Faced with a question about whether a third party could reduce partisanship in the United States, Liz Cheney reminded a Tuesday night audience in Jackson Hole that she is, in fact, a conservative.
But she paused while she said as much.
“I’m a Republican,” Cheney said. “Eh, well.”
The audience laughed. And Cheney went on to explain why she hesitated.
“I paused because I’ve been kicked out of some party organizations,” Cheney said, referring to the Wyoming GOP, which voted in November 2021 to no longer recognize the state’s lone voice in the U.S. House of Representatives as one if its own. The reason: Her distance from the state party and its members over her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for the role she says he played in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.
“But I’m a Republican and I believe in what the Republican Party stands for,” Cheney said. “And I think the best thing for our country is to have a really healthy and strong Republican Party.”
Nick Penniman, the founder of Issue One — which advocates for voting rights legislation, independent redistricting efforts and the House commission investigating the events of Jan. 6 — jumped in.
Cheney’s chuckle, he said, would likely be weaponized.
“One or more of her detractors is probably going to take that 9 seconds, grab that video, decontextualize it and then try to use it against her,” Penniman said. “And that’s what’s so unfortunate about our politics today. Because what she said in the minute and a half after that is the full story.”
Tuesday night’s event was an attempt at a bipartisan, but nonpolitical, conversation about elections and the U.S. Constitution, issues that have become intensely politicized since the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Cheney and Penniman headlined the event, responding to written questions from the audience and the two moderators: Teton County Republican Paul Vogelheim and Jackson Hole Democrat Paul Hansen.
Audience questions touched on hope, how to fix the country’s partisan divide, and how Americans became so divided over the issue of the 2020 election in the first place. Penniman blamed the media environment that allows the “fish bowling” of Americans’ consciousness. Ditto the former president.
“When you have a president who was unwilling to accept the loss, and then constantly kept telling that story, then that gets replicated over and over again in that fishbowl and it becomes common wisdom,” he said.
Cheney likewise lamented social media companies “driving people” to “more and more radical places,” and a “dangerous move” toward a sense that “somehow violence is an accepted part of our political life.”
“There are lines that you can’t cross if you want to live in a republic and, and that is certainly one of them,” Cheney said. “It makes it even more important that people can come together like this, that people can actually sit and talk with those that you might disagree with, and that you can learn from each other.”
But the public’s questions also dove into the specifics of how Cheney had interpreted the Constitution in her vote to impeach Trump, why she had voted against the John Lewis Freedom to Vote Act, which Issue One supports, and whether the Wyoming elected official and Maryland nonprofit executive supported ranked choice voting, voter ID laws, the Electoral Count Act, and campaign finance reforms.
Proponents of voter ID laws claim they are a way to prevent in-person voter fraud and increase election confidence per the National Conference on State Legislatures. Opponents maintain that little fraud of that kind occurs and that requiring photo identification restricts voters’ rights to cast their ballots.
Cheney was unequivocal in her support for voter ID legislation. She said that was one of the reasons she voted against the John Lewis Freedom to Vote Act. Among other things, that bill would mandate that states who require voters to show ID to cast a ballot expand what types of identification they accept, offer same-day voting registration and make it easier to register at places like the department of motor vehicles.
“There were aspects to it that are problematic,” Cheney said of the Freedom to Vote Act. “For example, it makes it harder to have voter ID programs.”
But Penniman took a different tack more in line with that legislation.
“Of course voter ID,” he said, advocating for making it “accessible to people.”
“When people go to the DMV, the Department of Motor Vehicles, they want it to be easy,” Penniman said. “The same should be true with voter ID. Like why would we make a government process difficult for people?”
But Penniman and Cheney also sparred, lightly, over campaign finance reforms.
Penniman argued in favor of making it “illegal for members of Congress to accept checks from lobbyists who are lobbying them,” and publicly financing candidates once they make their way through the primary.
Doing so, he said, would send a message to candidates: “When you get to Congress, then you’re beholden to us, not the ... donors that are funding your campaign.”
But Cheney disagreed.
“What it really means is your tax dollars are going to go to Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Cheney said of publicly financing campaigns. “Your tax dollars are going to go to candidates that you ... may not support.
“I don’t think the federal government should be doing that,” Cheney said.
GALLERY: Defending the Constitution and the Future of American Elections
The Defending our Constitution and the Future of American Elections event at the Center for the Arts was an attempt at a bipartisan, but nonpolitical, conversation about elections and the U.S. Constitution, issues that have become intensely politicized since the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Issue One founder Nick Penniman headlined the event, responding to written questions from the audience and the two moderators: former Republican Teton County commissioner Paul Vogelheim and Jackson Hole Democrat Paul Hansen.
Penniman pushed back.
“No matter what, we are supporting members of Congress anyway with our tax dollars because we’re paying their salaries,” Penniman said. “When they’re sitting there tweeting crazy stuff, we’re paying them to do that.”
Publicly funded campaigns, he said, would separate candidates from the “hyperpartisan forces out there and from the special interests.”
But, while the conversation was civil, politics were never far from the surface. Shortly after making her comment about being a Republican, Cheney tossed a barb at the party members who have ditched her.
“My chuckle was thinking about my fellow Republicans who think that they have kicked me out and can take over my party,” Cheney said. “Which they can’t.”