House Republicans have picked Wyoming’s U.S. Representative Liz Cheney to be the House Republican Conference Chairwoman — the number three position in the lower chamber’s minority party leadership.

As a newly-minted captain of a so recently trounced team, Cheney has a couple of political strategies available to her. She could reflect on the fact that she and her compatriots lost the House by the largest popular vote margin since Watergate, accept the clear message that neither their agenda nor their tactics reflect the will of the American people and try to find common ground with her Democratic colleagues in order to actually get something done.

Or she could double-down on the lie-fueled, us versus them, zero sum  politics of fear and division that’s come to define the Trump era.

Is anyone surprised that Rep. Cheney has chosen option b?

“We need to get on offense. And I think especially because we’re in the minority now, we’ve got to be in a position where we’re making sure that we’re out there every day fighting,” she told NPR.

And she’s picked a plentifully offensive issue on which to draw her first battle line.

President Donald Trump’s so-called “crisis” on the U.S.-Mexico border is of his own making, and Cheney is one of the Republican leaders helping him stir his phony pot.

Cheney wants us to believe criminals are invading our country and the only thing that will stop them is Trump’s proposed border wall. He wants Congress to appropriate $5 billion for this boondoggle, and Cheney says he’s just got to have it.

Their justification for the wall is as made-up as the weapons of mass destruction her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, used to fool the country into invading Iraq. Instead of WMDs, the latest Cheney to afflict American politics has conjured invading hordes of murderous poor people.

Sure, it may seem like a stretch to paint tired, hungry and persecuted Central American women and children fleeing for their lives as a national security threat, but that’s because you’re not thinking strategically. If you were you’d realize that once you effectively sew a little fear and demonize any group you can do whatever you want to them.  

When he ran for president, Trump used TV footage of mobs madly dashing over other nations’ borders to do just that. Now, thanks to his choreographed fake war zone, absurdly restricted asylum processing and a mountain of refugees’ mortal desperation, he can use the genuine article.

The tear gas spread over nearly a kilometer on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro port of entry, the largest official border crossing. What began as a peaceful protest led to hundreds of desperate, frustrated migrants trying to overrun the Mexican federal police force. Some succeeded and U.S. agents arrested 39 would-be immigrants — a veritable battalion.

“Legitimate asylum seekers don’t attack border guards,” Cheney told her old pals at “Fox & Friends,” where she was a political commentator before leaving Virginia to run for Congress from Wyoming.

Protesters throwing rocks at guards protecting the border is unlawful and ugly. It isn’t however justification for a cross border incursion by U.S. agents and an international violation. It’s against the law to spray chemical weapons into another country — tear gas can only be used to stop disturbances on a nation’s own soil — and the people who were hurt included hundreds of innocent women and children.

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Let’s be perfectly clear: It is not against the law to ask the U.S. for asylum. The president behaves as though it is, and his administration’s grotesque policy of separating migrant families earlier this year and literally confining some children in cages speaks volumes about how little he cares about those who have desperately — and legally — sought refuge here.

Our nation’s promise to take in “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty is, to our everlasting shame, an empty one under Trump. The iconic photo of a mother running from tear gas and trying to bring her two young, barefoot children to safety is the image people around the world now associate with America’s position.

Cheney’s new leadership position, which she will assume in January, would hold much power if the GOP hadn’t lost 40 seats in the midterm elections. But as it is, she’ll be working from the minority side of the aisle, largely due to Republicans’ reliance on trying to scare the bejeezus out of white people everywhere. People are simply fed-up with it.

What a strange political bedfellow Trump is for Cheney. If she and her compatriots don’t have the courage to throw him out of bed, can they at least short-sheet him once in a while and push-back against his most crackpot ideas?

No. Cheney will continue to be a lackey for Trump, who now has a record disapproval rating of 60 percent. And it won’t even help the president get an iota of his right-wing agenda passed by Congress. Nor will it help him obtain the $5 billion to build a border wall that he promised to make Mexico pay for during the 2016 campaign.

Trump has unsuccessfully tried to pressure federal lawmakers to approve between $5 billion and $25 billion for the wall, but most experts say much more money would be necessary.

Trump “is not willing to give on this [wall funding],” Cheney told Fox News. But his less than two years in office shows he is very much willing to fold when it comes to his signature promise. In the last fight with Democrats over the wall, the self-professed “greatest negotiator” in the world talked tough before caving in and accepting $1.3 billion.

By the way, that money still hasn’t been spent, yet Trump is acting like it’s the end of the world if he doesn’t get more. He’s also said he’s willing to shutdown the government to get his way —  a tactic that will likely prove as effective as holding his breath until his hue changes from orange to blue.

Cheney, per the GOP playbook, blamed Democrats and then brazenly fibbed about her opponents’ immigration position.

“The Democrats, they’re in a tough spot,” Cheney said. “They want to abolish [Immigration and Custom Enforcement]. They want to have open borders.”

Democrats have said nothing about eliminating border security. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been negotiating a deal with Senate Republicans that would provide $1.6 billion for border security, including fence improvements, but not a wall. That figure represents a commitment to responsible law enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But why should Cheney let the facts get in the way of a good sound bite?

Trump described the incident at San Ysidro as if people can’t possibly believe their own eyes when watching video of the violence perpetrated on migrant families. On the White House lawn he declared to reporters that tear gas is not used on children. He later admitted it happened but called the tear gas a “very safe” form of the chemical weapon.

This is the brilliant intellectual Cheney defends at every turn.

If Cheney wants to do something positive in her new minority position, she should focus on a bipartisan solution to the nation’s health care problems that reaffirms the commitment to cover pre-existing conditions. Hopefully she can also work with Democrats on an infrastructure bill to put Americans back to work, which Trump supported during his campaign but has never seriously brought up since.

But if she keeps hysterically pushing the wall and relying on win-at-all-costs, fast-and-loose with the facts wedge politics Cheney will only help the issue collapse at the expense of Republicans’ credibility. Senate Democrats won’t back down this year even if Trump foolishly shutters the government, and though they will lose two Senate seats in 2019, House Democrats have made it clear a border wall is dead on arrival.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. We have a right to decide who comes into our country. We should have a debate on immigration, the effects of unlimited cheap labor on the economy and unskilled labor market, and free trade vs fair trade. Personally I am in favor of loosening restrictions on immigration, and minimizing restrictions on trade. I think we should take the labor market into account when we’re making these decisions though.

    Let’s secure the border, and then have a debate. As long as the border is wide open, For any group that gets together enough people that we can no longer maintain control… It’s rather pointless even talk about it.

    Oh, get off your high horse about non lethal “chemical weapons”, even the most partisan liberal doesn’t care that the government is using teargas to break up a mob… As evidenced by the fact that the Obama administration did it hundreds of times, and no one said a word. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those who wonders why nobody trusts the media anymore.

  2. If you want to see what Cheney’s legislative priorities will be, check her list of campaign donors. The top ten contributors will establish her priorities. If this doesn’t match the will of Wyoming voters, so what? That won’t concern her.
    Only after the “environmental refugees” moving inland from areas of catastrophic loss, e.g. California, Etc., change the popular influences and structure of the existing political imbalance in Wyoming will she take notice of homefolks.
    Then watch for her to build a wall at Wyoming’s borders…

  3. It baffles me why Wyoming citizens continually vote for politicians who promote and vote for measures in exact opposition to the values that polls show most Wyoming people espouse. It’s almost like there is some evil force that negates intelligence when we near the voting booth.

    1. Yes that evil force is called Rush Limbaugh that pervades the all the airwaves in Wyoming from 10-1. Every Democratic candidate that ran last time was better for the people of Wyoming, but not a one got any consideration.

  4. As people seeking to be governed by people who adhere to truth, I wonder if the best strategy in reporting on Cheney would be to tally her lies. You’ve noted that she lies about what the democrats want. How about a list with quotation marks and her name followed by a fact-based rebuttal. If we are resisting the normalization of lies, then maybe a chronicle of her lies pushes back. As far as I can tell, her father was the most effective misleader of all government officials. He had a very passive face, with thin-lipped minimalist expression, and through those lips came statements delivered with a level of certainty that set his opponents immediately on their heels. He could cook up testosterone as understated certainty of a threat to which he was rising. He would have been a dull speaker except for the earnestness of his threat scenarios. She has learned from one of the best dissimulators known to the U.S. She will deliver her lies about what the Democrats want in terms of border security, for instance, with that same understated certainty that places the listener on their back heels. Anyone who feels insecure about ecology, economy, and culture will be attracted to her certainties. We’ve got to pull back the curtain as she continues to mime the mighty Oz. And we’ve got to do so in ways that lead the reader to the uncertainty paradox: uncertainty is scary until you realize it is the truth, and then you feel oddly courageous and stronger by facing uncertainty with clarity.