Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney was ousted on Wednesday as leader of the House Republican Conference, the latest sign of the continuing influence of former US president Donald Trump on the Republican Party.
Ms Cheney – an outspoken critic of Mr Trump who had strongly denounced his false claims that November’s presidential election was stolen – lost a vote of no-confidence and was removed as head of the House Republican Conference – the main organisational body for the GOP in the House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx moved a motion to remove Ms Cheney at the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. The ballot was taken as a voice vote, but was conducted in private. There were reports that Ms Cheney was booed by some of her colleagues when she addressed the short meeting.
Speaking outside the conference room after the vote, Ms Cheney said the Republican Party “must go forward based on truth”.
“We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the constitution,” she said, referring to Mr Trump’s claims of election fraud. “Going forward, the nation needs a strong Republican Party, the nation needs a party that is based on fundamental principles of conservatism.”
Saying she would do “everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office”, she added: “We cannot be dragged backwards by the very dangerous lies of a former president.”
Ms Cheney, who will face re-election for her congressional seat next year, had delivered a speech on the House floor on the eve of the no-confidence vote, declaring she would not “sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy”.
“We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen. And America has not failed,” she said.
Ms Cheney, the daughter of former Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, had survived a vote on her leadership in February after Mr Trump was impeached over his role in inciting the January 6th Capitol Hill riots. But her Republican colleagues have become increasingly frustrated with what they view as her inappropriate comments on the former president.
Crucially, she lost the support in recent weeks of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who had defended her in February.
Ms Cheney's replacement will be voted on later in the week. Elise Stefanik, a fourth-term congresswoman from New York, has announced her candidacy for the role and has picked up several important endorsements, including from Mr Trump. The 36-year-old congresswoman was elected on a relatively moderate platform, and promised to work with Democrats as well as Republicans to effect change. But throughout her time in Washington she has moved further to the right, becoming a strong defender of Mr Trump during his first impeachment.
However, she faces some resistance from hard-right members of the Republican caucus, who believe she is not sufficiently conservative to hold a leadership position.
In a statement following Wednesday’s vote, Mr Trump denounced Ms Cheney as a “bitter, horrible human being”, repeating his description of her as a “warmonger”, and claiming she would soon be a paid contributor on networks like CNN and MSNBC, which he regards as Democrat-leaning.
The Democrats' second-ranking member in the House, Steny Hoyer, said it was a "sad day" for the Republican Party and the US. "Representative Cheney was purged from her party's leadership because she dared to speak the truth, because she refused to peddle a dangerous lie, and because she refused to pledge her fealty to Donald Trump over all else."