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Fractures in GOP on full display as Cheney faces renewed criticism

(CNN) —  

House Conference Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney is once again facing the ire of her colleagues and GOP voters, laying bare the ongoing and internal divisions within the GOP about how Republicans should move forward in the wake of former President Donald Trump.

In the last week, Cheney has opened the door to running for President in 2024 and blasted colleagues in the Senate who supported efforts to challenge the election results on January 6. Cheney also faced criticism after leaning in to greet President Joe Biden as he made his way down the aisle at his speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Cheney defended that decision on Twitter saying “I disagree strongly w/ @JoeBiden policies, but when the President reaches out to greet me in the chamber of the US House of Representatives, I will always respond in a civil, respectful & dignified way. We’re different political parties. We’re not sworn enemies. We’re Americans.”

But Cheney appears to be uninterested in backing away from her views, with one ally saying that the congresswoman believes strongly that what happened January 6 undermines democracy and the future of the Republican Party.

Cheney, who has openly disagreed with many in her caucus about the role Trump played in the 1/6 insurrection, and who voted for his impeachment, is again facing increasing pressure, after House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked last week if Cheney was still a good fit for leadership. He declined to endorse her, instead saying Cheney’s future would be determined by the caucus.

In interviews with CNN, two Republican lawmakers told CNN that Cheney’s comments this week have once again opened old wounds within the GOP conference, forcing members to once again reckon with whether she is the best fit as their leader. As CNN has previously reported, there is little indication anything will come of the frustration. The party is still more interested in moving on than fixating on trying to oust Cheney. But members who spoke with CNN on the condition of background to speak freely about the tensions said they feel that Cheney is not speaking for the conference.

“It’s like ‘hey if you want the position, there is some responsibility that comes with it,’” one GOP lawmaker told CNN. “It’s a tough time for the elephants and so this is a complication that comes from within, which is quite frankly not helpful in any way, shape or form.”

The person added “you only got two letters and it is only M-E or U-S.”

In large part, Cheney’s comments this week were spurred by a series of interviews and questions she received about the events of January 6 and how McCarthy, a California Republican, has downplayed former Trump’s role in the attack, but her comments have once again revealed tension within the GOP that aren’t likely to disappear given that Cheney isn’t going to back away from her views that in order for the Republican Party to succeed in 2024, it must move beyond Trump.

Another GOP lawmaker told CNN that the frustration is even more palpable this time.

“It’s real and much more widespread than before and completely of her own making,” the lawmaker said. “At this point, it has zero to do with her vote and everything to do with her words and actions.”

In February, Cheney overwhelmingly kept her leadership position in a secret ballot vote 145-61 – but GOP sources on the Hill tell CNN there is irritation and a lack of patience that she continues to so publicly attack members in the party and keeps going head-to-head with McCarthy.

Some in the House Freedom Caucus, who still back Trump and led the efforts against Cheney back in February, see Cheney’s recent actions as a sign they were right to question her role in leadership. However, her very open anger towards Trump and his role in the riot, echoes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s position – that the party needs to move on from the Trump era if it hopes to win back either the House and/or the Senate next year.

Currently, there are no plans to try to oust Cheney. Republican leaders are trying to hold the party together in an effort to centralize the focus to winning back the House in 2022. If action were to be taken, it would require a special meeting of the conference.

The House’s next regularly scheduled conference meeting will be after the 10-day recess, either May 11 or 12. There is no indication at this point that the meeting would devolve into another test of Cheney’s position in the caucus.

Another issue facing leadership is the question of who would replace her in the No. 3 spot.

Multiple sources tell CNN the GOP leadership feels like they can’t replace her with a man, and feel like they need a woman in that spot. One person whom sources say could fill the role is New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, but she is likely not willing to step up, as she is reportedly considering a run to challenge New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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