Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus tore into Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) during a heated GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, lobbing attacks at her for breaking with President Donald Trump, supporting Dr. Anthony Fauci and backing a primary opponent to one of their colleagues.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus co-founder and one of Trump’s top allies, called out Cheney, the GOP conference chair, for all the times she has opposed Trump and began ticking off some recent high-profile examples, according to two sources in the room. While Jordan praised her defense of Trump during impeachment, he also said Cheney’s recent rebukes of Trump — which have focused on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, his Twitter rhetoric, and his foreign policy — were not helpful.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), head of the Freedom Caucus, even accused Cheney of undermining the GOP’s ability to win back the House and said that if someone has a problem with Trump, they should keep it to themselves.
Cheney responded to the criticism from her colleagues by saying she disagrees with Jordan’s assessment and making clear her views are her own.
To Jordan, whose arch-conservative Freedom Caucus was a constant pain for GOP leadership when the party was in the majority, Cheney said: “I look forward to hearing your comments about being a team player when we’re back in the majority,” according to two sources in the room.
After the meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus but is closely aligned with the conservative crew — tweeted that Cheney should step down from her position as the No. 3 House Republican. He also discussed at length his issues with Cheney in the most recent episode of his podcast, which posted Tuesday afternoon.
“Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonaldTrump and his agenda. House Republicans deserve better as our Conference Chair,” tweeted Gaetz, who himself once split with Trump over a war powers resolution. “Liz Cheney should step down or be removed.”
Donald Trump Jr. also took a swipe at Cheney: “We already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another ... we also don’t need the endless wars she advocates for,” he tweeted.
The president, however, has been silent about Cheney’s public criticism, and has even heaped praise on her at White House events.
Cheney — a staunch conservative who quickly climbed the leadership ranks and has wide support in the House GOP conference — votes with Trump 97 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. She also is one of the Trump campaign’s fundraising co-captains and strongly defended him during the impeachment battle.
She briefly told reporters after the conference meeting that “we're all unified” and declined to answer questions about whether anybody apologized to her for things getting heated. But Cheney was later spotted on the House floor having a conversation with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
“We talked at length about the dangers if Joe Biden is elected president,” she said of the meeting.
The pile-on came during the House GOP’s first in-person meeting in months, with large in-person gatherings in the Capitol mostly replaced by conference calls during the pandemic. And after Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) tested positive for coronavirus last week, leadership stepped up its safety precautions for Tuesday's meeting by requiring masks and temperature checks at the door.
The meeting also comes as there is growing concern in the GOP about Trump’s slumping poll numbers and his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Cheney has been one of the Republicans who has been willing to publicly call out Trump — a risky move in today’s GOP — and has managed to avoid the kind of scathing retort that Trump has doled out to others in the party.
But tensions over Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, flared during Tuesday’s closed-door conference meeting.
The confrontation began when Gaetz got on the microphone to unload on Cheney for previously donating to a Republican primary challenger to Massie and demanded answers about leadership's policy on backing primary opponents to incumbents. Cheney later pulled her endorsement of Massie's primary opponent and requested a refund for her donation after past racist tweets from the candidate resurfaced.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Biggs also defended Massie and expressed their concerns about GOP lawmakers playing in primaries involving their colleagues. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) eventually intervened, saying they shouldn't go after each other.
Cheney told Massie his issue is with Trump, not her, since the president has openly called for Massie’s ouster. She also told Massie he was a "special case." But Massie insisted his issue was indeed with Cheney. Meanwhile, Cheney responded to Gaetz by telling him she looks forward to seeing his upcoming HBO documentary. A little bit later, she again took a jab at Gaetz, saying that filming a documentary isn't the way to win back the majority.
But the attacks on Cheney didn’t end there. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who faces a competitive reelection battle this fall, complained about Cheney’s support of Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and pointed out that his Democratic opponent for November's general election even retweeted one of Cheney’s tweets praising Fauci.
In recent weeks, some White House officials and other Trump allies who are frustrated by the slow pace of reopening the economy have tried to undermine Fauci.
The Wyoming congresswoman responded by forcefully defending Fauci and saying they should focus on defeating the virus, not launching attacks against individuals who are trying to accomplish that mission.
At one point during the GOP conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) also chimed in, focusing his ire on national security issues and Cheney’s hawkish foreign policy stance. Norman even brought up the Bush administration, to which Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, replied: “I’m not a Bush.”