When House Republicans deposed Liz Cheney from her leadership post, they were widely mocked for that display of abject servility to former President Donald Trump. But the motives behind her abrupt removal are more profound — and far more sinister — than the Wyoming representative's penchant for angering Trump.
Only a few months ago, Trump's irritation wasn't enough to undo Cheney, who easily survived a vote to remove her that was promoted by the ex-president's surrogates, notably the disgraced Rep. Matt Gaetz. Back in February, she had just voted to impeach Trump but nevertheless retained the support of two-thirds of her fellow Republicans and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
So why did the Republicans, spurred by McCarthy, feel so compelled to oust her now?
According to Byron York, a veteran right-wing columnist well-connected with GOP leaders, Cheney lost her colleagues by continuing to confront Trump's attacks on American democracy. York suggests that her opposition to the big lie about the election and its aftermath "had become a distraction from the GOP's mission to oppose the Biden agenda and win back the House." Said one Republican who switched from supporting Cheney to opposing her, "I think a lot of people have changed their minds since the first vote because she just kept it going. We're trying to go forward."
To those Republicans, going forward means never looking back — and burying the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the events leading up to that attack, and especially the embarrassing and potentially incriminating involvement of their own members, leaders and supporters.
Immediately after the caucus vote, Cheney told NBC's Savannah Guthrie what she believes is provoking "real concern" among her colleagues: the prospect of a full and independent investigation into the January 6 insurrection, like the 9/11 Commission Report. "I've been very public that that commission needs to be bipartisan. It needs to look only at Jan. 6 and the events leading up to it, not at the BLM" — Black Lives Matter — "and antifa riots last summer," Cheney said on the Today show. "I think that that kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advocated a bipartisan commission of inquiry into Jan. 6 for months, but the Republicans are blocking it. McCarthy seems particularly unenthusiastic about examining that day of shame, perhaps because he does not wish to testify under oath himself.
Much has changed for the minority leader since he confronted Trump on the phone during the attack — and discovered firsthand that the then-president was pleased to let his mob sack the Capitol. "Well, Kevin," Trump reportedly said, "I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." A week later, McCarthy was still furious enough to say on the House floor that Trump "bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters" and "should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."
Today, McCarthy pretends that Trump acted promptly to quell the insurrection and deserves no blame at all. Unburdened by principles of any kind, or even a rudimentary sense of dignity, the Republican leader has become wholly complicit in Trump's betrayal of the Constitution.
Overseeing McCarthy's cooperation in the cover-up is his new political director, one Brian Jack, who held the same job in the Trump White House. Jack was directly involved in the events of January 6, including the recruitment of Rep. Mo Brooks to speak at the White House rally that preceded the riot, where the Alabama representative infamously incited the mob to "start ... kicking ass" at the Capitol.
These seditious miscreants want no part of a serious investigation of January 6. They fervently wish that it will never be mentioned again. Their own polling warns that reminding swing-district voters across the country of the insurrection — and Trump's election lies — will do grave damage to their campaign next year.
All the more reason why every patriotic American should join Liz Cheney in demanding a real investigation and complete accountability — and why Democrats should talk about Trump's onslaught against democracy every day from now through November. 8, 2022.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.