Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, former leader of the House Republican Caucus, stood at a precipice on the threshold of an era of division unseen since the Civil War. She said:
“We face a threat we have never faced before: a former president attempting to unravel our constitutional republic,” later adding, “The question for every one of us is, in this time of testing, will we do our duty?”
Cheney was clearly willing to do her duty by speaking up forcefully against the former President and voting for his impeachment. She then became co-chair of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6th attack. But she has paid a steep price for her decisions. Cheney endured bullying and pressure to accept the “party line” of a Trump-centric Republican party. Republicans removed Cheney from her post as the third-ranking Republican in House leadership. She’s received death threats, having to hire security guards for protection. And her re-election to Congress is uncertain; she is campaigning against a Trump-backed candidate.
Cheney’s Ultra-Conservative Positions
By way of background, Cheney’s record is ultra-conservative so nobody could have predicted she would veer away from the party line. After all, Liz Cheney was first elected in 2016, on a platform of:
- pursuing conservative solutions to help create jobs
- cutting taxes and regulation
- expanding America’s energy, mining, and agricultural industries
Let’s not forget that Liz Cheney voted with Trump’s proposals 97% of the time. One CNN commentator noted many times that Cheney is both more conservative and more in line with Trump’s policies than the woman who replaced her, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Some of Cheney’s positions seem racist and sexist, for example:
- Cheney defended the fringe birtherism movement which believed that the United States President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore ineligible for presidency.
- She is pro-life, believing that pre-born fetuses are human beings protected by the 14th Amendment, voted against federal funding for abortion, and sponsored a bill to protect infant survivors of abortion.
Everything Changed with the Impeachment Proceedings
Cheney surprised everyone by her vote to impeach Trump. It was a shocking turn of events given her history. Then we saw increasingly aggressive criticisms of the Trump-centric Republican Party politics, which was a stunning pivot from towing the party line. There are times each of us has a wake-up call and have no choice but to shift loyalties in order to address to address a new reality. If we have the courage, we speak our conscience and take the consequences. As former President John F Kennedy once said, “Only a few generations in American history (have been) granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.” Cheney placed her concern for the future of the country’s democracy above Wyoming and partisan politics. She knew she had to publicly communicate what she saw as a terrifying new reality. Cheney said, “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”
At some point, Cheney began to work collaboratively with Democratic colleagues on the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 attack, negotiating their differences to come up with a plan of action for the hearings. She insisted that the committee’s team was bipartisan and include former intelligence analysts and law enforcement specialists.
In terms of her presentation style during the hearings, Cheney has been one of the more engaged and aggressive questioners on the panel. She wrote her own speech on her laptop, tapping away until the last moment. Cheney’s opening remarks were delivered in a cool, calm, and deliberate style.
The Cost-Benefit (ROI) Analysis
Speaking truth to power may leave Cheney temporarily powerless, at least within her own party. However, perhaps this bipartisan experience will lead her to reevaluate her ultra-conservative positions on many other economic, environmental, and women’s issues as well. We know she has already shifted her position on gay marriage.
Just as the January 6th hearings became a transformational moment for Cheney who gained visibility as a national leader, it might become a transformational moment for party politics in general. One can only hope that other politicians will follow her lead and begin to work across the aisle to address the issues that are languishing. Is what Liz Cheney did merely commendable or was she heroic? History will be the judge.