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House GOP Vote To Decide The Fate Of Rep. Liz Cheney

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney has been forced out of party leadership for her opposition to former President Donald Trump. House Republicans voted this morning behind closed doors to remove Cheney as House Republican conference chair, the third ranking member of party leadership. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this was expected to happen. Cheney was likely to lose her leadership job today. Has she responded at all to the vote?

DAVIS: She has. You know, this all happened very quickly this morning. They gathered shortly after 9 a.m. And it was all done behind - by voice vote behind closed doors. And then Cheney came out and spoke briefly to reporters after the vote. And she made clear that her effort to sort of marginalize Donald Trump as a figure in national politics is going to go on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office. We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution.

DAVIS: How much power and influence Cheney is going to have in that effort remains to be seen. But she was asked if she felt betrayed by today's vote. She said she didn't. She thought it did reflect the Republican Party of the moment, but that she intends to play a leadership role in bringing it back to its pre-Trump, Reagan-era roots.

MARTIN: Sue, it's worth asking you to step back, I think, for a moment on the changing political fortunes...

DAVIS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...For Cheney. I mean, not that long ago, she was seen as the future - right? - the rising star in the party.

DAVIS: You know she believes what she's doing because it's been terrible for her own political fortunes.

MARTIN: Right.

DAVIS: You know, she's been censured by her state Republican Party. She's got a very long list of primary challengers coming for her next year. Donald Trump is working very hard to defeat her. And this is someone who, I mean, months ago - not even that long ago - was seen as a possible presidential ticket contender one day. A couple years back, she turned down a Senate run to stay in the House. And that move was sort of seen as a strategic decision to see if, maybe, charting a path to become the first Republican female speaker. It's hard to squint and see that - how that happens now. But she does still plan to run for reelection in 2022. And she's raising a good bit of money to do it.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what comes next. New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is expected to replace Cheney in this leadership job. When does that vote happen?

DAVIS: Well, it did not happen today, and that's in part because there is some grumbling about Stefanik. Now, she has been endorsed by Trump and the top two House Republican leaders. But there's some questions about her more moderate voting record. Congressman Chip Roy - he's a conservative from Texas - he sent a letter to House Republicans just yesterday criticizing Stefanik for things like voting against the Trump tax cuts and for things like gay rights in the past. He went so far as to suggest they just leave this leadership slot vacant for now. But Stefanik does have the support from a lot of leading conservatives and Trump allies, like Ohio's Jim Jordan. So unless someone steps up, she does still seem to be on track to get this job in the next coming days or weeks. But I'd also note there's a gender dynamic at play here. This is a job that in recent years for Republicans has been held by a woman. And there is some internal pressures to keep it that way so they don't have a leadership team that's entirely white guys.

MARTIN: So, Sue, is there anything like an existential crisis within the Republican Party in Congress over their ties to the former president, especially given his lies about the 2020 election?

DAVIS: I mean, I think this test - this vote today proves that there's not really a crisis in the House. I mean, there's some pushback. But overall, House Republicans believe that this was the right thing to do. But I do think there is a split with Senate Republicans. Not all of them are convinced that aligning with Donald Trump is the way to go. And at least one top Republican, John Thune, says it could cost them the chance of the majorities in 2022 if they keep trying to relitigate 2020.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.