By Manu Raju and Melanie Zanona, CNN
House GOP leaders are strongly signaling that they are unlikely to punish Rep. Liz Cheney for accepting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assignment to serve on the January 6 select committee, a shift from earlier this month when it appeared the Wyoming Republican was at risk of losing a key post for breaking with her colleagues.
No final decision has been made, but several top Republicans made clear that they viewed targeting Cheney as a distraction as the party seeks to focus its messaging on the Biden agenda in an effort to take back the House next year.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise both sidestepped questions about whether Cheney should be punished in any way — a sign that the issue is not being actively considered at the moment.
“I would hope she would look at the actions that Speaker Pelosi took that were unprecedented and in fact go against what Liz herself has said and step down from the committee because it has no credibility and why would anybody want to be associated with that?” Scalise told CNN, not answering directly when asked if Cheney should suffer any consequences.
McCarthy, who suggested to a group of GOP freshmen late last month that anyone who accepts a select committee assignment from Pelosi could lose other committee spots, said Thursday that “our main focus is making sure that we stop the runaway inflation that Democrats have caused” when asked about consequences for Cheney.
“I think it’s a conference decision,” McCarthy told reporters.
Cheney was already booted from GOP leadership earlier this year after her spat with former President Donald Trump over his lie that the November election was stolen from him. But Republicans could still kick her off of the House Armed Services Committee or expel her from the entire GOP conference, the latter of which would require two-thirds support from the conference.
Last month while attending lunch with GOP freshmen at the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill, McCarthy had briefly floated the idea of stripping any Republican of their committee assignments if they accepted an offer from Pelosi to serve on the January 6 panel. McCarthy asserted that taking any committee assignment from the opposition party was something not done in Congress, but he later told reporters he wasn’t threatening Cheney.
Now, Republicans don’t seem willing to go that far with Cheney — or potentially GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger if he’s named by Pelosi to serve on the panel — at least not yet.
“We have a lot of other issues that we’ve got to deal with,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia, a member of GOP leadership. “We ain’t worried about what color to paint the fire hydrant.”
Added another senior House Republican, “We’ve got more important things to focus on.”
Republicans instead say they plan to paint Cheney as a hypocrite after she said this year that Pelosi has “no business determining which Republicans sit on committees” after Democrats voted to strip GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments once the Georgia freshman’s more controversial remarks came to light.
But on Wednesday, Cheney sided with Pelosi after she rejected McCarthy’s selections of Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana to serve on the select committee, prompting the GOP leader to withdraw all five of his selections to the investigative panel.
Asked about the difference between the two situations, Cheney said Thursday: “We had a violent attack on the United States.” And she noted that Jordan could be a “material witness” given his conversations with Trump in the run-up to January 6, while she criticized Banks for issuing a partisan statement that she said was “disqualifying.”
Yet, there are a handful of conservative Republicans, including Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who are agitating for Cheney to face repercussions.
“Calling on @RepStefanik to call a special GOP conference to address appropriate measures regarding Jan 6 Select Committee assignments,” Perry tweeted. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to stack this committee will not go unchecked.”
And Republicans from across the conference have unloaded on Cheney in statements, interviews and tweets — including Banks, who has taken a steady stream of pot shots at Cheney since he was rejected by Pelosi from serving on the select committee.
“I’m not happy with her. I don’t think she’s doing anything that’s good for our party right now,” conservative GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, Trump’s former doctor at the White House, told CNN.
But even some of Cheney’s staunchest critics, like Jordan, said the decision of whether to punish her is ultimately up to Republican leadership — though he said that he would be “100%” supportive if that’s the route McCarthy took.
Still, there doesn’t seem to be a movement afoot within the conference to punish Cheney — especially since many Republicans think Cheney’s political career is dead anyway and don’t feel the need to take a whack at her reputation any further.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a loyal Trump ally, stopped short of calling for any punishments for Cheney. “The Republicans are off the committee. So, it’s whatever she wants to do, but the Republicans are already off.”
Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican, also wouldn’t call on Cheney to face any sanctions.
“Every member can do their own thing,” Smith said. But he added: “I think what she did was completely inappropriate and wrong.”
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CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.