Pressure is rising on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to reach a decision on her political future.
Cheney can run for an open seat in the Senate, or she can remain in the House, where some say she could make history one day as the first female Republican Speaker.
Her decision will have huge ramifications for her party, so for now rank-and-file lawmakers and other ambitious rivals are left guessing what move she’ll make next.
While the filing deadline to enter the Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) isn’t until May 2020, a number of Republicans said they anticipate the two-term Wyoming Republican will make an announcement in the coming months — in part because other lawmakers need and desperately want to know her plans.
“I think there’s an expectation among her colleagues that she’ll make her intentions known by the end of the year or soon after, so people are clear about where things stand in advance of campaign season,” one GOP operative with relationships to House members told The Hill.
“I think it’s an accurate assessment [on pressure for her to announce]; she hasn’t made any official announcement and there’s a variety of waffling that comes out,” said a GOP lawmaker, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the situation.
If Cheney runs for the Senate, she will have to vacate her leadership position, potentially leaving the House GOP without a woman in leadership. Her departure also would cut into the already dwindling number of Republican women in the House, with two incumbents — Reps. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) — having announced their retirement plans earlier this year.
House members say Cheney’s skills as a leader, along with the party’s gender issues, are both reasons why many of her colleagues are pressuring her to stay.
“I think there’s pressure on anybody to stay in the House when you have somebody that has a good track record, does well with policy and does well on the communication side,” a second GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
“But especially — I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t matter — if you have someone when we’re already diminished among the different genders — it always helps to have some strong people in that category.”
Cheney would be a coveted recruit for the Senate.
The Wyoming Republican has quickly risen to be one of the leading voices on national security and foreign policy within the GOP.
Her work as conference chair — a position previously held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney — has been largely praised by GOP colleagues. Some fear it could be difficult to find an effective messenger to fill her shoes; she’s a frequent guest on the Sunday show circuit and is at ease parrying reporters’ questions about President Trump.
“She’s a dynamic force,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a colleague of Cheney’s on the Armed Services Committee.
“She’s a preeminent defense hawk, thinker and the defense leader in the conference,” he told The Hill. “I have no idea what she’s gonna do, but I think highly of her and I hope she stays in the House for only selfish reasons.”
Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.), the vice chairman of the House GOP conference, and Rep. Jason Smith (Mo.), the conference secretary, have been floated as potential contenders for Cheney’s role if she moves to the Senate. Others say the conference should find a woman for the role.
For Cheney, a Senate seat could be an easier pathway to the White House or a high-level position in a future GOP administration.
No one in the past century has been elected president straight from the House, while former President Obama won the presidency from the Senate and a half-dozen senators are competing in the Democratic race for the White House this year.
“If she opts to run for Senate, it positions herself to be a major player in future Republican administrations and even potentially be on the national ticket someday in her own right,” the GOP operative said.
If Cheney goes, it will be seen as a move by a politician with ambition, but also about the future of the GOP in the House.
“Cheney’s decision will be a defining moment for House Republicans this fall,” the operative said. “If she stays, members will be thrilled because it’s clear that someone they highly respect and value as a leader is in this for the long haul and sees herself as a possible Speaker of the House one day.”
Cheney has been coy on her plans, telling reporters Wednesday she “doesn’t have any announcements to make.” She previously said other candidates entering the race — including former conservative Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) — won’t have a bearing on her decision.
“We have a lot of really tremendous candidates, I’m sure, who will get in, and I’m going to do absolutely what’s best for the people of Wyoming,” she told local Wyoming station KGAB in August.
Cheney’s ability to maintain a positive relationship with the president while still pushing back against certain policies could also give her an edge in the Senate race. Most recently, she came out against now-canceled Taliban peace talks at Camp David, praising the president for his decision to scrap the meeting.
“This president has shown that he is willing … to walk away from bad deals. He walked away from the nuclear deal with Iran, he walked away from the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty,” she said during an appearance on Fox News’s “Special Report” on Monday.
Trump has criticized the Bush administration, particularly over the Iraq War, but has praised Liz Cheney. At a July event from the White House, he called her “a friend of mine, and a wonderful person, and somebody that has, I don’t know, a pretty unlimited future. I’d say — I hear a lot of very positive things — Liz Cheney.”
A poll conducted in June by GOP firm The Tarrance Group showed Cheney with a 56 percent to 34 percent lead over Lummis — who has strong backing from the conservative flank of the party — among GOP primary voters in Wyoming, leading some to believe she has some leeway. It may take some of the pressure off, despite a number of her House colleagues anticipating a decision sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think that she’s forced to announce, I think she can do it whenever she wants to,” a Republican member told The Hill.