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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liz Cheney’s rebuke of King reflects tougher GOP approach

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, House Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of La., smile as they arrive for a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
By Laurie Kellman Associated Press

She used to be known mostly for her vice presidential family lineage. But Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-most senior House Republican, is cutting a new path as the first GOP leader to call Rep. Steve King’s remarks “racist” and call explicitly for his resignation.

“I’d like to see him find another line of work,” Cheney, 52, told reporters on Tuesday.

It was the latest example of Republicans, toppled from the House majority in November’s elections, taking a tougher and more uniform approach to racist remarks– at least by those in their own ranks. King had for years rankled the GOP with remarks about race as they watched blacks and Hispanics vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. All along, Republicans issued muted, if any, disapproval. And they’re still reticent about how to respond to the leader of their party, President Donald Trump, and his remarks on race.

But House and Senate Republicans said the final straw came last week with King’s quote in The New York Times.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?” King mused in the paper.

Within hours, Cheney denounced his remarks on Twitter, in terms rarely if ever used by GOP leaders.

“These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse,” she tweeted Jan. 10, reposting a news story that named the Iowa congressman. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise likewise condemned King’s remarks and barred him from committee seats. The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to formally rebuke King. But Cheney is the only one of the three to call for King’s resignation.

The only lawmaker to vote no was Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, who wanted a stronger censure against King. But even he has noticed Cheney, in a good way.

“Liz Cheney, I commend her,” Rush said in a brief interview.

“She was very clear,” about what how she wanted to handle the King issue, McCarthy said of Cheney in a brief interview.

Clear, sometimes with a sharp edge, is the word on the two-term Wyoming congresswoman – an attorney, mother of four and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Like her father, Cheney was elected by her peers to chair the Republican Conference.

Cheney’s ascent puts her in prime position to influence the party’s branding strategy with GOP voters who fondly recall the George W. Bush presidency, especially those who favor a strong national defense. But as a woman in leadership, she’ll also have a role in deciding how to bridge, or at least not exacerbate, the gender and diversity gaps between Republicans and Democrats. After the midterm elections, the ranks of House Republican women declined to only 13.

The arc of Cheney’s political career reflects her reputation for doggedness. Five years ago she launched an ill-fated campaign to oust Wyoming’s popular Republican senior senator, Mike Enzi. Labeled a carpetbagger for having moved to Wyoming from Virginia barely a year earlier, Cheney made things worse by feuding publicly with her openly gay sister about gay marriage.

She left the race eight months before the primary but didn’t give up on politics. She continued touring Wyoming, in some cases mending the relationships she needed to dominate a crowded GOP House primary two years later.

Even before she was elected to the leadership post for this Congress, Cheney was clear about what she saw as the party’s need for a quicker, more forceful communications strategy under Democratic rule.

“We’ve got to change the way that we operate, and really in some ways be more aggressive, have more of a rapid response,” Cheney told the Associated Press in November.

Cheney’s father won the conference chair more than 30 years ago after four terms as Wyoming’s congressman. By landing the position after just one term, Cheney left little doubt that she’s a rising political star in her own right.

“He told me not to screw it up,” Cheney told reporters after she was elected to the leadership post, with her father looking on.