Hours after the first in-person House Republican Conference meeting in months erupted in tensions between Chairwoman Liz Cheney and several rank-and-file members, Cheney and other GOP leaders sought to present a united front, even as she stood by the positions that got her crossways with colleagues.
At the Tuesday morning meeting, Cheney was sharply criticized by Florida’s Matt Gaetz and others for not supporting Kentucky’s Thomas Massie in his primary, for not backing President Donald Trump strongly enough, and for showing support for Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans and counting.
Cheney said she respects Massie and looks forward to working with him and winning the majority come November.
According to a person in the room, the conference meeting started to get messy during its open-mic session. That’s when Massie and Gaetz lined up, with two mics set up in different parts of the room. Cheney called on Gaetz, who said he wanted to let Massie speak first. Cheney said, “That’s not how it works,” which set the stage for more tension.
Massie and Gaetz then called out Cheney for claiming their conference was united when she donated the maximum amount to Massie’s primary opponent, Todd McMurtry. Massie coasted to a win over McMurtry in last month’s primary. Cheney called Massie a “special case,” according to the source in the room.
But Trump himself called for Massie’s defeat back in March, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” for forcing House members to come back to Washington that month for debate on a widely supported roughly $2 trillion coronavirus response and aid package. He also said Massie should be thrown out of the GOP.
Nevertheless, Freedom Caucus members, including Jim Jordan of Ohio and Chip Roy of Texas, jumped in to accuse Cheney of insufficient support for the president and too much support for Fauci.
According to the most recent CQ Vote Studies for 2019, Cheney votes with the president more than any of those other lawmakers. She voted for the president’s position 96.6 percent of the time. The next most loyal was Roy, at 93.3 percent. Jordan was next at 89.4 percent, followed by Gaetz at 85 percent and Massie at 81.4 percent.
Later in the day, Cheney played down the incident, without necessarily backing down.
“I have a lot of respect for Congressman Massie,” she said at the House GOP leadership press conference Tuesday afternoon. “I understand why he did what he did and I look forward to serving with him and serving with a lot more Republicans when we take back the House.”
Cheney also said the nation “absolutely” needs Fauci’s expertise to help guide the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
Recently, the Trump administration has sought to call into question Fauci’s credibility in fighting the virus, but Cheney said her support of the nation’s top infectious disease specialist during the deadly pandemic is shared by Trump.
“I think you’ve seen that the president believes that as well. Dr. Fauci is an active participant in the task force,” the Wyoming Republican said.
“I can’t imagine anybody better than Dr. Fauci to continue to play that role,” Cheney added.
Gaetz later took to his podcast “Hot Takes With Matt Gaetz,” to air his grievances about Cheney and recount some of the GOP Conference meeting happenings. He said Jordan “made the case strongly that Liz Cheney is hurting President Trump.”
“Liz Cheney should be better, and our conference would be better if she were no longer the chair of it,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz also used the podcast to plug the upcoming HBO documentary “The Swamp,” in which he and Massie have prominent roles. Public relations on the documentary have ramped up the past week ahead of its premiere on Aug. 4.
The president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr. retweeted a Gaetz tweet critical of Cheney. Cheney later noted that the president’s son was not a member of the House GOP Conference.
Cheney got some backup from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We’re honored to have her as conference chair. She does an amazing job,” the California Republican said at the press conference.
If Cheney’s critics want to move against her, conference rules allow a path.
If someone wants to present a resolution to the conference calling for her resignation or similar action, such a resolution would require at least 25 signatures of members of the conference, and then “shall be considered by the appropriate committee of the Republican Conference as soon as practicable and reported back to the Conference.”
If such a resolution wasn’t acted on fast enough for supporters’ liking, then they would need 50 members to bring it before the conference.