House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pushed back on House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry’s latest effort to boot Republican Rep. Liz Cheney from the House GOP Caucus last week. McCarthy told some Republican members during a private lunch that doing so would hurt the party by cutting down Republican committee seats in the lower chamber, two House Republicans told The Dispatch.
McCarthy made the comments, which have not been previously reported, last Wednesday at the Capitol Hill Club hours after a separate closed-door House GOP conference meeting. Earlier that day, Perry discussed his prospective motion to remove Cheney—the co-chair of the January 6 Select Committee—from the GOP conference. Perry also told members during the conference meeting that McCarthy had asked him to put the motion on hold so the party could focus on the one-year anniversary of Biden’s inauguration. CNN’s Melanie Zanona first reported details of that meeting.
One Republican who attended the Capitol Hill Club lunch said that McCarthy “talked specifically about Scott Perry’s initiative to remove two members, Liz Cheney and Adam [Kinzinger], from the Republican conference because of their role on the select committee.” The member estimated that 50-60 Republicans attended the lunch, roughly half of whom were lawmakers.
Pursuing another effort to boot Cheney from the conference would come at a cost, McCarthy told members during the lunch. “You could make the argument to reduce it and actually in the short-term hurt the Republican margin in committees where most of the work gets done before a bill gets the floor,” the House Republican member said in reference to McCarthy’s comments, adding that the party’s committee ratio has already shrunk after GOP Rep. Devin Nunes resigned January 1. “So [McCarthy] walked people through that and how he had then successfully tried to dissuade Perry from offering the somewhat of a surprise motion in the Republican conference last week to strip these members out of the Republican conference.”
Perry told reporters after last week’s conference meeting that he’d delay the effort, pending more discussion with McCarthy. Another House Republican who was present at last week’s conference meeting said it wasn’t clear if Perry’s motion was also intended to target Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the only other House Republican on the Select Committee.
That member, who was also present at last week’s Capitol Hill Club lunch, interpreted McCarthy’s comments as a clear effort to tamp down intra-party divisions. “I think [McCarthy] was trying to say there’s a warning here,” the member said. “If you remove two people from conference, Speaker Pelosi could come back and say, ‘Hey, you have the smaller numbers now, and based on the ratio, you’re going to lose these committee seats to these various committees and it will fall on the most junior member who will lose those seats.’”
Spokesmen for McCarthy, Perry, and Cheney declined to comment for this article.
Perry’s prospective motion would be the latest in a series of failed efforts to remove Cheney and Kinzinger from the conference for their decisions to participate in the House Select Committee’s investigation of the Capitol riot. During a press conference over the summer, former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs announced a measure to remove from the House GOP conference any Republican member who accepts a committee assignment from the Democratic Party.
After that effort fizzled, Biggs again urged McCarthy in September to consider taking a conference vote on the matter, calling Kinzinger and Cheney—both of whom voted to impeach former President Donald Trump—“spies of the Democrats” for agreeing to sit on the panel. That effort also failed.
The latest effort to boot Cheney from the conference is unlikely to gain much—if any—traction in the House if Perry decides to pursue it, as most members don’t necessarily want to decrease their ranks while in the minority. But the Freedom Caucus’ persistence speaks to longstanding fissures in the GOP over how to grapple with the aftermath of the Capitol attack and how to engage with the two Republican members who have joined Democrats in investigating the events of that day.
GOP Rep. Chip Roy, who was not at last week’s conference meeting, said in a brief interview last week that he supports “what Scott’s trying to do to have conversations with the leader on that.”
“That’s an ongoing conversation,” Roy added. “It’s going to continue to be an ongoing conversation as long as there are members of our own conference taking shots at members in our conference.”
Other hardline Republican members have already made up their minds.
“Cheney and Kinzinger both should be removed from the conference,” GOP Rep. Bob Good, a member of the Freedom Caucus, told The Dispatch last week. “They’ve obviously left the conference. They’re not Republicans.”
“We’re gonna kick her out of our conference, that is gonna happen,” GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, also a member of the Freedom Caucus, said on Steve Bannon’s podcast last week.
The divisions go back to January 2021, when Cheney, Kinzinger, and eight other House Republicans joined House Democrats in voting to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in fomenting the Capitol riot. Tensions ratcheted up in May, when Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her role as House GOP conference chair for her continued criticism of the former president, then again in July, when McCarthy pulled all five Republican picks for the Select Committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his picks: GOP Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks. Pelosi’s decision to tap Cheney and Kinzinger as the panel’s sole Republican members in July only heightened divisions between the two lawmakers and many of their GOP colleagues.
So far, none of the House Republicans who have been subpoenaed by the committee for voluntary interviews—Perry, McCarthy, and Jordan—have agreed to cooperate with the panel’s investigation. But the committee has succeeded in obtaining hours of testimony from those close to the former president, along with thousands of pages of documents related to the events of that day. The committee also scored a victory last week from the Supreme Court, which overruled Trump’s attempt to block the turnover of thousands of pages of documents in the National Archives.
The panel is facing real time constraints: If Republicans retake the House in this fall’s midterm elections, they will almost certainly end the committee’s efforts. Some high-profile Republicans are showing increasing agitation at the investigation’s progress, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich saying on Fox News that its members should face repercussions.
“This is all going to come crashing down, and the wolves are going to find out that they’re now sheep, and they’re the ones who are in fact, going to I think face a real risk of jail,” Gingrich told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Sunday.
Those remarks prompted a swift condemnation from Cheney on Twitter: “This is what it looks like when the rule of law unravels.”
Cheney is running for re-election to the sole House seat in Wyoming, where she will face off against Trump-endorsed GOP candidate Harriet Hageman in an August primary. Cheney told The Dispatch earlier this month that she would rule out any kind of third-party election bid if she loses the primary race, because she is “going to fight for the Republican Party and the future of the Republican Party.”
House Freedom Caucus members are concerned that Cheney will shore up electoral support from Democratic voters ahead of Wyoming’s open Republican primary. “While Democrats are being fooled by Liz Cheney right now, they should remember that she is not a Democrat,” Greene said last week on Bannon’s podcast, in which she argued that Wyoming voters should unite behind Hageman in the GOP primary. “As a matter of fact, she has a very conservative voting record, more conservative than my Republican colleagues, by the way.” The Wyoming Republican Party passed a resolution in November to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican.
Kinzinger, meanwhile, announced his retirement in October shortly after the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature passed a new redistricting map that would have pitted him against another Republican incumbent.