(The Hill) — The launch this week of public hearings into last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol marks a pivotal phase for the investigation, the Congress and the country. And as both parties anxiously await the select committee’s findings — and the public’s reaction to them — few have more on the line than Rep. Liz Cheney.
The Wyoming Republican has not only embraced her role as a leading figure in Congress’s expansive examination of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, she’s also assumed the GOP face of the anti-Trump movement in the process — a high-stakes gamble that’s made her both a pariah within her conference and a hero to those national Republicans fighting to steer the party away from the influence of former President Trump.
Who ultimately wins the battle for the soul of the Republican Party — Trump loyalists or Trump critics — remains anyone’s guess. But Cheney is using her place on the select committee to try to tip the scales of that internal feud, issuing a stern warning that Republicans who continue to indulge Trump’s lie about a “stolen” election threaten not only the demise of the GOP, but also the collapse of American democracy at large.
“We are absolutely in a moment where we have to make a decision about whether we’re going to put our love of this country above partisanship,” Cheney told CBS News on Sunday. “And to me there’s just no gray area in that question.”
The near-term costs of Cheney’s defiance have been conspicuous.
She was booted from GOP leadership four months after the insurrection, replaced by another female lawmaker, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who is less conservative but also willing to amplify baseless claims about “irregularities” plaguing the election outcome — a litmus test for the party brass.
Cheney’s dissent has also sparked a primary challenge, putting her once-safe seat as the lone House lawmaker in Wyoming — a deep-red state where the Cheney name holds outsized sway — into jeopardy. By contrast, the only other Republican on the Jan. 6 select committee, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), was hurt by redistricting this cycle and is not seeking reelection.
Through it all, the 55-year-old Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has remained unapologetic, accusing her GOP critics of putting their loyalty to Trump over their oath to the Constitution.
“We have too many people now in the Republican Party who are not taking their responsibility seriously, and who have pledged their allegiance and loyalty to Donald Trump,” she told CBS. “I mean, it is fundamentally antithetical — it is contrary to everything conservatives believe — to embrace a personality cult.”
Created by a vote of the House last June, the select committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses about the attack of Jan. 6, when thousands of Trump supporters, roused by Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, marched on the Capitol in an effort to block Congress from certifying his defeat. Seven people died in connection to the rampage, and more than 150 police officers were injured while sparring with the rioters.
The committee proceedings have almost exclusively taken place behind closed doors, but that will change on Thursday when the panel meets for a prime-time hearing to lay out its findings.
The challenge facing its members is to tell a compelling narrative capable of swaying public sentiment. That’s a high bar in a country as polarized as the United States. And Fox News pushed it even higher this week, announcing it won’t air the hearing live, as other networks intend to do.
“We just have an absolute mountain of evidence about what took place. And our problem is really distilling the core elements of all of these events to share with the people,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of the investigators, said Monday in an interview with Washington Post Live.
The committee members have their work cut out for them if they hope to achieve any public breakthrough. A May poll from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that while 52 percent say it’s important to learn more about the attack, 48 percent said it’s time to “move on.”
An NBC News poll released Monday found that less than half of respondents — 45 percent — believe Trump was responsible for the attack, down from 52 percent in January 2021.
Cheney, as vice-chair of the select committee, is at the center of the panel’s efforts to provide the type of prime-time narrative that could shift those numbers away from Trump’s favor. She’s also in a spot where her future in politics might hinge on her success. Trump captured 70 percent of the vote in Wyoming in 2020.
Cheney’s high profile and undiluted message have attracted the ire of the 45th president, who visited Wyoming last month to campaign for Cheney’s primary opponent. The Capitol attack was on his mind.
“As one of the nation’s leading proponents of the insurrection hoax, Liz Cheney has pushed a grotesquely false, fabricated, hysterical, partisan narrative,” Trump told a crowd in Casper ahead of the Aug. 16 primary.
Trump’s GOP allies in Congress are amplifying that message, framing the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack as a partisan witch hunt designed solely for the purpose of damaging Trump and Republicans politically.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), in an op-ed that refers only to Democrats’ goals for the hearing, said they have a “sinister aim [of] convincing Americans that conservatives are to blame for the events of that day.”
“The committee’s real goal, and what it hopes to achieve with its unprecedented subpoenas and its bright-light hearings, is a repudiation of conservatism and all those who hold conservative values,” Jordan wrote in The Federalist.
“Democrats want to use the violence of January 6 to stigmatize conservative voices and delegitimize conservative ideals. They’ve even talked—condescendingly, of course—about treating conservatives as ‘cult’ members who need to be deprogrammed.”
Even as Republicans broadly seek to exile Cheney and Kinzinger, in many cases it’s been the Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel that have come to their defense — something Raskin in April called “the utterly cannibalistic process of vilifying and castigating Republicans just because they disagree with the orthodoxy, the dogma handed down by Donald Trump.”
“Because if you don’t go along with what Donald Trump says, if you don’t act like you’re a robot or a member of a religious cult, they will attack you, they will vilify you, they will denounce you,” Raskin said at a vote for the House to formally refer two former Trump aides to the Department of Justice for charges after they defied the panel’s subpoenas.
“These people, Mr. Kinzinger, Ms. Cheney, are constitutional heroes,” he said.
But Cheney hasn’t lost all credibility within the party.
“I think she’d be a great Speaker,” Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), one of the 10 House Republican lawmakers to vote to impeach Trump following the riot, told ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday.
“I think she’s a real Republican. I think she is very conservative. And I think she’s a fearless leader.”