WASHINGTON – Despite threats to her reelection, prominent House Republican Liz Cheney did not back down Tuesday from her criticism of former President Donald Trump, again blaming him for the deadly Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol that exposed threats to democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.
“What we saw, first hand, on Jan. 6 was a threat to this system,” Cheney said during a foreign policy event sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. “What happened on that day must never happen again.”
Echoing comments she made while voting to impeach Trump in January, Cheney hit Trump for “summoning the mob” and “provoking them” to a violent attack designed to break up the congressional counting of electoral votes that elected Joe Biden to the presidency.
Cheney, R-Wyo., said the events of Jan. 6 should not be trivialized or minimized, and described the riot as “an existential threat to who we are.”
Noting that the attack featured Holocaust deniers and the Confederate battle flag, Cheney said she and her Republican colleagues need to make clear that “we aren’t the party of white supremacy.”
Trump and his allies, who have denied inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, say they will back primary challengers to the 10 House Republicans who voted for his second impeachment. Cheney, the third-ranking GOP member of the House, is the most prominent name on that list.
Some Republicans who criticized Trump right after the Jan. 6 attack, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have softened their tone toward the ex-president in recent weeks.
Not Cheney. During a question-and-answer session at the foreign policy event, Cheney again described Trump’s assertions that the election was “stolen” from him as a spark to the insurrection.
“That is a dangerous claim,” Cheney said. “It wasn’t true.”
Trump political adviser Jason Miller hit back Tuesday, saying, “If Liz Cheney spent half as much time attacking Democrats as she does attacking Republicans, we’d be in the majority already!”
During the Senate impeachment trial this month, Trump’s attorneys said the president did not encourage supporters to break into the Capitol and threaten lawmakers, and he condemns those who did.
The Senate eventually acquitted Trump of a charge of incitement. Prosecutors could not muster the two-thirds vote necessary for conviction, but 57 of the 100 senators voted to convict, including seven Republicans.
In her remarks to the Reagan Institute, Cheney supported the creation of a 9/11-style commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, provided the probe is sufficiently bipartisan. She also backed ongoing “criminal investigations” of the insurrection, some of which may involve Trump himself.
The Wyoming-based lawmaker, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, did not discuss her reelection challenges in her virtual appearance at the event. In a speech entitled “Building a 21st-Century Foreign Policy,” she expressed support for Trump’s policies designed to confront Iran and China over anti-American activities.
Cheney spoke out less than a week before Trump makes his first extended public speech since his term ended on Jan. 20. The ex-president addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday.
Trump may discuss plans to get involved in the 2022 congressional elections, including primary challenges to Cheney and other Republicans who voted for impeachment or otherwise opposed his efforts to overturn the election.
Allies to the former president have already tried to make life difficult for Cheney.
Gaetz and other Republicans sought to depose Cheney as the House Republican Conference Chair, the third-highest position in the GOP leadership. But House Republicans voted by more than two-to-one to keep her on, 145-61.
In voting to impeach Trump, Cheney gave an oft-replayed soundbite about the insurrection and Trump’s role: “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.”
In her remarks Tuesday, Cheney said the behavior of Trump and some of his allies is still contributing to “a very dangerous set of circumstances.”
The insurrection did fail, she noted; Congress counted the votes to elect Biden and “the institutions held.” But she added that people should remember “how close they came to not holding.”