Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Monday defended Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is expected to lose her leadership post this week for recognizing the 2020 presidential election as legitimate and denouncing the “big lie” that it was stolen.
Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has irked GOP members for her willingness to call out former President Donald Trump’s continued lies about his loss. The party is scheduled to vote later this week to determine whether Cheney remains in her role as House Republican Conference chair.
But Ernst, the only other woman in elected GOP leadership and a Trump supporter, maintains that the party shouldn’t stifle dissenting voices because it’s the very thing they’ve criticized Democrats for.
“It’s OK to go ahead and express what you feel is right to express,” Ernst told reporters on Monday. “And you know, cancel culture is cancel culture no matter how you look at it, and unfortunately I think there are those that are trying to silence others in the party.”
Ernst added: “I support President Trump and his policies, so I have a slightly different view on that. But I still think we shouldn’t be trying to cancel voices, but what we can do is come together and try and win seats, and [in] 2022, I think that’s what all of us should be focused on.”
Cheney’s time in Republican leadership is almost certainly at an end. Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and his No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), have already voiced support for Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) to replace Cheney as conference chair.
In a letter to GOP members on Monday, McCarthy insisted that ousting Cheney from leadership for sharing a different opinion was actually in line with the party’s values.
“We are a big tent party,” McCarthy wrote in the letter. “We represent Americans of all backgrounds. ... And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has complained about being canceled himself following his failed effort to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential victory in Congress after the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, also challenged the notion that Republicans were canceling one of their own.
“She’s still going to be a member … it’ll give her, certainly, a media platform,” Hawley said of Cheney. “I don’t think it’s being canceled in terms of she’s being silenced. It’s a decision for the House caucus [to determine] who represents them.”
Most Senate Republicans ― even those representing Cheney’s state of Wyoming ― declined to weigh in on the controversy Monday. But Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential standard-bearer and a frequent Trump critic, argued that ostracizing Cheney would only hurt the GOP in the future.
“I think we’re better trying to expand the number of people who want to vote for Republicans as opposed to shrink that number,” Romney told HuffPost. “I think it will do nothing but drive some people away from our party. It certainly doesn’t add more people because the people who are supporters of [Trump] certainly aren’t going anywhere also.”