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Liz Cheney defiant over Trump as Republican civil war heats up

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP</span>
Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Liz Cheney has become the figurehead of the conservative Never Trumpers – but the Wyoming congresswoman was for the former president in the last election.

Related: Can ‘Never Trump’ Republicans gain party control – or is it a lost cause?

Newly removed from House Republican leadership, Cheney spoke to ABC’s This Week. Asked if she regretted voting for Trump in 2020, she said: “I was never going to support Joe Biden and I do regret the vote. I think that it was based on policy, based on sort of substance and what I know in terms of the kinds of policies [Trump] put forward that were good for the country.”

Cheney came out against Trump after the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, by supporters he told to “fight like hell” in service of his lie that his defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud.

Most of the congressional GOP has stayed behind Trump – one representative claimed this week those who entered the Capitol were as orderly as tourists.

“It’s indefensible,” Cheney said. “I will never forget seeing the law enforcement officers, the members of the Swat team, the rapid response forces, seeing them and their exhaustion. And they had been through hand-to-hand combat – and you know, people died.

“And the notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable. And I won’t be part of whitewashing what happened on 6 January. Nobody should be part of it. And people ought to be held accountable.”

Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment on a charge of inciting an insurrection. Trump was acquitted after only seven Republican senators followed suit.

Cheney also told ABC Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, should either voluntarily testify before any 6 January commission about his conversation with Trump as the attack happened, or be compelled to do so.

Cheney is a staunch conservative and a daughter of Dick Cheney, a former secretary of defense and vice-president. As such she is a member of a party establishment either beaten into near-silence by Trump’s harangues, like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell; vilified by Trump’s supporters, like Utah senator and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney; or simply acquiescent.

Related: Arizona Republican calls Trump ‘deleted database’ statement ‘unhinged’

Trump remains excluded from social media over his role in the Capitol riot but on Saturday he issued statements replete with rants about supposed electoral fraud which one Arizona GOP official called “unhinged” and “insane”. On ABC, interviewer Jonathan Karl asked if Cheney would stay in her party should Trump win the nomination in 2024.

Cheney said she would do “everything necessary to make sure he never gets anywhere close to the Oval Office again”.

But, Karl repeated, would she remain in the party if Trump were the nominee?

“I will not support him,” said Cheney. “And we’ll do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Asked if she would run for president, Cheney said she was focused on re-election in Wyoming. Asked if her father wanted her to run, she said: “Well, yeah, but he’s my dad, so he’s not objective.”

Some Republicans outside Congress have mooted a new party. Most observers think that unlikely to succeed. Karl pointed out that Republicans who have stood up to Trump, including senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have been run out of town.

Cheney said only a “handful” of Republicans believed Trump’s lies. But, she said, “there are many members who have expressed concern about their own security. And I think that’s an important point to think about as well, that we now live in a country where members’ votes are affected because they’re worried about their security, they’re worried about threats on their lives.

“But there’s no question that at this moment, the majority of the Republican party is not where I am.”

The brewing Republican civil war dominated the Sunday talk shows. Another Trump critic, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, spoke to NBC’s Meet the Press – as did Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

Kinzinger said Cheney “just simply answered questions that the election was not stolen. And then Donald Trump dozens and dozens of times says it is. It’s not Liz’s fault.” He also said he had been a Republican “a lot longer than Trump has and I’m not going to let him come in and hijack my party … that’s what the fight’s about.”

Crenshaw claimed the issue was an “internal drama” about which voters did not care, attacked supposed media bias and said: “I won’t say Trump is the devil but I don’t think he’s Jesus either.”

Fred Upton, a Michigan representative who has been close to Biden, spoke to CNN’S State of the Union. He called attempts to deny events at the Capitol “absolutely bogus” and said allegiance to Trump would guarantee defeat.

“We’re not going to win unless we’re a big tent,” Upton said.

The Maryland governor, Larry Hogan, a likely presidential contender, told CNN Trump was “toxic for the party”.

Elise Stefanik speaks to the media after a Republican caucus meeting.
Elise Stefanik speaks to the media after a Republican caucus meeting. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Cheney’s replacement as the No3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik, spoke to Fox News. The New Yorker, once a moderate, told Sunday Morning Futures Cheney was “looking backwards”.

Related: ‘Naughty favours’: Matt Gaetz seeks to ridicule allegations he paid underaged girl for sex

“Republicans are looking forward, we are unified and we are talking about conservative principles. President Trump is an important voice in the party … I’m proud to represent the vast majority of Republicans and that’s why we needed to make a change of House conference chair.”

Cheney told ABC that with her party in Trump’s grip, there was “no question” something like the Capitol attack could happen again.

“We’ve seen how far President Trump was willing to go,” she said. “We’ve seen not only his provocation of the attack, but his refusal to send help when it was needed, his refusal to immediately say, ‘Stop.’ And that in and of itself, in my view, was a very clear violation of his oath and of his duty.

“I think the issue really is Donald Trump and it really is the party and whether we’re going to be a party that’s based on the truth.”