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Reporter Digs Into Liz Cheney's Politics

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Next week could see House Republicans take action against one of their own. GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, is expected to be removed from her leadership post. Representative Cheney fell out with the GOP leadership after she voted to impeach former President Trump for his actions leading up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. And she's consistently contradicted Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, doing so again this week in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

So we wanted to hear more about her, what's motivating her, why is she willing to take this stance. And we also wanted to know how the deeply conservative daughter of the deeply conservative former Vice President Dick Cheney went from onetime rising Republican star to GOP pariah and what that could say about her party, so we've called Alex Thompson for this. He's White House reporter at Politico, and he profiled Representative Cheney last year. Alex Thompson, thanks so much for joining us.

ALEX THOMPSON: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: Could you just start by reminding us of how and why Liz Cheney got into politics and eventually into a leadership position in Congress?

THOMPSON: The short answer is her father. The long answer also has to do with her father, which is that from a very young age, she has in some ways emulated her father but also idolized him. Even the thesis she wrote as an undergraduate was about presidential war powers, which is - as you know, has been a long topic of fascination with Dick Cheney himself. And her argument is very similar to Dick Cheney, which is that the president has lots of power. And if you want to understand her politics, you have to understand her dad because their worlds still overlap to this day. Liz Cheney's current chief of staff, Kara Ahern, was Dick Cheney's longtime assistant as well.

MARTIN: What is her worldview? Like, what is it that motivates her? What is her sort of purpose for being in politics, do you think?

THOMPSON: I think it's twofold. One is that I think she is a true believer in many of the things that her father believes, which is, you know, a robust engagement, often military engagement with the world and an unapologetic one, basically a defend-America-at-all-costs sort of very hawkish foreign policy combined with a sort of very hands-off regulation in the energy sector in particular, which is very important in Wyoming.

MARTIN: Well, OK. So it seems that the writing was on the wall after her vote to impeach former President Trump because of his false claims that the election was stolen, which was obviously motivating the mob that attacked the Capitol. But why do you think she took that vote? And why do you think she's continued to hold onto that stance so strongly?

THOMPSON: You know, this is the question that even her closest allies are asking. And honestly, in conversations I've had with her allies and her enemies, there is a divide in the answer. Some people think that, you know, she is just, you know, sort of falling on the sword, that she believes in this and that it's about principle and that she's not going to be moved.

Now, some people believe that there's something more going on, that there is some sort of political gamesmanship going on that really Liz Cheney does believe that a year in politics is forever and that, you know, within a year, maybe people will just be done with Trump, that maybe the Republican base won't be as excited. They'll be exhausted by all these things and that, you know, sort of the party might eventually come to her. But if that's true, it's an incredibly risky bet 'cause at the moment, we haven't seen many signs that if any.

MARTIN: How likely is it that she will be voted out, perhaps as early as next week? And forgive me for asking you to speculate. I'm asking based on your reporting.

THOMPSON: Well, all the reporting right now suggests that she will likely be ousted. Now, the - and that's also including reporting from my colleagues on the Hill at Politico. My colleagues have also said that she sort of accepted her fate and is even whipping votes for herself. But a few days is a long time in politics.

MARTIN: What would the likely fallout be if this were to occur? Like, what - and again, I'm asking you based on your reporting and what your sources are telling you about what they think the next move will be. Let's say for the sake of argument that she is removed. What does she do then?

THOMPSON: Well, I doubt that she will be quiet, and I imagine she is going to fight like hell to save herself from being ousted next year in Wyoming. There are already several different candidates that are actively exploring or have declared their candidacy to take her on the Republican primary. She has recognized that and has raised the - you know, over a million dollars last quarter, I believe. And that she - that is where you're going to see the focus because you don't get to make policy if you don't win.

MARTIN: That was Alex Thompson. He's a White House reporter for Politico. Alex, thanks so much for talking to us.

THOMPSON: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "THE MONSOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.