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Liz Cheney, focused on stopping Trump, hasn't ruled out 3rd-party presidential run

Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chairwoman of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers remarks during a hearing on Oct. 13, 2022. (Also pictured are Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Adam Kinzinger.)
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Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chairwoman of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers remarks during a hearing on Oct. 13, 2022. (Also pictured are Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Adam Kinzinger.)

Former Wyoming representative Liz Cheney voted for Donald Trump twice, in 2016 and 2020, but she vows she won't do it again. In fact, she says, "I'm going to do everything I can to stop Donald Trump."

One of two Republicans who served on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Cheney lost her congressional seat in her state's 2022 Republican primary. But she's not done with politics. Her new memoir, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, reflects on the work of the Jan. 6 committee and details what she witnessed behind the scenes in the House of Representatives, both before and after the Capitol insurrection.

Cheney estimates that the number of Republicans in Congress who believe Trump's lie about the 2020 election is very small — "probably you can count them almost on one hand." Instead, she says, the majority of her former colleagues made a political calculation to go along with the former president, despite the fact that they know better. She says some colleagues even privately thanked her for speaking out against Trump.

"[Sen. Mitch McConnell] urged me directly that we just need to ignore Trump and he'll go away," Cheney says. "And I think now we're seeing the real consequences of that. He's not going away."

In fact, Cheney theorizes that the former president, who was impeached twice, is working behind the scenes to encourage the current effort to impeach President Biden: "I think there's no question that [Trump]'s likely urging the House Republicans to move forward to impeach Biden as a way to sort of level the impeachment playing field, if you will."

While Cheney hasn't ruled out a third-party run for president in 2024, she says any move she makes will be designed to extinguish the "existential threat" that Trump poses to democracy.

"You have to put partisanship aside," she says. "I think we're at a moment where Republicans and Democrats and independents have to be willing to say, 'Look, we're going to come together and work on behalf of the Constitution.'"


Interview highlights

/ Little, Brown and Company
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Little, Brown and Company

On Trump inciting violence

I think one could say, maybe before January 6th, it wasn't clear whether or not Trump's words would lead to violence. It certainly is clear after January 6th. The extent to which Trump knows that his words led to violence that day, and yet he still continues to say the same things — and he's never expressed any remorse.

[Trump] has introduced violence into America's political process in a way that we have not seen certainly in many, many years.

One of the things we showed in the January 6th select committee report was we produced a chart that shows the days when Trump was told that specific allegations he was making were false and by whom he was told. And then we show the day just after that when he went out and made the claim again. So he knew with specificity that what he was saying was not true. And he also knows that what he was saying and urging people to do led to the violence on January 6th. And of course, he's glorified what happened on that day. So there's no question about his intent. And he has introduced violence into America's political process in a way that we have not seen certainly in many, many years.

On whether she expected to be ousted from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference after voting to impeach Trump

The first time that there was a big push to oust me from leadership was in February of 2021. And that was also at a meeting I chaired. It was about a four-hour-long meeting of the House Republicans. And ultimately, that effort to remove me was unsuccessful. ... By the time we got to May, which was when I was ousted, things had changed so dramatically. In February of 2021, you could imagine a Republican Party that was going to move away from Trump and was going to look to the future; by May, that was clearly not happening. And so in May, when the second attempt to oust me came up, it was clear at that point that I would have to choose. And if I was going to stay in the leadership of the House Republicans, that would mean lying about the 2020 election. It would require that I join in the efforts to whitewash what had happened on January 6th, that I lie about Donald Trump's involvement in those efforts. And I was unwilling to do that. And so I made a very conscious decision at that point that if the price of remaining and leadership was telling those lies, then I certainly was not willing to do that.

On working across the aisle with Democrats in the House select committee investigating Jan. 6

That experience made me realize how often in politics we tend to depersonalize our opponents. And I think that's a very important realization. And I suspect that they probably had the same realization about working with me. It can become very easy in politics to sort of go to your partisan corner and launch attacks, sometimes personal attacks. And I think that what we all need to recognize is that that's not good for this country, especially in the moment in which we're living. I write about it as feeling at moments as though I was a visitor from another planet when I was suddenly sitting in Nancy Pelosi's conference room surrounded by some of the most well-known and senior Democrats in the House of Representatives, some of whom I had worked with, but some of whom I had never spoken with before that first meeting of the committee.

I always remember Jamie Raskin at one point said to me that he really looked forward to the days when we were disagreeing with each other again, because that would mean that we've righted the ship of our democracy.

The thing that really brought us together was, frankly, being able to say, "Look, we have very different policy views, but we don't even get to the place where we're debating those if we don't defend the Constitution." And I think there was a real effort on all sides to set those partisan disagreements aside. I always remember Jamie Raskinat one point said to me that he really looked forward to the days when we were disagreeing with each other again, because that would mean that we've righted the ship of our democracy. And I think that's an important point.

On what she believes a second Trump term would be like

One of the things that we know now is that we were saved from a much more significant constitutional crisis because of the people around Trump and because of Republicans around the country — for example, state legislative officials who resisted Donald Trump's pressure, who resisted his instructions that they flip votes for Biden to be votes for Trump, for example. We know he was stopped by people at his Justice Department, at the White House counsel's office, by the vice president, who wouldn't do what Trump wanted. And so the first thing people have to recognize is those types of individuals will not be there in a second Trump term. Trump himself has talked about appointing people like Mike Flynn. Flynn is the one who suggested that Donald Trump could call out the military and rerun elections in swing states. He suggested he might appoint Jeff Clark — Clark is the Justice Department official who was willing to lie about the election and attempt to encourage legislatures around the country to overturn the results and flip Biden votes to be Trump votes. So there will not be those individuals around him to stop him.

Secondly, we know that he's not going to abide by the rulings of the courts if he disagrees with them. And that's very significant to have the potential that you'll have a president of the United States who's charged with taking care that the laws are faithfully executed, willing to ignore the rulings of the courts. And Justice Felix Frankfurter said once in a famous concurrence that, if every man is allowed to determine for himself what the law is, then you'll have chaos. And that'll be soon followed by tyranny. And that's the threat that we're looking at with Donald Trump.

On Trump wanting to hurt his opponents

There's simply no defense, no excuse for putting that power back in the hands of Donald Trump, who attempted to seize power and stay in office already once illegally.

[Trump] talks about retribution. He talks about weaponizing the levers of our government against his political opponents. I don't view that so much through the lens of what it would mean for me personally. But I think that what it would mean for the republic is that we won't be a republic anymore. And it's not as though people have to guess about what he would do or have to predict what he would do because he tells us every single day. And what we really are obligated to do is to take those threats very seriously. We have not had a president like that before. And the presidency is the most powerful office probably in the world. And as citizens, we have an obligation to think carefully about who is the person we're going to entrust with that awesome power and authority. And there's simply no defense, no excuse for putting that power back in the hands of Donald Trump, who attempted to seize power and stay in office already once illegally.

On how she believes the GOP has to change

I think that there are two things that have to happen: One is, in the near term, the defeat of Donald Trump. The second thing is either building a new party or bringing the Republican Party back from the abyss of this cult of personality that has engulfed it. But that second thing of whether or not it's building a new conservative party or rebuilding the Republican Party, that is going to take time. That's not something that can happen before the 2024 election. And frankly, I worry that if we focus too much on that, we will take our eye off the ball of the defeat of Donald Trump in '24. So I do think both of those things have to happen. But I think it's a matter of sequencing and what has to happen in this cycle versus what can happen after that.

On if she still wants to play a role in government

I love this country. I'm a mother and I am committed to making sure that my kids live in a country that is characterized by the peaceful transfer of power. I've spent many years in my career working in countries around the world that aren't free, countries where people yearn for the kind of freedom that we have in this nation. And I don't know what role I will play specifically at this point. I haven't made that decision yet. But I certainly feel very honored to have been able to be engaged and involved in the defense of this country. And I will certainly continue to do everything I can for as long as I can to do so.

Sam Briger and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Kelsey Snell adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Terry Gross
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.