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Image: House Republican Leadership Speaks To The Media After Conference Meeting
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a news conference with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, right, at the Capitol on July 21, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

Kevin McCarthy makes weak case against Liz Cheney to House GOP

The House Republican leader had a week to figure out what he wanted to say about purging Liz Cheney. His letter suggests he couldn't think of anything.


After months in which House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) backed House Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the dam broke last week. In a hot-mic moment, the chamber's top Republican leader told Fox News a week ago this morning, "I've had it with her. You know, I've lost confidence."

Over the weekend, McCarthy returned to Fox News and was asked whether he supports Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) in her bid to replace Cheney. "Yes, I do," he replied.

All of which led to yesterday, when McCarthy put it in writing. NBC News reported late yesterday:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to his Republican colleagues saying it's "clear that we need to make a change" ahead of a Wednesday vote that could remove GOP Rep. Liz Cheney from her position as conference chair.

On the surface, the letter to House Republicans surprised no one. Cheney has been publicly critical of Donald Trump's anti-election efforts, while also expressing support for democracy, putting her future in GOP politics in peril.

But what was surprising about McCarthy's letter is how woeful it was. The House minority leader had at least a week to carefully craft his case to the Republican conference, and given the quality of his missive, he apparently couldn't think of much.

"We are a big tent party," McCarthy wrote. "We represent Americans of all backgrounds.... And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate."

Evidently, the irony was lost on him. The point of yesterday's letter was for McCarthy to tell his members to purge a conservative Republican from the House GOP leadership team for her audacious apostasy against Trump orthodoxy. For McCarthy to add in the same letter that this is "a big tent party" that embraces "free thought" was absurd, even for him.

But even more important was the minority leader's argument that Cheney has to go because of her apparent interest in trying to "relitigate the past." It's become the go-to talking point for the Wyoming congresswoman's intra-party critics: Republicans are firing her because she's too focused on the 2020 presidential election.

It's a bizarre claim. For one thing, Cheney has been explicit in explaining her focus on the future of democracy, not just what transpired six months ago.

For another, if anyone's desperate to "relitigate the past" it's the failed former president whom McCarthy & Co. are so eager to please. In case the House minority leader missed it, I'd direct his attention to the outlandish "audit" of ballots in Arizona, and Team Trump's interest in taking the same circus to a variety of other states, including Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.

By any fair measure, one of Cheney's principal partisan sins has been responding to Trump as he tries to relitigate the past.

Clearly, such details will have little bearing on the outcome of the House Republican Conference vote tomorrow, but the fact that McCarthy is struggling to come up with a coherent case against Cheney speaks to the merit of the exercise.