Cheney spars with GOP challengers over 2020 election, Jan. 6 in first debate
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney was able to find common ground with her four challengers for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat on issues including voting against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, supporting America’s energy systems and reprimanding the Biden administration during their first debate Thursday night.
But when it came to topics such as the Jan. 6 committee’s findings and the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, she found herself an outlier. And Cheney’s belief that the 2020 election was not stolen could cost her her seat.
Throughout the debate, Cheney, the vice chair on the Jan. 6 select committee, cited recent findings from the committee’s hearings and testimony from former President Donald Trump’s family and staffers that “there was not sufficient fraud to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” She added that it is a “tragedy” that Trump and other Republicans wrongly claimed it was stolen.
“If we embrace the lies of Donald Trump, if we tell the people of Wyoming something that is not true, we will soon find ourselves without the structure and the basis and the framework of our constitutional republic,” Cheney said in her closing statement.
The debate came one day after Cheney said during a speech at the Reagan Library in California that Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election showed he is a “domestic threat.”
Harriet Hageman, who is running against Cheney and has been endorsed by Trump, responded to this statement Thursday night.
“The threat to our republic really comes from other sources,” she said, adding that there are “two different systems of justice” and claimed one does not hold Democrats “accountable for their decisions.”
“Yet, you have the conservatives or Republicans who are being punished for expressing their First Amendment rights,” she said.
Cheney, who is trailing Hageman by nearly 30% in a couple of internal polls conducted by Trump and Hageman allies, began the debate by going on offense against Hageman.
She challenged Hageman to say the 2020 presidential election was not stolen. She also cited testimony from former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien to the Jan. 6 committee, where he said Trump had no basis to declare victory on election night. Stepien is now an advisor to Hageman’s campaign.
“I think that she can’t say that it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump,” Cheney said, referring to Hageman.
In response, Hageman diverted from directly addressing Cheney’s question and said the “press and certain people have obsessed” over the Jan. 6 attack. She added that she rarely hears about it or the House select committee from Wyoming voters. And when she does, voters say “how unfair this entire committee is.”
“They’re focusing on something that happened 18 months ago, they’re not focusing on the issues that are important to the people in Wyoming,” she said. “And they’re also ignoring the corruption that is absolutely destroying Washington, D.C., and, as a result, taking down the rest of the country.”
Hageman later charged that Cheney was too focused on the Jan. 6 committee and had been ignoring Wyoming voters.
The other candidates — state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, businesswoman Robyn Belinsky and veteran Denton Knapp — also criticized the Jan. 6 committee and claimed there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“We the people were stifled. The First Amendment right was washed out the door. It’s a waste of time and resources,” Belinsky said about the committee.
Bouchard called it “a lot of distraction” and a “kangaroo court,” repeating a line Trump has used.
The candidates also disagreed with Cheney over whether bipartisanship should still be a goal in Congress.
Cheney said there is a “toxicity and a vitriol that is absolutely tearing our country apart… we have to elect leaders who won’t simply say what they think people want to hear.”
Bouchard said he was elected to the state Senate by hardline Republicans and is representing them.
Hageman said when people talk about congressional bipartisanship, they’re actually wondering when the GOP will cave.
“I don’t see bipartisanship,” she said. “On the Democrat side, what I see is the moving forward of an agenda that’s been extremely destructive to this country.”
Cheney has spent over $1.2 million on ads thus far, with Hageman and allied groups having spent a collective $775,445, according to data from AdImpact. Meanwhile, Trump’s Save America PAC began to spend on ads in mid-May.
The debate was not open to the public due to security concerns and death threats to one of the candidates, according to Wyoming PBS.
Wyoming’s primaries are on August 16.
Aaron Navarro is an associate producer for the political unit at CBS News, focusing on House and gubernatorial campaigns as well as the census and redistricting.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.