Republicans in the US House of Representatives have ousted Liz Cheney from her post as the chamber’s number three Republican leader, punishing her after she repeatedly rebuked former president Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol attack.
Meeting behind closed doors for less than 20 minutes, Republican legislators used a voice vote to remove the Wyoming congresswoman from her leadership post, the latest evidence that challenging Mr Trump can be career-threatening.
She was Congress’s highest-ranking Republican woman, is a daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, and her removal marked a jarring turnabout to what has been her fast rise within the party.
Ms Cheney has refused to stop repudiating Mr Trump and defiantly signalled after the meeting that she intended to use her overthrow to try pointing the party away from him.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she told reporters.
Ms Cheney’s fate had been clear for some time, with Mr Trump, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (California) and number two Republican leader Steve Scalise (Louisiana) all arrayed against her.
Republican legislators complained that Ms Cheney’s offence was not her view of Mr Trump but her persistence in publicly expressing it, undermining the unity they want party leaders to display in advance of next year’s elections, when they hope to win House control.
Even so, stripping Ms Cheney, 54, of her leadership job stood as a striking, perhaps defining moment for the Republican Party.
One of the nation’s two major parties was in effect declaring an extraordinary requirement for admission to its highest ranks: fealty to, or at least silence about, Mr Trump’s lie that he lost his November re-election bid due to widespread fraud.
In states around the country, officials and judges of both parties found no evidence to support Mr Trump’s claims that extensive illegalities caused his defeat.
Ms Cheney’s replacement was widely expected to be Representative Elise Stefanik (New York), who entered the House in 2015 at the age of 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Ms Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Ms Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who has echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating.
It was initially unclear when the separate vote on Ms Cheney’s replacement would occur.
Wednesday’s voice vote averted a specific public gauge of how much support Ms Cheney may have had, though it had become clear that sentiment among the 212 House Republicans was strongly for her removal.
Ms Cheney, who did little to try to rally support among her colleagues, made clear that she was plunging ahead on her anti-Trump path.
“We must go forward based on truth,” she said.
“We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the constitution.”
Ms Cheney has told Republicans she intends to remain in Congress and seek re-election next year in her solidly pro-Trump state.
The former president has said he will find a Republican primary challenger to oppose her.
In an audacious signal that she was not backing down, Ms Cheney took to a nearly empty House chamber on Tuesday night to deliver an unapologetic four-minute assault on her Republican adversaries and defence of her own position.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” she said, adding: “I will 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.”
Many Republicans consider a turn away from Mr Trump to be political suicide and agree with Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), who has said the allegiance many Republican voters have to the former president is so intense that the party cannot succeed without him.
Mr Trump raced to a rancorous victory lap after Ms Cheney’s removal.
He said: “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realised how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our country. She is a talking point for Democrats, whether that means the border, the gas lines, inflation, or destroying our economy.”