It appears U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is perfectly willing to throw his Wyoming Republican colleague Rep. Liz Cheney under the bus, but isn’t interested in expending that much energy.
Instead, Barrasso is content to just passively watch from the curb as the bus runs her over.
Barrasso’s failure to defend Cheney against House Republicans who want to remove her as the party’s conference chairwoman is a profile in political cowardice.
The state’s senior senator doesn’t have to bind himself lockstep to Cheney, who had the courage to join nine GOP representatives in voting to impeach former President Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Barrasso voted to acquit Trump in the Senate trial, so his position is clear.
But the controversy revolves around Trump’s claim that the election was stolen, which is patently false, as Cheney asserted and federal and state courts confirmed.
Barrasso could show a modicum of support for Cheney and help heal the state and country after a bitter, divisive election by simply acknowledging the truth: Joe Biden won the election fairly.
But he doesn’t dare take that small, honest step and risk enraging Trump, even though Barrasso won’t face voters again until 2024.
“There are always [election] irregularities,” Barrasso said during an appearance on Fox News’ “America Reports.” “The Democrats in Congress right now are trying to make it even easier to cheat in elections. That’s why I’m fighting against what they’re doing. …”
“Was the 2020 election stolen, or was it fought fair?” Fox’s John Roberts asked.
“Joe Biden is in the White House, and there’s nothing we can do about that right now, other than to stop this administration and make him into a half-term president,” Barrasso replied.
Barrasso voted to certify the election results, but he doesn’t want to be known for that in Trumpville. So he packed several messages into his sound bites, beginning by citing unspecified “irregularities,” which is a code word for the Dems’ supposedly rampant cheating.
Barrasso may think he deftly handled the interview, but avoiding questions about the fundamental fairness of our democratic process doesn’t make one clever. It’s not a game of political dodgeball, played out for the benefit of Citizen Trump.
It was a gutless media performance, made all the more tragic because Barrasso and 434 other lawmakers were trapped on Jan. 6 by a right-wing mob intent on harm. They had to be escorted to safety by Capitol Police.
What politician on Earth has that short of a memory, or doesn’t care that rioters erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds?
The actions Trump set in motion when he told his followers to march to the Capitol and “stop the steal” are serious, as evidenced by the hundreds of criminal charges filed by federal prosecutors. Most Americans will long remember what happened, because it was one of the most shameful episodes in our nation’s history. But if they ever forget, Cheney can set them straight.
After Trump sent out an email last week claiming once again that he didn’t lose, Cheney responded with an op-ed in the Washington Post.
“History is watching. Our children are watching,” Cheney wrote. “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequence might be.”
The consequences may well be Cheney’s removal from her leadership post via a secret vote of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday that will surely be leaked to the media so Trump will know who his friends are. Politicians and pundits have been busy proclaiming Cheney’s demise for the past week, and questioning how she can possibly be re-elected in a state where 70% of the electorate voted for Trump.
Cheney already survived one vote to remove her as chairwoman in February, 145-61, after she told colleagues she would not apologize for her impeachment vote. It will take a two-thirds vote behind closed doors to fulfill Trump’s wish to dump Cheney in favor of his hand-picked successor, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York).
I think it would be fitting if Cheney weathered this storm, too, though the deck is stacked against her. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) has also given Stefanik his blessing, even though her voting record is far less conservative than Cheney’s.
Cheney may not even want the job anymore. It’s a thankless one, and whoever holds it will be blamed if Republicans don’t retake the House in 2022.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), who also voted to impeach Trump, released a statement questioning Cheney’s ability to continue performing her duties, given the state of the GOP.
“This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6,” Kinzinger wrote. “Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”
A few lawmakers have publicly supported Cheney, but not many. And certainly not Barrasso, who dodged Fox’s Roberts when he asked if Cheney should be replaced.
“I chair the conference in the Senate,” Barrasso said. “And we’re focused on the future and taking back the Senate in 2022. We need to be together as a team.”
Barrasso said the decision is up to House Republicans, which is true. But he and Cheney hold equivalent leadership positions, which gives Wyoming tremendous joint power for a state with so few residents. Isn’t that worth protecting?
Wyoming’s all-Republican delegation isn’t required to march in lockstep on all issues. But on important matters that affect the state — and there’s nothing more vital than protecting our democratic principles and the rule of law — they should at least have each others’ backs.
Freshman Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who served three terms in the House, has been silent on Cheney’s fate. All of Barrasso’s public statements since the Trump-Cheney feud boiled over last week have been in praise of an ex-president he said “brings incredible energy” to voters and the GOP.
“I welcome that energy and see that in Wyoming every day,” a beaming Barrasso said on Fox.
What I see is a dysfunctional party whose leaders want to toss out the one woman in power willing to call out Trump for his outrageous conduct. Meanwhile, far-right embarrassments like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado are hailed as the party’s new bright stars.
Cheney surely realizes she has no support from her own delegation. In public, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them appear to be one happy Republican family.
But in private? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that room.
This opinion column has been corrected to reflect that Marjorie Taylor Greene represents Georgia, not Florida. – Ed.