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House Republicans Prepare To Oust Liz Cheney

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

House Republicans are on the verge of confronting a major rift within the party over just how far they should take their loyalty to former President Donald Trump. The question before them, whether Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney should be kicked out of leadership in the GOP for failing to support Trump and his false claims about the 2020 election. New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is campaigning to replace Cheney, and she's got the support of key Republican figures, including Trump himself. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is here.

Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Hi. So Liz Cheney's family has been central to Republican politics for decades. She seems like the last person that the GOP would turn on. How did she wind up here, on the verge of being ousted?

SNELL: Well, simply, it's because she's been a pretty fierce and very unapologetic critic of former President Trump. You know, this is a split that kind of came to a head over Trump's false claims about the election and her support for impeachment after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. She has been unwilling to bow to the pressure from the president - former president or from other Republicans. You know, she says that this is about the party leaving her and not her leaving the party. And while some Republicans say they are opposed to her on grounds that are beyond just the clash with Trump - particularly, they point to her kind of hawkish views on war and foreign policy - at the end, this really is simply about loyalty to former President Trump.

KELLY: And tell us a little bit more about Elise Stefanik and how she has become the person most likely to replace Liz Cheney in leadership. She's young, we should note. She's just 36.

SNELL: She became that person because she decided she wanted to run for this. She put her name out there, and she did a lot of footwork and groundwork to shore up the votes to make sure that she could win in the event that there was a vote to replace Cheney. She is a very ambitious and well-connected member, and she has a very deep base of support within Republicans. She has her own fundraising PAC aimed at getting more women elected, Republican women elected, and she ran recruitment for House Republicans in 2018. So she's become prominent very quickly.

She's also played a major messaging role in the first impeachment trial for former President Trump. She has support, as you mention, from major Republican leaders, like Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, former President Trump and virtually every other Republican leader in the House. You know, McCarthy was on Fox News this weekend, and he said that voters do get to decide about the message and politics of an individual member. But he says what's up for debate right now is an issue about who Republicans within Washington think should be leading them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: What we're talking about, it's a position in leadership. We're in one of our biggest battles ever for this nation and the direction whether this next century will be ours. As conference chair, you have one of the most critical jobs of the messenger of going forward.

SNELL: And former President Trump put out a statement today backing Stefanik again, saying she knows how to win, and that's what Republicans need heading into the midterm elections when they hope to win back control of the House.

KELLY: When are we expecting the vote on Cheney?

SNELL: Well, there should be a vote to remove Cheney at a closed-door party meeting on Wednesday. You know, Cheney could decide to step down voluntarily before the vote, but there is - all signs are pointing to there being this, you know, this vetting of people and speeches about whether or not they support her. And while this will happen behind closed doors, it will almost certainly become public. Some members will certainly be happy to have a recorded vote to show their loyalty to Trump and others will have a more difficult calculus.

KELLY: Just briefly, consequences for Republicans beyond Liz Cheney?

SNELL: Well, you know, this vote demonstrates that leaders in the party have identified that their ties to Trump are very important. Utah Senator Mitt Romney tweeted today that this could cost Republican voters, and that may be true or voters may not be concerned with the inner workings of the GOP in Washington.

KELLY: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell watching how things will play out this week.

Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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