Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus tore into Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) during a heated GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, lobbing attacks at her for breaking with President Donald Trump, supporting Dr. Anthony Fauci and backing a primary opponent to one of their colleagues.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus co-founder and one of Trump’s top allies, called out Cheney, the GOP conference chairwoman, for all the times she has opposed Trump and began ticking off some recent high-profile examples, according to two sources in the room. While Jordan praised her defense of Trump during impeachment, he also said Cheney’s recent rebukes of Trump — which have focused on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, his Twitter rhetoric, and his foreign policy — were not helpful.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the head of the Freedom Caucus, even accused Cheney of undermining the GOP’s ability to win back the House and said that if someone has a problem with Trump, they should keep it to themselves.
Cheney responded to the criticism from her colleagues by saying she disagrees with Jordan’s assessment and making clear her views are her own.
To Jordan, whose arch-conservative Freedom Caucus was a pain in the side of GOP leadership when they were in the majority, Cheney said: “I look forward to hearing your comments about being a team player when we’re back in the majority,” according to two sources in the room.
The pile-on came during the House GOP’s first in-person meeting in months, with large in-person gatherings in the Capitol mostly replaced by conference calls during the pandemic. And after Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) tested positive for coronavirus last week, leadership stepped up their safety precautions for Tuesday’s meeting by requiring masks and temperature checks at the door.
The meeting also comes as there is growing concern in the GOP about Trump’s slumping poll numbers and his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Cheney has been one of the Republicans who has been willing to publicly call out Trump — a risky move in today’s GOP — and has managed to avoid the kind of scathing retort that Trump has doled out to others in the party.
But tensions over Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, flared during Tuesday’s closed-door conference meeting.
The venting session began when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) got on the microphone to complain about Cheney supporting a Republican primary challenger to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Biggs also defended Massie and expressed their concerns about GOP lawmakers playing in primaries involving their colleagues.
Cheney told Massie his issue is with Trump, not her, since the president has openly called for Massie’s ouster. But Massie insisted his issue was indeed with Cheney. Meanwhile, Cheney responded to Gaetz by telling him she looks forward to seeing his HBO documentary.
But the attacks on Cheney didn’t end there. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who faces a competitive reelection battle this fall, complained about Cheney’s support of Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and pointed out that his Democratic opponent for November’s general election even retweeted one of Cheney’s tweets praising Fauci.
In recent weeks, some White House officials and other Trump allies who are frustrated by the slow pace of reopening the economy have tried to undermine Fauci.
The Wyoming congresswoman responded by forcefully defending Fauci and saying they should focus on defeating the virus, not launching attacks against individuals who are trying to accomplish that mission.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) also chimed in at one point, but he focused his ire on national security issues and Cheney’s hawkish foreign policy stance. Norman even brought up the Bush administration, to which Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, replied: “I’m not a Bush.”
Cheney — a staunch conservative who quickly climbed the leadership ranks and has wide support in the House GOP conference — votes with Trump 97 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
She briefly told reporters after the meeting that “we’re all unified” and declined to answer questions about whether anybody apologized to her for things getting heated. But Cheney was later spotted on the House floor having a conversation with Massie.
“We talked at length about the dangers if Joe Biden is elected president,” she said of the meeting.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.