WASHINGTON — Rep. Liz Cheney’s historic decision to vote to impeach President Donald Trump had its roots in a dramatic phone call from her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who was watching events unfold on television last week and warned that she was being verbally attacked by the president.
Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership, became the most prominent congressional Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney said in a statement Tuesday. “I will vote to impeach the president.”
Six days earlier, Cheney was in the House chamber, urging that Republicans reject efforts pushed by Trump and many in her party to challenge the electoral college results that had determined Trump had lost his reelection bid. She did not know that she was being attacked by Trump, who was delivering the speech that would incite a mob to storm the Capitol, until her father reached her by phone in the House cloakroom.
“We got to rid of the weak Congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world,” Trump said in the speech, singling her out as he urged the mob to march to the Capitol.
After being informed of the president’s tirade by her father, Cheney walked out on the House floor, still hoping to stop the effort backed by Trump to overturn the electoral college votes. Then she heard a mob banging on the chamber’s doors and a shot fired, and realized that an attempted insurrection was underway. She hustled to a secure location and later called Fox News.
“There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob,” Cheney told the network where she once worked and whose pundits had long supported Trump. “He lit the flame.”
The dramatic moments, recounted by a source familiar with them, led her to back impeachment.
“The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” Cheney said in the statement. “He did not.”
The decision marked an extraordinary denouement for Cheney and her potentially precarious perch in the party’s leadership. She had feuded for months with Trump and lately had been at odds with the majority of her caucus, even as speculation mounts about whether she might one day seek the speakership. The move was applauded by those in the party who have urged a clean break with Trump.
“It is a remarkable statement that sets a new bar for leadership in the House,” said Brendan Buck, a former aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. “She is turning the page on Donald Trump. I think she is doing the right thing in her mind, and when you do the right thing for the right reasons you have to hope the politics work out for you.”
At the same time, he said, the decision will prompt Republicans who disagree with her decision to consider “whether there should be political consequences for her internally.”
Liz Cheney declined to comment. Richard B. Cheney did not respond to a request for comment.
Liz Cheney, 54, has been a member of the House of Representatives for only four years, coinciding with Trump’s presidency. But she has risen in meteoric fashion to the top ranks of GOP leadership after just one term representing Wyoming, leaving admirers and enemies in her wake.
She and her father have had an up-and-down relationship with Trump that turned toxic. As she heard Trump and many of her colleagues declare several weeks ago that Congress should seek to challenge the electoral college results, she sat down to write a 21-page memo warning Republicans against the effort.
“By objecting to electoral slates, members are unavoidably asserting that Congress has the authority to overturn elections and overrule state and federal courts,” she wrote in the memo, which she released last week. “Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress. This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.”
Cheney’s memo was hailed by Democrats. But the advice was not heeded by the vast majority of those in Cheney’s caucus, as 139 out of 211 House Republicans voted to challenge electoral college votes from Arizona, Pennsylvania or both.
Among those supporting the effort to challenge the results was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a potential rival to Cheney for the speakership if Republicans regain the House in two years. McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said Republicans welcome differing views and said the “leadership team is united.”
On Monday night, in a conference call with Republicans, McCarthy said he opposed impeachment, while Cheney declined to reveal her view, other than to say, “This is going to be a vote of conscience.”