Donald Trump remains on Liz Cheney’s mind.
Wyoming’s lone voice in the U.S. House of Representatives has called the former president the ”single greatest threat to our Republic.”
She was censured by the Wyoming GOP for her vote to impeach Trump after Jan. 6., stripped of her leadership positions in Congress for her outspoken criticism of the former president, and once again disavowed by the state party, which in November voted to no longer recognize her as a Republican.
But Cheney and her staff have hit back the entire way. And, in a rare interview with the News&Guide, when the embattled Wyoming representative was asked whether there’s a scenario for the Wyoming GOP where Trump doesn’t play as large a role, she drew a contrast between state GOP leadership and rank-and-file voters.
She lambasted Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne and said he was a member of the far-right anti-government Oath Keepers who had “publicly contemplated secession.” She also repeated her call for a Republican Party focused on the U.S. Constitution. Eathorne said in January 2021 that he was “paying attention” to some Texas residents’ efforts to secede, and in December 2021, WyoFile reported that a whistleblower group had identified Eathorne as a member of the Oath Keepers. He did not respond to that outlet’s request for comment.
“The leadership of the state Republican Party is clearly adopting and expressing, endorsing, views that are un-American,” Cheney said.
That, the representative said, is why policies matter, especially as the U.S. tries to figure out where to acquire oil amid bans on Russian imports. To meet those challenges, Cheney said the country needs a Republican Party that clearly articulates what it stands for. The GOP, she said, should stand for the rule of law and America’s founding document.
“If people aren’t willing to say, ‘Our oath means something, even when it disadvantages our own party,’ then you can’t then say, ‘Well the voters can count on me to stand up for the other parts of the Constitution,’” Cheney said, pointing to the 12th amendment, which spells out how the vice president should count electoral votes before Congress.
“If I’m not going to stand up for that,” Cheney said, “how can you count on me to stand up for the First Amendment or the Second Amendment?”
Cheney’s interview with the News&Guide was the first she’s given the newspaper in years. It was squeezed in before she and Issue One founder and CEO Nick Penniman addressed a Teton County crowd March 22 about elections and the U.S. Constitution.
The conversation also came as she faces stiff competition for her U.S. House seat. Critics at last week’s event wore red “Harriet” hats, signaling support for Cheney’s Trump-backed Republican challenger, Harriet Hageman. And the state party is galvanized to oust the representative it has disavowed, having supported bills in this year’s legislative session that would allow runoffs in state primaries and otherwise make it harder for Democrats to cross over and vote in the state’s Republican primaries. Both bills failed.
Bills to prevent cross-over voting have been cropping up since the 2018 gubernatorial primary, when GOP candidates Foster Friess and Hageman split the vote, allowing the more moderate Mark Gordon to win the nomination. GOP officials blamed Democrats, but Wyoming political observer and columnist Kerry Drake said Friess and Hageman split the Republican vote.
A similar scenario could play out again. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard remains in the House race, possibly splitting off votes from Hageman, which could allow a Cheney win.
Cheney, for her part, answered questions from the News&Guide about the future of the GOP, her accessibility to her constituents and climate change before being ushered off to a reception.
Her critics — and some supporters — have long lamented how infrequently Cheney makes public appearances in Teton County, where she owns a home. Before the March 22 event, a staffer confirmed that Cheney would be attending private events in the area. While Cheney has appeared for public events like fallen Marine Rylee McCollum’s homecoming, her appearance at the Center for the Arts forum was the first time she took questions from a Teton County audience likely since 2016.
In the past few weeks, Hageman’s campaign has taken advantage of Cheney’s position in the state and set up a mock campaign website for her opponent accusing Cheney of running for a seat in Virginia, rather than Wyoming. (Democrats printed “Cheney for Virginia” bumper stickers when she first ran for office.)
Cheney said Wyoming voters should “expect every kind of campaign event coming up.” But she said she has an obligation to do more than just campaign, like visiting schools, universities and hospitals, and sitting with businesses in the state, like ranchers and the energy industry. Cheney said she’ll “talk to anybody,” but there are limits to what she can do.
“The most important thing is being able to have the discussions in every kind of forum possible. But it is 100,000 square miles and me,” Cheney said, referring to the size of Wyoming.
The representative reiterated her criticism of the Biden administration, lamenting that some American oil may be coming from Venezuela or Iran, which she has called the United States’ “adversaries.” Senior U.S. officials have talked with Venezuelan counterparts about lifting some oil sanctions in exchange for direct shipments to the U.S. Those conversations came after Biden banned U.S. imports of Russian oil in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a move that had strong bipartisan support.
Cheney has said that oil should come from places like Wyoming, and she signed a letter shortly before Biden signed the ban on Russian oil calling on the president to reverse his cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline and allow new lease sales in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
Cheney said she remains focused on challenges like energy policy while she also deals with intraparty fighting over her vote to impeach and continued role on the Jan. 6 committee, which is investigating the 2021 insurrection. Asked whether her position has changed since 2014, when she said that the Republican Party should do “nothing” to fight climate change, Cheney questioned the science and reiterated her support for Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry.
“I think that climate change is happening,” Cheney said. “I think there are real questions about why and what’s causing it.”
In 2021 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” It went on to say that increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which drive global warming and have been observed since 1750, “are unequivocally caused by human activities.”
Cheney pinned blame for the forest fires across the Mountain West on “poor forest management” and said the problem with addressing climate change is overregulation: “I think that one of the things that happens too much is you get regulations from Washington that impose huge costs, fatal costs on our key industries that don’t address climate change.”
She argued for addressing climate change with “the technology we have here,” including clean coal and carbon capture, measures that Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon also has been touting.
“Mostly what I’ve seen are policies that don’t actually address the issue but really hurt our industries across the board,” Cheney said.
The News&Guide wasn’t able to ask a follow-up about which policies, specifically, Cheney was referring to due to the short interview.
But, throughout the conversation, Cheney returned to Jan. 6 and the events that followed, reflecting on party leaders who had abandoned her, though not always by name.
“I always assumed that politicians play politics, but that my colleagues — fundamentally when the chips were down, when it really mattered — that they would do the right thing,” Cheney said. “And what has surprised me the most is how few people do.”
This article has been updated to clarify Cheney’s comments about Frank Eathorne and his ties to the Oath Keepers. —Eds.