Impeachment could become defining moment for Liz Cheney

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019 file photo, Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019 file photo, Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Just before a mob unleashed a deadly rampage on the U.S. Capitol last week, President Donald Trump told tens of thousands of supporters that “we got to get rid” of Rep. Liz Cheney.

The Wyoming congresswoman and No. 3 House Republican had already broken with the president on everything from mask-wearing during the coronavirus pandemic to pulling back American troops in Afghanistan. Now she's emerged as the most prominent Republican to back Trump's impeachment — the only member of her party's leadership to do so.

This could be a defining moment in Cheney's political career. Her support provided some cover to the nine other House Republicans who followed her lead and voted to make Trump the only president in American history to be twice impeached. Defying Trump also carried the historical weight of coming from the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, a conservative force in Washington for decades.

“That is not some irresponsible, new member of the Congress,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the floor Wednesday, noting that he'd endured opposition from the elder Cheney in the chamber and elsewhere. “This is the daughter of the former Republican whip and former vice president. She knows of what she speaks.”

The number of Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment was small but significant — when Trump was impeached last year, no House Republicans supported it.

Cheney represents one of the country's reliably Republican states, but her vote could prompt a primary challenge from the right in next year's election. That makes her backing impeachment all the more surprising since Cheney is seen as someone looking to build on an already strong national profile to possibly grow within the Republican Party's upper ranks.

Around 70% of Wyoming voters backed Trump in November, about the same percentage as in 2016.

On a conference call with home-state reporters after Trump's impeachment, Cheney defended her decision saying, “I will continue to talk to and hear from my constituents all over Wyoming. But when it came down to it, the president of the United States inciting a mob ... is, in my mind, absolutely high crimes and misdemeanors.”