Republicans as her allies close ranks and resist the effort to oust her from the third-ranking spot in House GOP leadership.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was the latest Republican to give her a boost, saying in a statement to CNN that she had “the courage” to act on her convictions in the aftermath of her vote to impeach Trump last month on a charge he incited the deadly insurrection that ransacked Capitol Hill on January 6.
“Liz Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them,” McConnell said. “She is an important leader in our party and in our nation. I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation.”
The statement comes as a cross-section of GOP lawmakers — from top Republicans in Senate leadership like fellow Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso to some conservative House Freedom Caucus members like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas — have publicly defended Cheney in the face of the onslaught from Trump defenders eager to see her defeated. Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a close Trump ally, traveled to Wyoming to rally against Cheney, with the former President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., calling into the event and demanding she be defeated in next year’s primary.
The former President is focusing his political energy on targeting Cheney. According to one source, Trump has repeatedly questioned his Republican allies about efforts to remove Cheney from her leadership position and run a primary candidate against her. He has also been showing those allies a poll commissioned by his Save America PAC that purports to show that Cheney’s impeachment vote has damaged her standing in Wyoming, even urging them to talk about the poll on television.
On Capitol Hill, some Trump defenders are trying to oust her from her leadership, though it’s far from clear they have a majority in the House Republican conference to succeed in that quest. Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, along with the votes of nine other House Republicans, is expected to be a topic of conversation when the House GOP meets behind closed doors on Wednesday. Already, some Republicans who supported Trump’s impeachment have been subject to intense backlash back home, including South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice, who was censured by his state party over the weekend.
McConnell, who voted last week along with 44 of his Senate GOP colleagues to keep alive an effort to dismiss the Senate impeachment trial on constitutional grounds, has privately told associates he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
When asked by CNN last week if he believes Trump’s actions ahead of the riot amounted to impeachable conduct, McConnell sidestepped the question — and later said he was a juror and would assess the arguments. But unlike House Republicans, most Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from Trump’s actions, even though they’re signaling they’ll vote to acquit on the grounds that they believe the Senate shouldn’t be trying a former president.
Cheney has also received support from beyond Capitol Hill. Former President George W. Bush has made it clear that he supports her, with his chief of staff, Freddy Ford, telling CNN on Friday that Bush planned to praise her during a Saturday call with his former vice president, her father, Dick Cheney.
McConnell’s statement defending Cheney is more of a full-throated defense than the one offered by House Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who said he backs Cheney but said she would have to answer to their conference for her vote.
“Look, I support her, but I also have concerns,” McCarthy said last month, days before he jaunted down to South Florida to visit the former President and claimed the two were united in attempting to take back the House next year.
McConnell hasn’t spoken to Trump since December 15.
This story has been updated with more information.