Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Liz Cheney’s Finest Hour

Her support for impeachment is a late but welcome act of leadership.
January 13, 2021
Liz Cheney’s Finest Hour
Liz Cheney: “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.” (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / Getty)

Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, announced on Tuesday in a strongly worded statement that she will vote to impeach President Donald Trump. “Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks,” Cheney said, “but what we know now is enough.” She is among the first Republicans in the House to clearly indicate support for a second Trump impeachment.

Cheney is the daughter of Dick Cheney, the former vice president who once held the same congressional seat she does. Back then, the elder Cheney’s dream was to become the speaker of the House; he even co-authored a book about congressional leaders with his wife, the scholar Lynne Cheney. But he never fulfilled that dream.

In the last Congress, Liz Cheney became the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference in only her second term. Such a meteoric rise puts her in an advantageous position to achieve (assuming Republicans someday win back the House) what her father never did.

But in announcing her intended impeachment vote, she risks that advantage and imperils the aspiration of two generations. Her announcement is a testament to the idea that party allegiance, winning re-election, climbing to the top of the greasy pole, and even fulfilling a family dream all come second to doing the right thing for the country.

Like most of her colleagues in the House, Cheney faced this decision before. Thirteen months ago, she, and they, had the opportunity to vote for Trump’s first impeachment, and thereby possibly to influence Senate Republicans to remove him before 400,000 Americans had died of the coronavirus; before he spread his plague of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies about the election; before he incited a deadly insurrection against Congress. Like every other House Republican, Cheney declined that opportunity. She apparently was unwilling to risk her re-election, her position in leadership, or anything else.

This time, though, while most of her Republican colleagues remain in their defensive crouch, Cheney is standing up. There’s a good argument that senators, as quasi-jurors, should refrain from pre-judging an impeachment case before it gets to them, but no such imperative applies to members of the House, and a handful of members—Reps. John Katko, Adam Kinzinger, Fred Upton, and Jaime Herrera Beutler, in addition to Cheney—are showing courage by announcing early that they will support impeachment. Cheney in particular may, because of her prominence, rally others to join her.

Also of note: Cheney is the highest-ranking House Republican not to have joined the Texas attorney general’s bogus, sanction-worthy lawsuit attempting to overturn the election. She did this despite representing a congressional district—the entire state of Wyoming—that voted for Trump over Biden by a 43-point margin. She’s putting herself in political danger, and, if House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is to be believed, possibly physical danger as well. (Ironically, McCarthy’s argument against impeachment is another reason for it.)

Donald Trump on his own would not have been as great a threat to the republic without the congressional Republicans who enabled him. Cheney was one of those responsible for some of the harm he’s done. While she memorably opposed Trump on some foreign policy and military matters, and defended Anthony Fauci and the witnesses who spoke out during the first impeachment, she went along with or remained silent about many other odious Trump actions. But by using her position now to gather votes for impeachment, she’s offering less brave members support so they won’t have to stand alone.

Cheney understands that this may well be the last chance to stop the GOP from sliding permanently into Trumpist authoritarianism, and she knows very well, as polls show, that the odds of saving the party are slim. And while she is late to recognize and speak up about the danger that Donald Trump poses to the republic, it is not too late to minimize his future harm by trying to disqualify him from running for president again—and by clearly setting a historic marker that his brand of demagogue must never again hold the highest office in the land.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri studied Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Intensional Studies. He’s an immigrant from Iran and writes the Substack newsletter The Russia-Iran File.