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As the top two House GOP leaders gear up to oust their No. 3 deputy, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, from her leadership position, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has opted to keep his powder dry and stay out of the lower chamber’s latest leadership fight.
Cheney’s continued criticisms of former President Donald Trump and tensions with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have landed her in hot water with her GOP colleagues, with a conference vote expected as soon as May 12 to determine her fate in the leadership ranks.
While Cheney (R-Wyo.) overwhelmingly prevailed during a similar attempt to oust her from her position in February — shortly after she voted in favor of impeaching Trump for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — GOP lawmakers said the circumstances are different this time around, with McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voicing their support for replacing her.
Ahead of the February vote, McConnell — who, like Cheney, Trump has repeatedly attacked — released a statement in her defense, praising her as “a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them.” But the Kentucky Republican pivoted Wednesday when asked about the renewed push for her ouster, dodging the question by asserting that he is focused on defeating the Biden administration’s agenda.
“One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said when pressed by a reporter on his stance. “We’re confronted with severe challenges from a new administration, and a narrow majority of Democrats in the House and a 50-50 Senate to turn America into a socialist country, and that’s 100 percent of my focus.”
McConnell’s decision not choose a side has been met with praise from some within the GOP who argued involving himself in the latest House feud would be divisive and a distraction from their policy goals as Republicans look to avoid shining a spotlight on divisions within the party in the post-Trump era.
“It’s the right approach. McConnell’s disciplined commitment to keeping the messaging focused on Biden, and not getting distracted by Trump, is why McConnell has good standing with his conference while Liz Cheney doesn’t,” one senior GOP Senate aide told The Post.
Another Republican Senate aide echoed that sentiment. “McConnell is absolutely right. President Biden’s policy proposals are unaffordable and at times actively harmful to our democracy. We’ve got real legislative fights in Congress right now, and that’s where our focus should be,” the source said.
McConnell and Cheney have been aligned in many of their views on Trump, with their camaraderie prominently on display during a lengthy handshake on the House floor ahead of Biden’s first joint address to Congress late last month.
Both have spoken out against the former president’s claims that he won the election and voiced that they feel Trump holds responsibility for the Jan. 6 raid on the Capitol. But McConnell has implored a more subtle approach in navigating Trump than his embattled House colleague, opting to vote to acquit the former president during the second impeachment proceedings despite delivering a fiery floor speech condemning his actions and choosing not to publicly respond to Trump’s personal attacks against him.
Trump and House GOP leaders’ endorsements of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to take over the leadership post has left Cheney — the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and highest ranking Republican woman in leadership — with a narrow path to hold onto her role as House Republican conference chair, a position that entails leading efforts on messaging.
Conservative lawmakers — who allege her “Never Trump” stance hinders her ability to message — said despite a slew of opinion columnists and talking heads coming out in support of Cheney, the shift in climate is evident, with fewer members willing to come to her defense this time around.
Despite being under siege, Cheney isn’t backing down from her stance on Trump, writing in a Washington Post op-ed that “we must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”
Sources close to Cheney’s thinking said they feel she doesn’t need a formal whipping effort ahead of the conference vote, arguing it comes down to whether it’s “okay for someone to be in leadership and tell the truth.”
“It’s very clear and upfront for members about what’s at stake with this vote, and I don’t think there’s anything to really whip or convince, or arm twist — it’s black and white for what the vote will be about,” one source said.
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