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After Showdown, Rep. Cheney Moves Forward

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This week Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney beat back an effort to oust her from the GOP leadership. The party is now showing a unified face, but the right wing of the party is still frustrated with Cheney and Democrats say the debate shows how today's GOP lives in an alternative reality.

Her father, Dick Cheney, famously waited in the wings and quietly amassed power in Washington before he tried to move up the proverbial ladder. His daughter took a different tact. Congresswoman Cheney became a trusted lieutenant of GOP leaders in her first term and by her second term she was catapulted to the third most powerful slot in the GOP leadership ranks. Then she supported a primary challenge of a sitting GOP lawmaker, took the word of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health officials regarding COVID-19 - and then she voted to impeach President Trump after the insurrection at the Capitol.

"Yeah, I was surprised with her vote," Hudson said.

That's North Carolina Republican Congressman Richard Hudson. After Cheney beat back the challenge from the party's far right wing, Hudson and other Republicans weren't too eager to say how they voted in the closed-door GOP meeting that determined whether she'd remain in leadership. Here's Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith after the ballots were cast.

"It was a secret ballot," Griffith said.

And those secret ballots were heavily tilted in Cheney's favor - 145-61, to be exact. That's why after the meeting, Cheney had some pep back in her step while briefly addressing the media.

"We really did have a terrific vote tonight, a terrific time this evening, laying out where we're going to do going forward, as well as making clear that we're not going to be divided and that we're not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership," Cheney said.

More than just preserving Cheney's powerful messaging role for the party, many Republicans say the party came out of this dust up stronger. Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson says it was the best GOP conference meeting he's been a part of in his more than a decade in Washington.

"I'll be honest with you, I was not looking forward to the process, but at the end of the day I was inspired. And so I think we're, we're stronger, better off better positioned as a result of that discussion," Thompson said.

Thompson says the GOP was refocused on their number one goal in the more than four hour long meeting: To capture the House in next year's election.

"It was what I expected Congress to be when I got here 13 years ago, a truly deliberative body. It was a great discussion. Quite frankly, in the end, we came out of there, knowing that our job is to save the republic, and the only way to do that is through addition, not division," Thompson said.

After the meeting House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, with Cheney standing by his side, told reporters she's got his support, and not just because of her family name but because she's a proven fighter.

"We've got a team - and remember what this team is: this is the exact same team that didn't lose one seat in the last election, when I saw a lot of you write stories about whether this team would survive after we'd lose 15 or 20 seats? No, we didn't lose one member. We gained," McCarthy said.

Democrats say the GOP infighting shows how fanatical some factions of the party have become. Virginia Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is a moderate and says these partisan litmus tests are dangerous.

"I think it's really worrisome when people are targeted, as we saw Liz Cheney was, for their voting in a way that's consistent with their principles," Spanberger said.

While Spanberger and other Democrats are glad Cheney joined just nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump last month, they also say the GOP has become harder to work with because so many members now embrace conspiracy theories and that the bulk of the party voted, basically, in support of the rioters.

"Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It's kind of an adage as old as time, and I think it's incredibly important that we understand what happened, that we understand all contributing factors, you know, including the words and actions of the former president," Spanberger said.

Progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says even though Cheney won the challenge, the problem with information and truth that's plaguing the GOP hasn't gone anywhere.

"I think it's sad because it's like these votes, they're so basic that it's coming to a point where they're trying to just decide if they're about denialism or not," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And we, you know, it lowers and it sinks our politics to such a point, like, how can we have serious policy discussions, if they're not even fully rooted in acknowledging the severity of what happened?"

Despite the fact that her poll numbers have dipped and that she's facing a primary challenge, Cheney isn't focusing on her vote to impeach Trump. She told reporters she plans to use the support she got to keep her in leadership to go back on the attack against Democrats.

"It was a very resounding acknowledgment that we need to go forward together," Cheney said, "and that we need to go forward in a way that helps us beat back the really dangerous and negative Democrat policies."

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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