Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming has, Politico notes, a near-perfect voting record in support of the president’s agenda. So it’s a sign of the times that, at a meeting of the House Republican Conference (which she chairs, making her the third-highest-ranking member of the GOP leadership), Cheney came under attack from members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus for insufficient loyalty to Trump in his simmering conflict with coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci.
One especially combative member of the HFC, Matt Gaetz of Florida, wants to give her the heave-ho:
Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post has an appropriate comment about this attack on the hard-core conservative daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney:
Politico’s account of the brouhaha suggests Cheney gave as good as she got in the exchange with HFC bravos:
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus co-founder and one of Trump’s top allies, called out Cheney, the GOP conference chairwoman, 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 …
To Jordan, whose archconservative Freedom Caucus was a pain in the side of GOP leadership when they were 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.
When Gaetz and others blasted Cheney for supporting a primary challenger to Thomas Massie, their extremist buddy from Kentucky, she reminded them that Trump himself had called for Massie’s ouster after he singlehandedly slowed down enactment of the CARES Act. But the more general dispute was over the very idea of criticizing Trump at this perilous moment of his presidency:
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the 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.
In defending Fauci and other public-health experts, Cheney is not alone among congressional Republicans who are made nervous by Trump’s persistent happy talk about the trajectory of the pandemic. Tensions within the GOP may increase if the president maintains this posture of denial during the coronavirus briefings he is resuming this week.
But there’s no question the Freedom Caucus will continue to present itself as the more-Catholic-than-the-Pope heartbeat of MAGA enthusiasm and will try to play the disciplinary commissar with any Republicans who don’t stay in line.