McCarthy, who believes impeachment is bad for the country and will create further divisions, took a behind-the-scenes look at the Capitol attack and spoke privately with GOP members and the president.
Meanwhile, Cheney has embarked on a different path, providing a public and direct response to the unrest in the Capitol that could be a defining moment in any future race for minority spokesmen or leaders.
But Cheney has made it clear that her decision to support the impeachment was not a political one. Indeed, it can hurt her if the GOP doesn’t completely oust Trump from her party. The President continues to strongly support the conservative base. She is already facing several calls from the GOP of the house to resign from her leadership position.
Still, Cheney has privately told colleagues that, according to sources, she wanted to be on the right-hand side of the story, calling it a “conscience vote.”
On the eve of the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, Cheney became the highest-ranking Republican to publicly support the impeachment of Trump for instigating a violent mob to attack the Capitol. Three other Republicans, MPs Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, Fred Upton from Michigan and John Katko from New York, have also campaigned for impeachment so far. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also told his staff that he believes Trump committed criminal acts, as POLITICO has confirmed.
In a three-paragraph statement, Cheney did not hold back: “There has never been a major betrayal of his office and his oath on the Constitution by a President of the United States.”
Cheney also placed responsibility for the attack on the Capitol directly on Trump, stating that he “conjured up” the mob and “lit the flame of this attack” – and that without him the bloody riot would never have happened.
“All that followed was what he did,” Cheney continued. “The President could have intervened immediately and forcefully to stop the violence. He did not.”
But while Cheney’s impeachment stance might deserve praise in some corners of the conference, not everyone was pleased: Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, one of the leaders of the challenge to win the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, called on Cheney to resign from her leadership position.
“It shouldn’t serve this conference,” Biggs told reporters at Capitol Tuesday. “That’s it.” The Freedom Caucus once cost McCarthy a shot at the spokesperson, and the conservative hardliners still have sway over the House’s GOP.
In the days leading up to its announcement, signs of Cheney’s likely impeachment surfaced everywhere. Immediately after the siege of the Capitol, she blamed Trump: “There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president instigated the mob, the president raised the mob. He lit the flame, ”she said.
Cheney also held talks with Democrats while crouching in a safe room amid the riot, according to multiple lawmakers. And other sources said she had weighed heavily on impeachment in recent days.
Then, in a GOP conference call on Monday, the first conference-wide meeting since the riots, Cheney did not shake hands on how to vote, but she urged her colleagues to “choose your conscience,” and insisted it was not political vote.
It is unclear how many Republicans will follow Cheney’s path, but more are expected to follow, a potential sign of her growing influence in the party. Her stance also gives cautious Republicans great political coverage.
“It’s good for her that she kept her oath of office,” spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday.
McCarthy has since struggled with his response to the attack. While continuing to oppose impeachment, an aide confirmed to POLITICO that McCarthy is open to the less severe option of reprimand. The idea has gained momentum within the GOP conference, but Democrats argue that it doesn’t go far enough to condemn Trump for his role in Wednesday’s deadly events, and that there is no vote on the ground.
In yet another sign that McCarthy is still trying to figure out his next steps, a GOP member also said he asked Republicans if he should ask Trump to step down. That detail was first reported by the New York Times.
According to sources, McCarthy has not flogged members over how they will vote on impeachment. This would certainly backfire as Republicans grapple with responding to the crisis.
But the California Republican has become more critical of Trump, especially as anger and frustration grow among the ranks of the House’s GOP. McCarthy and his senior deputy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Have faced setbacks within the conference for handling the siege and continuing to object to the certification of Biden’s electoral college win even after the deadly unrest. Scalise is also against impeachment.
While McCarthy was quick to condemn the violence and urged Trump to make a stronger statement urging the rioters to step down, the GOP leader waited days before privately blaming Trump on a conference call, saying the president was partly responsible for inciting unrest endangers the life of the legislature.
McCarthy told his colleagues Monday night that he had asked Trump to congratulate Biden on the first time he encouraged the outgoing president to expand an olive branch on the new administration.
McCarthy had previously made the calculated call to play Trump all-in. Some Republicans said he had taken the 2020 house seat gain as a sign that if the party remained tied to Trump, it would be their path to win the house back in 2022.
But, as some Republicans have noted, that approach meant the House’s GOP was inextricably linked to Trump – even if he was to throw the country into chaos.
In addition to McCarthy’s suffering, more and more corporate donors and corporate groups are reducing their political contributions to members who have voted against certification, putting one of McCarthy’s other strengths – fundraising – at risk.
Cheney has meanwhile repeatedly challenged Trump. She has broken up with other GOP leaders, who have often kept silent about their criticism and sometimes publicly pushed back the behavior of the President.
At some point last year, Cheney’s political potential seemed scorched after a group of members of the House Freedom Caucus piled on her in July for criticizing the president, supporting Anthony Fauci, and supporting a major antagonist who challenged Rep would have. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Some conservatives even discussed recruiting someone to challenge them for the conference chair, but it never came to fruition. Cheney was unanimously selected to serve another term in the leadership.
McCarthy’s stance has also brought him directly into conflict with McConnell, his GOP counterpart in the Capitol.
McConnell has privately stated that he’s glad the Democrats are pushing ahead with plans to remove the unpredictable president from office because the Senate chairman believes it will help cleanse the GOP of Trump.
McCarthy and McConnell also handled objections to the elections very differently. While McConnell actively urged Senate Republicans not to question the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory, McCarthy remained largely calm before joining the majority of the House Republicans to object to the electoral college vote. In fact, POLITICO also reported that McCarthy had already advised GOP newbies on which election challenges to support before the vote on Wednesday.
Unlike McConnell, who described his vote as “the most important vote” he has ever cast, McCarthy chose to take his objection forward hours after the violence at the Capitol complex that outraged many of his Republican counterparts.
When Trump’s second impeachment process begins, the Senate will have a chance to prevent Trump from ever holding public office again. Some Republicans may see an opportunity.
“Mitch McConnell looked at the party long term. And [he and Cheney] answered the call, “said a GOP legislator. “And I think a lot of members are concerned that both McCarthy and Scalise didn’t.”