Cheney Triumphs in Conference Vote

Plus: Russia sentences opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prison.

Happy Thursday! Two of your Morning Dispatchers spent seven hours in N95 masks yesterday, and we now have an even greater appreciation for all of our readers who work in health care. Thank you for all you do!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Justice Department on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit filed by the Trump administration that alleged Yale University illegally discriminated against Asian-American and white undergraduate applicants.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally came to an agreement on an organizing resolution that will dictate how the two parties share power in a 50-50 Senate. The resolution easily passed the chamber, allowing Democrats to officially take control of committees. 

  • Two days after raiding a series of democratically-elected leaders’ homes, Myanmar’s military has formally charged the country’s leader—Aung San Suu Kyi—with illegally importing walkie-talkie radios. The minor infraction gives the armed forces legal grounds to keep Suu Kyi in detention.

  • The Biden administration has paused the Trump administration’s plan to draw down the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany, according to Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Wolters said, is “in the process of conducting a very very thorough review” of the plan.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday the United States officially reached an agreement with Russia on a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

  • House Republicans last night voted overwhelmingly in favor of Rep. Liz Cheney keeping her spot in conference leadership in spite of her vote to impeach President Trump last month. The final tally was 145–61–1. 

  • Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made clear Wednesday he would not remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her congressional committees in response to her many past offensive and outlandish comments, which have come under renewed scrutiny in recent days. Instead, the full House will now vote today on a resolution to do so, which is expected to pass.

  • The Canadian government on Wednesday designated the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. Public Safety Canada—an agency responsible for national security—described the group as “a neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence” and espouses “misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”

  • The United States confirmed 123,071 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.5 percent of the 1,442,998 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,936 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 450,680. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 91,440 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1,097,394 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, bringing the nationwide total to 33,878,254.

A Triumph for Cheney

Rep. Matt Gaetz and his House Freedom Caucus pals must have never watched The Wire. If they had, they’d know that if “you come at the king, you best not miss.”

As we wrote to you yesterday, a group of Republicans had been plotting for weeks to oust Rep. Liz Cheney from her House leadership position, citing her vote to impeach President Trump last month as justification. Reps. Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and others began circulating a petition declaring the Wyoming Republican had “brought the Conference into disrepute and produced discord.” 

At one point, leaders of the effort claimed more than 107 of their colleagues would support removing Cheney if given the opportunity on a secret ballot. As recently as yesterday afternoon, Gaetz expressed confidence that he’d secured the requisite votes to sack Cheney as House Republican conference chair. His only concern was that “the establishment is going to find a way to kick the question, avoid a vote.”

Well, the House Republican Conference met for more than four hours yesterday. And not only did they not avoid a vote—Cheney herself was the one who demanded it. The result? The Trump wing of the party’s effort to flex their muscle backfired spectacularly: Support for Cheney on the secret ballot was reaffirmed, 145-61, with one member abstaining.

“We just had a very good conference,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, flanked by Cheney and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. “The number one thing that happened in this conference was unity. People were able to air their differences.”

Many members approached the meeting well aware its implications were far broader than who occupies the number three position in the conference. “I don’t think this is about Liz Cheney. She took a vote of her conscience,” Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler—who also voted to impeach Trump—told The Dispatch. “This is about the direction of our party, and whether or not we’re going to be a minority who’s dedicated to just one person, or we’re going to be a united Republican majority. That’s what we’re talking about.”

According to a source in the room, Cheney made a similar point in her opening remarks. “I think it is truly important that we not become the party that outlaws conscience,” she said. “Several members have asked me to apologize for the vote, they’ve asked my colleagues who also voted to impeach to apologize for the vote. I owe you honesty, I owe you the truth, I cannot do that. It was a vote of conscience. It was a vote of principle—a principle on which I stand and still believe.”

Cheney went on to warn against a GOP taken hostage by the forces that stormed the Capitol last month:

We cannot look away or ignore what happened on January 6. Five people died. We honored Officer Brian Sicknick in the rotunda this morning. Photos showed members of the mob wearing the badges of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, including a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. These symbols of hate and evil desecrated the halls of this building and the history of our nation. We must not look away. We cannot sit by and let the Republican Party be taken over by Q-anon conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, Holocaust deniers or a cult of personality.

We are the party of Lincoln. We restored the Union and ended the great sin of slavery. We are the party of truth. We are the party of law and order, justice, limited government and, most importantly, the primacy of our Constitution.

We must remember our Constitution is our shield as we defend our freedom against the rising threat of socialism. We must teach our children what our Constitution says and why we defend it.

Plenty of members lined up at the microphones to air their grievances with Cheney, but still more rose to her defense, including Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Crenshaw, and, ultimately, McCarthy himself, who sources say made an impassioned plea with the conference at the end of the meeting to keep the current leadership team together. “You elected me leader,” he said, according to Punchbowl News. “Let me lead.”

Cheney’s win was also a striking defeat for former President Donald Trump, who had been calling House Republicans in the days leading up to the vote, urging them to cashier Cheney. The former president’s efforts to oust Cheney began well before her vote to impeach. “We got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world,” Trump said during his speech to the rally on the mall, shortly before members of the crowd attacked the Capitol. “We got to get rid of them. We got to get rid of them.” Trump’s sons and advisers pushed hard—in public and private—for her removal, with Sean Hannity leading Trump’s media cheerleaders calling for her dismissal. 

If McCarthy, who met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last week, defied the former president on Cheney, he no doubt pleased Trump when he announced yesterday afternoon he would not be moving to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Trump favorite, of both her committee assignments, opting instead to make House Democrats do it in a vote scheduled for later today. He had proposed a deal with Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer earlier in the day that would move Greene from the Education and Labor Committee to the Small Business Committee, but Hoyer rebuffed it, saying “there is no alternative to holding a floor vote on the resolution to remove Rep. Greene from her committee assignments.”

Allowing Democrats to take the lead here will provide the GOP ample fodder for their “cancel culture” line of attack and potentially set the stage for a future Republican majority to boot a controversial lawmaker like Rep. Ilhan Omar off her committees. But it also forces most GOP members to take what will be a very tough vote defending the freshman from Georgia.

“Past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference. I condemn those comments unequivocally,” McCarthy said Wednesday afternoon. “I understand that Marjorie’s comments have caused deep wounds to many and as a result, I offered Majority Leader Hoyer a path to lower the temperature and address these concerns. Instead of coming together to do that, the Democrats are choosing to raise the temperature by taking the unprecedented step to further their partisan power grab regarding the committee assignments of the other party.”

McCarthy told reporters last night that Greene spoke at the conference meeting yesterday, and both apologized for and denounced all of her previous comments and social media activity. “She said she was wrong,” McCarthy said. “She has reached out in other ways and forms.”

But some Republicans won’t be fully satisfied until Greene says so publicly, which she once again refused to do last night when prompted. “I want to see more public statements along the lines of what we had privately,” Crenshaw told The Dispatch, though he added that Democrats removing Greene from committees is a “terrible” precedent to set. “I want to see very clear denunciations of everything that’s been said.”

Pressed by reporters, McCarthy eventually came to the same conclusion. “I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us,” he said, adding that she will be held to a higher standard going forward. “Now that you’re a member of Congress, now it’s a responsibility of our conference to hold people accountable.”

They may be waiting for a while: Earlier in the day Wednesday, a defiant Greene said she has no plans to publicly apologize. 

The Cheney and Greene moves yesterday don’t paint a tidy picture about the trajectory of the GOP. In all likelihood, McCarthy—almost singularly focused on becoming House Speaker after the 2022 elections—is endeavoring to keep the party tent as big as possible, and figure out the details later. But the divisions within the conference are deep, and they aren’t going away anytime soon—McCarthy’s happy talk about unity notwithstanding. 

What Wednesday did reveal, however, is the relative strength of the GOP’s various factions. Only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach President Trump last month; on a secret ballot, 145 supported Cheney’s right to do so. A staggering 139 House members objected to the electoral results in at least one state on January 6; on a secret ballot, “only” 61 wanted to boot Cheney for her vote of conscience.

Conservatives concerned with the direction of the GOP in recent years may take solace in these discrepancies. As we’ve written repeatedly, the majority of Republican lawmakers here in Washington are far less Trumpy personally than they would ever let on. But on a political level, the public persona is the one that matters: It’s what voters see, how narratives are shaped, and how decisions are made.

At some point, elected Republicans may once again feel comfortable speaking their whole mind. But not yet. Expect things to revert to normal when the cameras are back on today during the vote to punish Greene.

After all, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, Greene is significantly more popular with GOP voters than Cheney is, +10 net favorability to -28.

The Kremlin Cracks Down

A Russian court sentenced Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny to 32 months in prison on Tuesday, sparking outrage from the international community and fueling growing anti-Kremlin sentiment among the Russian people. 

For Navalny and his allies, Tuesday’s court order was expected. “This is what he wanted to happen,” said Heather Conley, the director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This was part of ... confronting the Kremlin [and] part of the strategy by returning to Russia.” Russian authorities, Conley added, have in the past avoided jailing Navalny to avoid making him a martyr. 

Navalny delivered a defiant speech before the court on Tuesday in which he maintained his innocence and criticized Vladimir Putin—whom he called a “thieving little man”—for poisoning him with the nerve agent Novichok last year. (Putin denies he ordered the hit, but public reporting has cast that denial in doubt.) 

Putin has “never participated in any debates or campaigned in an election,” Navalny said from inside a glass cage, where he was kept for the entire hearing. “Murder is the only way he knows how to fight. He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner.”

Navalny’s detention is ostensibly due to a parole violation dating back to his 2014 conviction on extortion charges—a conviction that the European Court of Human Rights determined was politically motivated. A Russian Federal Penitentiary Service officer told Navalny on Tuesday they were unable to locate him late last year for their required parole check-ins. Navalny, of course, was in Germany, receiving treatment after being poisoned.

Navalny said he provided the Penitentiary Service with his updated location: “What more could I have done?”

The opposition leader also made use of his speaking time to make some broader political arguments, railing against the horrible conditions many Russians have been subjected to under Putin’s leadership. “We’ve got 20 million people living below the poverty line,” he said. “We have tens of millions of people living without the slightest prospects for the future. Life is bearable in Moscow, but travel 100 kilometers in any direction and everything’s a mess.”

“That message is what has brought out the protesters,” Conley said. “This is a population that has not seen their salaries increase since 2011. … The Russian people are seeing a real decline in living standards, without any hope that this will change.”

Navalny’s prison sentence will likely fracture the relationship between the Kremlin and the White House even further. President Biden mentioned Navalny’s case during his first phone call with Putin last month, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded the opposition leader’s immediate release following Tuesday’s hearing.

But Russian officials have brushed aside Western leaders’ concerns as unauthorized interference in domestic affairs. “It’s not just interference in internal affairs of a sovereign state,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharov said on Facebook. “It’s laying bare the unsightly and illegal role of the collective West in attempts to constrain Russia.”

Now that Navalny is behind bars, it remains to be seen whether pro-democracy protesters can sustain their grassroots momentum in his absence. “When he is sent [to prison] without electronics and communication, will this network be able to sustain and build on his work without his charismatic voice?” Conley asked. But the size and geographic scope of these protests suggests that this movement has some staying power: “When you go out to protest in minus 60 Fahrenheit, that means you are committed.” 

Roughly 6,000 Russian protesters were detained on Sunday, according to OVD-Info, a law enforcement tracking site. The demonstrations are not just centered in highly populated metro areas like St. Petersburg and Moscow, either—they have cropped up all across the massive country. 

The demographic makeup of the movement is also telling. “These are young people,” Conley said. “These are people that have never protested before—the middle class—that’s usually been the last to go out. This is something different.”

Worth Your Time

  • In Kevin Williamson’s latest for National Review, he ponders a new demographic trend: Are people relocating to different states based on a shared political conviction? And is this form of self-sorting a good thing for the country? “That we cannot bear the thought of living in the same communities as people who do not share our politics doesn’t seem to me to indicate anything healthy about our national culture,” Williamson writes. “Part of me thinks this is a terrible trend for the country. Another part of me thinks St. George, Utah, is awfully nice this time of year.”

Something Striking

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Yesterday’s Dispatch Podcast was one for the books. It starts with a discussion of how the Biden White House has handled coronavirus relief negotiations thus far, and builds to a crescendo with a contentious discussion of House Republicans. How has Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy handled the fracturing of his conference? Are we all paying too much attention to Marjorie Taylor Greene? Stick around for a more uplifting discussion of the United Kingdom’s decision to welcome refugees from Hong Kong.

  • Scott draws on the wisdom of economist Dr. Thomas Sowell in this week’s Capitolism newsletter (🔒), analyzing the tradeoffs that come with raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Despite new reports from left-leaning economists claiming that minimum wage increases are “essentially costless” to workers, there is a cost—and it’s typically borne by other workers and small businesses. “Minimum wages are also a lousy way to fight inequality,” he writes, “given that wage hikes tend to hurt smaller businesses more than bigger ones, and that owners of minimum wage-intensive firms are typically not the super-rich but instead the merely-well-off.”

  • A progressive group aligned with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is reportedly looking to primary moderate Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from the left. “This is what psephologists call ‘a very stupid idea,’” Jonah writes in his Midweek G-File (🔒).

Let Us Know

What do you think happens to the Republican Party? Will all the various factions continue to be able to coexist? Which one wins out?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

This newsletter has been updated to include additional reporting.