By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
U.S. Rep. Cheney, Wyoming’s Republican lame duck congresswoman, could play an influential role in politics over the coming weeks.
Between the November election and the swearing in of new members of Congress on Capitol Hill in January is routinely referred to as the “lame duck session.”
It’s a time when many senators and representatives who are either retiring or voted out of office still have the power to cast votes and make important decisions for their constituents and America’s future. It has also often been when Congress is most productive.
Cheney is one of these members, losing her reelection bid to challenger Harriet Hageman in August.
But her time in Congress isn’t over yet, and she’ll have a few more opportunities to finalize her legacy as a member of the Wyoming delegation.
Jan. 6 And Trump’s Legacy
Cheney’s office says that drafting and delivering the final report of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack is the congresswoman’s main focus.
This weekend, she and other committee members will decide whether to bring criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump and at least four others allegedly tied to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
This decision will put an exclamation mark on the committee’s work that is expected to conclude with the start of the new U.S. House session in January.
A criminal referral brought against Trump would be historically noteworthy and have to be at least considered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Although the House voted on two occasions to impeach Trump, criminal charges have never been brought against him.
Cheney has been an outspoken critic of Trump over the last two years for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2022 election. She’s also made it clear on numerous occasions and through the committee’s hearings that she believes he played a pivotal role in causing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Simpson: Her Mission Can Succeed
Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson believes Cheney will be one of the biggest forces that brings down Trump.
“Liz Cheney is going to be the unraveller of the underwear of Donald Trump,” he said. “The truth is, he doesn’t have any underwear on. He never did.”
The final Jan. 6 report is expected to be released Dec. 21.
In late November, The Washington Post spoke with 15 former and current committee staffers who said they were angry and disillusioned by what they believe was Cheney’s push to focus the report primarily on Trump, and an investigative process they believe has become a vehicle for her political future.
“Donald Trump is the first president in American history to attempt to overturn an election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power,” Jeremy Adler, a spokesperson for Cheney, told the Post in response. “So, damn right Liz is ‘prioritizing’ understanding what he did and how he did it and ensuring it never happens again.”
As a Wyoming U.S. senator for 18 years, Simpson is no stranger to lame-duck sessions.
“There’s a lot of creative things that happen in an interim period,” he said.
Simpson missed out on being a lame duck himself as there was no session held after the November 1996 election, when he chose not to run for reelection.
Working to pass her bill or similar Senate legislation updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act will be another priority for the congresswoman, her office reports.
The bill would clarify the role of the vice president in presiding over the certification of the electoral votes as president of the Senate.
Cheney’s bill would make it clear this role is purely ceremonial and not allowed to unilaterally throw out electoral votes, as Trump and his allies pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to do.
If the bill passes, it would be the most direct legislative response to the Jan. 6 events to date.
The Senate bill sponsored by Republican Susan Collins of Maine has the support of 15 other Republican senators and is largely expected to pass if it is brought to a vote before the end of the current session.
Among the other pieces of unfinished business is enacting legislation to keep the federal government funded past a Dec. 16 deadline. Failure to do so would result in a government shutdown.
This involves passing a budget for the 2023 fiscal year. If a budget doesn’t pass in time, like in 2018, it could deprive hundreds of thousands of government workers of pay and disrupt public services until resolved.
Although it is looking increasingly unlikely to be brought to a vote in the coming weeks, Cheney could cast an important vote on deciding whether to raise the debt ceiling to prevent the United States government from defaulting on its financial commitments.
House Republicans like Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have promised to use this issue as leverage to exert deep spending cuts.
“Enjoy these few weeks of what passes for bipartisanship as Congress waddles to its end,” wrote Jackie Calmes, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. “You won’t be seeing much of that over the next two years.”
On Thursday, Cheney voted in support of the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense budget. The legislation includes a 4.6% pay increase for troops; funding for purchases of weapons, ships and aircraft; and support for Taiwan and Ukraine.
Could She Vote With Democrats?
Cheney has drifted to the left on a few different votes this year and could prove to be a thorn in the side of hardline conservatives if she joins the Democrats on more votes.
Over the last couple of years, Cheney has gained a national recognition for her opposition to Trump that she never had before. Recently, she was named a finalist for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award.
Cheney still has not ruled out a run for president in 2024.
What awaits her in the months following the lame duck session is still a mystery, but she will have the opportunity to be more than a lame-duck quack when influencing legislation over the rest of the month.