Cheney begs GOP colleagues at Jan. 6 hearing: Tell our voters the truth, that the election wasn't rigged

Some of them do admit that — when they’re cornered. I’m thinking of Dan Crenshaw being confronted by an election truther at a fundraiser in August and telling the guy that he was kidding himself if he believed there was such widespread fraud that it flipped the result in multiple states. There’s a cohort of hardcore populists within the House GOP whose loyalty to Trump is such that they’ll eagerly parrot any conspiracy theory he likes but most GOP reps who are asked about this tend to mumble something noncommittal about “election integrity” and “unanswered questions” before changing the subject.

But that was Cheney’s point at last night’s January 6 committee hearing on whether to recommend holding Steve Bannon in contempt for defying a committee subpoena. It’s not that House Republicans are aggressively amplifying Trump’s “stop the steal” claims. It’s that hardly any of them are willing to contradict them. That’s true within conservative media too. If you’re not a true believer but you’re afraid of the backlash from true believers if you call the lie a lie, the only way to avoid failing the new party litmus test is to avoid the subject.

Which means Cheney knew her plea would fall on deaf ears. This was her shaming her colleagues for their lack of integrity at a moment of high public visibility:

“Almost every one of my colleagues knows in your hearts that what happened on January 6th was profoundly wrong,” said Cheney, the vice chair of the select committee.

“You all know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to overturn the election. You all know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know these claims are false. Yet former President Trump repeats them almost daily.”…

“The American people must know what happened,” she said. “They must know the truth. All of us who are elected officials must do our duty to prevent the dismantling of the rule of law, and to ensure nothing like that dark day in January ever happens again.”

The full House will vote today on whether to approve the committee’s contempt recommendation and refer the matter to the local U.S. Attorney for consideration of criminal charges against Bannon. In a less decadent country, enforcement of a committee subpoena would draw bipartisan support among the House if only for reasons of self-interest. They all serve on committees (except Marjorie Taylor Greene); they all have a stake in guarding their committees’ institutional power. But our country is decadent, particularly Congress, and so naturally Republicans are whipping against the contempt referral:

In the modern GOP, each new vote that touches on Trump becomes a litmus test of momentous importance. All but two House Republicans, Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, voted against creating the January 6 committee, ostensibly because it wasn’t bipartisan but in reality because Trump didn’t want his dirty laundry from January 6 aired. (Congress could have had a truly bipartisan January 6 commission but Senate Republicans tanked that, necessitating the “partisan” panel to which House Republicans then objected.) Passing one litmus test doesn’t earn you any leeway to fail the next one, though, so any Republican who voted against forming the committee but who votes today in favor of enforcing the contempt charge will be a traitor to Trump, to Bannon, to MAGA, etc.

Of the eight Republicans besides Cheney and Kinzinger who voted to impeach Trump in January, I’d be surprised if more than one voted in favor of the contempt referral. And the one who’s in doubt, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, is a wild card only because he already announced his retirement amid threats to his wife and kids. He has nothing to lose by supporting the subpoena, except maybe a family member. We’ll see what he does.

Yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll showing Biden’s job approval in the toilet had a good news/bad news result for the GOP on the January 6 committee. Most Americans, including most independents, have moved on. That’s the good news for Republicans:

The bad news is that the leader of the party and most famous person in America hasn’t moved on. Cheney has answered critics of her insistence on revisiting January 6 by telling them that she can’t let the subject drop because Trump can’t. She made that point in her opening statement yesterday too: Nearly a year after Election Day, Trump still brings up the supposed fraud that was perpetrated on him almost daily. Had he and the GOP agreed not to discuss the matter further, the January 6 committee might backfire on Democrats by demonstrating that their priorities are out of touch with voters’. But as it is, they’re only as out of touch as Trump himself is. He won’t let it go so they won’t either.

Cheney made one other noteworthy point in her remarks. The fact that Bannon is citing executive privilege as a reason for not testifying about his possible involvement in planning an assault on Congress implies that Trump had some involvement in that assault too, she claims. I don’t know; drawing an inference of guilt from the invocation of a lawful privilege doesn’t sit easily. But the whole question here is whether this invocation is lawful since Bannon didn’t work in the executive branch in January 2021 and Trump’s no longer president. His assertion of the privilege as an ex-president is a desperate attempt to find legal support for the idea that anything he said to anyone, inside or outside the government, about January 6 is beyond the bounds of legal inquiry. Not so.