Today’s media reports that Congresswoman Liz Cheney was ousted from her leadership post by fellow House Republicans. I suspect this is anything but career-ending. In truth, her colleagues probably provided a proverbial booster rocket to her remarkable career.
Many also reported that this was about two different views of how the Republican Party should engage former president Trump. It is really about two very different views of one’s role as a leader in Congress stemming from two very different paths.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield, California and Congresswoman Liz Cheney from Casper, Wyoming are about the same age. One has a well-developed world view while the other’s life experience has been centered on the U.S. Capital. One has few personal options, although he is clearly seeking to rise to the Speaker’s chair one day. The other is suddenly free to pursue many different options, certainly including but not limited to even higher office.
Consider these paths.
Kevin McCarthy was born in 1965 in Bakersfield, California. Twenty-two years later, he found himself on the staff of then Congressman Bill Thomas, running the Congressman’s district office in Bakersfield. He ran for office first in 2000, winning a seat as a trustee of the Kern County College District. From there, it was onto an immediate campaign, winning a seat in the California Assembly, representing the citizens of Bakersfield in 2002. That soon lead to a successful campaign sending McCarthy to House of Representatives in 2006.
Liz Cheney, born in 1966, began life in Madison, Wisconsin. She attended grade school in Casper, Wyoming while her father campaigned for Congress. She attended high school in McLean, Virginia. She went to Colorado College graduating in 1988 having completed a thesis on the “Evolution of Presidential War Powers.” She was involved with the US Agency for International Development from 1989-93. Then, in 1996 graduated from Chicago Law School; after which, she entered the White & Case law firm to practice international law. She went on to become a Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of State for Assistance to the Former Soviet Union. During her career, she served as a USAID officer in embassies located in Budapest and Warsaw. In 2002, she was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. She entered a US Senate race in Wyoming in 2014 but withdrew. Then, came back to win a seat in the House of Representatives in 2016 with 60% of the general election vote. In 2020, she won her primary contest for her House seat with 73% of the vote and 69% of the general election vote.
One of my long-held concerns about congressional staffers seeking the office of a retiring Member of Congress for whom they served is that they lack much of a world view. While knowing several to be good people, still their life experience revolves around the political maneuvering in the nation’s Capital and so judgements on policy and principal tend to be more self-directed.
Today, as the Kevin McCarthy has managed to push Liz Cheney from the leadership position she held, he must believe he has addressed a problem about which he had grown weary. Namely, Liz Cheney refused to let the truth about the recent election be denied. And, if you listen to her short but thoughtful address on the floor of the House, you hear how her world view, shaped by personal involvement in countries around the world seeking freedom contributed to her thinking. To view her remarks, click this link. For Kevin McCarthy, forcing her out of this #3 leadership position represents a huge penalty, because his life experience is a long climb up a political ladder since being a young district staffer for a Congressman in Bakersfield.
The reality is quite different. Liz Cheney is now, in fact, free to do and say pretty much what she wishes to do and say. Her career which has been known to many in Washington, is now something that has her on a national stage. If her past engagement suggests anything, it is that she will rise from this experience to even greater leadership positions. Maybe this means a greater role in government. Maybe she will find a role in a nonprofit organization with an important global mission. Maybe she will discover opportunities in the legal field or business. Certainly, what she will not do is waiver from her principled views and the courage behind her effective expression of those views.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.