It may sound strange to suggest the fate of President Biden’s climate agenda will parallel that of Liz Cheney, Wyoming’s at-large Republican congressional representative, but hear me out.
Cheney was first elected in 2017 and is currently the House Republican Conference Chair. The Chair is considered the Number 3 position in the House Republican pecking order. Only the Republican Whip, Steve Scalise (R-LA), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) outrank her—at least for the moment.
Cheney is a stand-up Republican conservative in the mold of John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Her father, Dick Cheney, was George W. Bush’s vice-president. When called to task by for cordially fist-bumping President Biden on his way into the House chamber for his State of the Union address she replied: We’re [of] different political parties. We’re not sworn enemies. We’re Americans.
True to her Wyoming roots, Cheney supports the coal industry. In March, she co-sponsored “Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions” or the “SCALE” Act. According to her website, the proposed Act would support the buildout of the infrastructure necessary to transport CO2 from where it is captured to where it can be utilized in manufacturing or safely and securely sequestered underground.
The SCALE Act, it should be said, is a bi-partisan proposal. The prime sponsors are David B. McKinley (R-WV) and Marc Veasey (D-TX). Also on the bill are Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Liz Cheney (R-WY), Pete Stauber (R-MN), and Terri Sewell (D-AL). The same bill was intro-duced into the previous Congress.
According to Cheney:
Through technological advancements, we know we can continue to expand its [coals] use as a clean and reliable tool to power our economy and support families… this bipartisan legislation…will help support the coal industry by advancing the availability and use of carbon capture.
If Cheney’s loyalty to coal were not already enough to make environmental defenders shudder, there are her League of Conservation Voters scores to consider. For some perspective the highest possible LCV score is 100 percent. Among others, Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) had a 100 percent score in 2020, while Bradley Byrne (R-AL) had a score of “0.” Cheney's score in 2020 was five percent, with a lifetime rating of two percent.
Any self-respecting climate champion would be asking themselves about now why I’m bothering about Liz Cheney—more to the point—why they’re bothering to read about her? I’m getting to it Patience, please.
Cheney is about to be ousted from her leadership position for daring to denounce Donald John Trump. Cheney was one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach the 46th president for incitement of Capitol insurrection.
Had Cheney stopped at voting to impeach, she wouldn’t be in the “trouble” she is now. It seems that Minority Leader McCarthy and many of the members of the Republican House Caucus are a might miffed over her recent statements about the 2020 presidential election.
Over this past weekend, Trump told a group of supporters that the 2020 election results might be overturned due to the potential findings of the firm “Cyber Ninjas,” which has been enlisted by Republican leaders in the Arizona State Senate to undertake a recount of Maricopa County's 2.1 million ballots.
According to various reports, the former president alluded to the fact that once the thousands and thousands and thousands of votes for him were finally counted in Arizona, the results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and elsewhere would be overturned, and he—Trump—would be returned to the Oval Office with all the pomp and circumstance he deserved.
Representative Cheney was unconvinced. Following Trump’s predictions, Cheney went public, tweeting clearly that the 2020 election was not only over—it was not stolen. She also wrote that anyone who claims otherwise was spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system. (emphasis added)
In rebuttals to Cheney’s claims, Trump called her a big-shot warmonger and said no one in Wyoming ever liked her anyway. It was not the first time that the former president and the representative had unkind things to say to each other.
The reason it matters is found in the response of House Republicans—including Minority Leader McCarthy. Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump wasn’t well-received, and an effort was made following it to oust her from her leadership position. The attempt failed, mainly because she continued to have McCarthy’s support.
From everything now being said in Republican circles, it appears that Cheney’s days as third-chair of the caucus are numbered—perhaps in single digits. Scalise, the Number 2 House Republican, has been reported saying:
This idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where we are — and frankly, he has a lot to offer still.
Representative Cheney’s story is a tell-tale of things to come not only in Congress but on the hustings leading up to the 2022 midterm elections. The tale it tells is that the mainstream Republican Party remains in Trump’s hands and is willing to live The Big Lie.
Take, for example, Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired by the Republican-controlled Arizona senate to lead the recount. The firm appears without experience in this type of work and to be biased in favor of Trump. The firm’s founder, Doug Logan, is reported to have repeatedly echoed the former president’s own conspiracy theories on a now-deleted Twitter account.
Cheney wasn’t the only one finding themselves in the Republican dog house. The same weekend Cheney spoke of the BIG LIE, Senator Romney (R-UT) was being booed by some 2,000 members of the Utah State Republican Party.
The willingness of Republicans to turn the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Trump likely means that bi-partisan climate action is an increasingly elusive possibility. The most serious threat to climate policy at the national and state levels is not necessarily in the policy arena.
Over the course of the next year or so, state legislatures will be redrawing congressional districts based on the just-released 2020 census. Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, California, and West Virginia will each lose one seat.
Wyoming, Arizona, and Utah are three of 23 Republican trifecta states. The term trifecta is used to describe a state whose governor, legislature, and attorney general are all of the same party. There are 15 Democratic trifecta states.
When it comes to redrawing the borders of congressional districts, Republican and Democratic legislatures alike will look to favor their respective parties. Something the US Supreme Court believes is none of its business—having labeled the matter a political question. If Georgia is any example, the nation has only just begun to see the breakout of fights over voting rights laws—with Republican states more likely to limit mail-in balloting and other voter-friendly measures.
It’s unclear at this point when congressional Democrats and the president will say enough is enough of their trying for bipartisan compromise going on instead to pass as much of Biden’s climate agenda as possible while still retaining nominal control of Congress. What is clear is that the Party of Trump will continue canceling moderate and even conservative Republicans like Romney and Cheney.
My advice to the climate community is to brace itself against these troubling trends and keep track of the time. By my watch, there are less than six months to get done what needs to be done on Capitol Hill to put the country firmly back on the road to a low-carbon economy.
Lead image: Screengrab ABC TV
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.