By Leo Wolfson, Political Reporter
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney provided some insight into the motivation behind her push against former President Donald Trump in a speech Monday night.
Harkening back to her time working in the U.S. State Department and her interactions there with victims of autocratic governments, Cheney told the online audience at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual Walter Berns Constitution Day in Washington, D.C. about the lasting impact these meetings had on her life.
“We all know that we are incredibly blessed,” Cheney said. “But this freedom that we have been blessed with, this freedom that is defended and guaranteed by our Constitution, only survives if we recognize threats to this freedom when they arise.”
Cheney recalled her 1992 meeting with Boris Nemtsov, a young Russian who pushed for his country to be a free democracy in the years following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Nemstov was assassinated in 2015 by what Cheney described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “thugs.”
Nemtsov was killed “because he posed such a threat to Putin, because of his defense of and his dedication to freedom,” Cheney said.
During her roughly 18-minute speech, Cheney said the GOP is playing politics and treating Trump like a “king” in its continued support of him as many members of the party defend and excuse his behavior. She said those people are rejecting party values in favor of an individual.
“The elected leaders of the Republican Party downplay the violence of Jan. 6, and they demand that all others do the same,” Cheney said. “This has become a litmus test. It’s as if the hundreds of serious injuries to Capitol police officers who defended our Capitol that day were inconsequential.”
The American Enterprise Institute is a center-right public policy think tank that describes itself as dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential and building a freer and safer world. Its board includes Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was at the Monday event with his wife Lynne Cheney.
Many Republicans agree that the Capital attack was a horrible event, but far fewer believe it was Trump who should be held responsible for the attack. Most participants in the riot were Trump supporters.
Cheney said former Vice President Mike Pence was “essentially the president” most of Jan. 6, 2021, because of Trump’s lack of action that day in speaking out or acting to quell the riot. She accused Trump of ignoring White House intelligence provided to him in the days before the attack that said an attempt to occupy the U.S. Capitol might happen. Testimony provided during the Jan. 6 Committee hearings outlined how Trump suggested in a casual manner extra law enforcement be deployed to address the threat.
Cheney also criticized much of the party’s support for Trump’s claims the 2020 election was rigged, despite about 60 federal courts ruling against the former president’s challenges. She defended the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago investigation against Trump, expressing outrage that many Republicans are joining the former president in speaking out against the agency and Department of Justice. Evidence has shown Trump lied about keeping documents at his Florida home, many of which were classified and of a national security interest.
“They are attempting to excuse this behavior,” Cheney said. “They’re attempting to say that it was normal, that it was a storage issue.”
Trump-endorsed candidates overwhelmingly won their Republican primaries nationwide, including Cheney’s opponent in Wyoming,Harriet Hageman.
“Does defending Donald Trump now mean excusing obstruction of justice?” Cheney asked. “How many of our elected officials today are willing to do that? Bit by bit, excuse by excuse we’re putting Donald Trump above the law.”
Cheney remarked on her time working in Kenya in the mid-1990s as an election observer and seeing soldiers chasing men and women away who were attempting to vote. About an hour later, people returned, willing to risk their lives for an opportunity to vote.
She also brought up her experience with three foreign nationals who told her they were inspired by the vision for America laid out by former President Ronald Reagan. One of these meetings was with a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and went on to become the minister of defense for Finland.
“He told me that he would secretly listen to Ronald Reagan speeches at night on Finnish television,” Cheney said. “And I’ve known a man who spent years in the Soviet Gulag who, again, said it was the miracle of America and of our freedom that convinced him what was possible, convinced him what he needed to strive for.”
Cheney stressed her commitment to conservative values such as limited government, low taxes and a strong national defense.
“I believe that the family has got to be the central building block of our society,” she said. “And I share the concerns that many of us, many of you, have – justifiable concerns about radical liberalism and about ‘wokeness.’”
She mentioned a comment that a Cody mother of 11 made to her in July.
“She said to me, ‘I think you fight so hard for this country because you have a mother’s love for her,’” Cheney said. “It was such a moving and a humbling idea. And it’s one that every single one of us, whether we’re parents or not, understands. We love our country.”
But she reiterated that standing up for conservative values does not mean giving Trump a free pass to behave irresponsibly. Cheney voted with Trump on most issues prior to the 2020 election and hasn’t expressed regret for doing so.
Cheney implored the audience to put the Constitution over short-term politics and be patriots and leaders in their defense of democracy.
“The means do not justify the ends,” she said. “This is how democracies fail.”