Rep. Liz Cheney Contemplates Her Political Future

May 21, 2019
Originally published on May 21, 2019 7:35 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney has a decision to make. She's deciding whether to run for the Senate in 2020 or stay put in the House. She is the third-highest-ranking Republican, and she has a path to climb even higher. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis has the story.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Liz Cheney does not mince words. But when it comes to her own political ambitions, she's got nothing to say right now.

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LIZ CHENEY: I don't have any announcements to make about that.

DAVIS: That is the question of Cheney's political future, prompted by Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi's decision to retire in 2020. Cheney wanted that seat bad - so bad she tried to primary Enzi in 2014 in a short-lived bid that ended bitterly. But she rebounded and won the state's only House seat in 2016. Just two years later, House Republicans elevated her to the party's leadership table as the chair of the Republican Conference. Here she is just after her leadership election last November.

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CHENEY: I look forward to getting to work, and we're going to absolutely take back this majority.

DAVIS: It's the same leadership job once held by her father, former vice president and Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney. It's also the highest position any Republican woman has ever reached in the House. And she'll walk away from a history-making chance to climb even higher on the leadership ladder - to whip, leader or even speaker - if she runs for the Senate. That is exactly what Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole wants her to do.

TOM COLE: Now, I personally believe she ought to go to the Senate.

DAVIS: Republicans like Cole see Cheney as a possible national contender one day, and the House isn't a great launchpad for that.

COLE: She'd be an incredible asset wherever she's at. And I think that elevates her onto a national stage and actually positions her somewhere down the road to, you know, become a legitimate national candidate for the Republican Party.

CHENEY: The more rough-and-tumble nature of the lower chamber has suited Cheney, who has never shied from starting or weighing in on a controversy. In her unsuccessful Senate bid, she picked a fight with her only sister, Mary Cheney, who is gay and married, by campaigning against gay marriage. It publicly divided the Cheney family. Here she is on Fox.

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CHENEY: I do believe it's an issue that's got to be left up to the states. I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.

DAVIS: In 2018, she picked a fight on Twitter over torture with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war. Cheney has been one of the most forceful defenders of the interrogation tactics used on terror suspects during the Bush era. She remains an advocate for bringing them back, as she did here in 2017.

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CHENEY: We're not even in a position anymore, frankly, where we're very often capturing people. We have nothing to do with people when we do capture them.

DAVIS: In January, she was the only House leader to call on Iowa Republican Steve King to resign over racist remarks, saying he should find another line of work.

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CHENEY: The notion of white supremacy is offensive, is absolutely abhorrent. It's racist. We do not support it or agree with it.

DAVIS: And as the leader in charge of party messaging, she has focused frequent attacks on the first two Muslim women in Congress - Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan - for controversial comments they have made on Jews and U.S.-Israel foreign policy. Here she is again on Fox.

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CHENEY: I'm sorry that there are so many anti-Semitic members of the House Democratic Caucus.

DAVIS: This brand of red-meat messaging is more naturally in line with the House, which is one reason Republicans like Arkansas Congressman Steve Womack hope she decides to stay.

STEVE WOMACK: I know kind of where her heart is 'cause it's in line, I think, with her father's. And that is she's a House person. So my hope is she'll follow that direction and stay with us. But if she doesn't, who can argue with trying to run for the Senate? Who can argue that?

DAVIS: Cheney would be heavily favored to win Wyoming's open Senate seat. And that kind of opportunity doesn't come up very often. If she decides against it, that would send a loud signal within the party that her ambitions lie in the House. In the meantime, Republicans wait for Cheney to have something to say about it.

Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.