McCarthy escalates tension with Cheney

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave his strongest signal yet on Tuesday that he would support a new attempt to oust GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney from her leadership post.

The California Republican said his members have voiced concerns about Cheney’s “ability to carry out” her leadership duties — a stark shift from McCarthy’s public silence earlier this year when House conservatives mounted a failed bid to dislodge Cheney from her role after she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

This time, McCarthy denied that intra-party frustrations with Cheney were rooted in the Wyoming Republican’s impeachment vote. “There’s no concern about how she voted on impeachment. That decision has been made,” McCarthy told “Fox & Friends” in an interview.

“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” he said. “We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority. Remember, majorities are not given, they are earned. And that’s about the message about going forward.”

Responding to McCarthy’s remarks, Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler released a statement later Tuesday morning saying: “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”

McCarthy defended Cheney privately during February’s vote over whether to keep her in leadership. But their relationship has since soured as McCarthy has sought to walk back his criticisms of Trump and tether himself more closely to the former president — all while Cheney has continued to insist Trump should play no role in the future of the Republican Party.

House Democrats quickly mocked the GOP for its apparent uneasiness with Cheney’s anti-Trump apostasy. Responding to Republicans’ interest in replacing Cheney with a female conference chair, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office released a statement on Tuesday headlined: “GOP Leadership: Help Wanted — Non-Threatening Female.”

Tensions between McCarthy and Cheney resurfaced at a retreat for GOP lawmakers in Florida last month, where the two House Republican leaders publicly broke with one another in a series of remarks to reporters over Cheney’s messaging, Trump’s 2020 election falsehoods and a proposed bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection.

Conservatives including Donald Trump Jr. attacked Cheney last week for fist-bumping President Joe Biden ahead of his first address to a joint session of Congress, and the Republican infighting ramped up further on Monday after former President Trump released a statement attempting to rebrand the 2020 election as the real “BIG LIE.”

Cheney responded on Twitter roughly an hour later, writing: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”

The back-and-forth between the former president and the GOP conference chair provoked another round of backlash from conservatives and fueled already rampant speculation that Cheney could soon be booted from House leadership.

Later Monday afternoon, Trump released a statement touting “heartwarming” public polling in Cheney’s home state purportedly showing her with low approval numbers and predicted that “she’ll never run in a Wyoming election again!”

Cheney, for her part, rebuked Trump again on Monday night at a closed-door conference in Georgia, where CNN reported she called Trump’s false election fraud claims “a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy” and said that “we can’t whitewash what happened” on Jan. 6.

Meanwhile, McCarthy has also come under fire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who aired a segment on Monday night highlighting that the House Republican leader rented space in a Washington, D.C., penthouse belonging to Frank Luntz — the veteran Republican pollster and strategist who has been critical of Trump’s election rhetoric and actions on Jan. 6.

“I didn’t know how this was controversial,” McCarthy said on Tuesday, addressing the report. “Frank has been a friend of mine for more than 30 years.”

McCarthy said that after Democrats retook control of the House in January 2019, “they started changing the House around, and so, yeah, I rented a room [from] Frank for a couple months. But don’t worry, I’m back to going back to where I normally [am], on my couch in my office. But yeah, we paid fair market rate.”

“He seems upset,” McCarthy added of Carlson. “I think [Frank] and Tucker must dislike each other, and I don’t think that’s right. They need to get together and solve whatever difficulties, because we’ve got to make sure that we put this country back on the right track.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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