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Drop Her, or Be Dropped

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot meets for a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot meets for a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — A prominent Washington lobbyist close to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, is warning Republican political consultants that they must choose between working for Rep. Liz Cheney or McCarthy, an ultimatum that marks the full rupture between the two House Republicans.

Jeff Miller, the lobbyist and a confidant of McCarthy’s dating to their youthful days in California politics, has conveyed this us-or-her message to Republican strategists in recent weeks, prompting one fundraising firm to dissociate itself from Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming.

In response, The Morning Group, a fundraising firm she hired to help prepare for a primary next year against a challenger endorsed by former President Donald Trump, informed her last month they could no longer work on her campaign, according to Republicans familiar with the matter.

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Miller’s warnings illustrate the disintegration of the relationship between the two lawmakers, who began this year serving together in the House Republican leadership. They also underline McCarthy’s willingness to wield his leadership position to undercut Cheney’s reelection and head off an impediment to his claiming the speakership, should Republicans win a House majority next year. Were Cheney to return to Congress, she would loom as a potential instigator of any effort to block McCarthy from leading their party in the House.

After initially defending Cheney to House Republicans angry at her for voting to impeach Trump earlier this year, McCarthy abandoned her after she continued to speak out against the former president. In May, with McCarthy’s blessing, party lawmakers ousted Cheney from her role as the third-ranking House Republican.

Since then, Cheney has sharply criticized McCarthy and has made clear she will not support him as leader or, if Republicans take the House next year, as speaker. After she joined the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, organized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., McCarthy called Cheney and another dissident on the panel “Pelosi Republicans.”

The Republican leader’s allies believe that Cheney, by continuing to lament Trump’s grip on the party, is threatening their prospects in the midterm elections at a moment when President Joe Biden’s declining approval ratings have otherwise left the GOP well positioned.

In an interview, Miller, who became close to Trump during his administration and raised more than $100 million for his reelection efforts, said Republican consultants were on notice.

“She’s not just undermining Kevin but the whole GOP conference,” Miller said of Cheney. “You’re either with Kevin, and the conference, or the person undermining them. You can’t serve two masters.”

The lobbyist declined to discuss his communications with party strategists or to say if McCarthy had prompted him to issue the ultimatum. Miller, whose clients include Amazon and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, does not work for the leader and is not paid by him. However, they are the closest of friends and have been since they worked together for former Rep. Bill Thomas, the powerful Republican from Bakersfield, California, whom McCarthy succeeded in Congress.

A spokesman for McCarthy declined to comment.

In Washington’s Republican circles, the relationship between lobbyist and leader is well known and Miller’s word is authoritative, as made clear by the fundraising firm’s cutting ties with Cheney.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, does not get involved in primaries.

But the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main House Republican “super PAC,” which McCarthy effectively controls, is not supporting Cheney, although it is supporting some of the other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, according to a Republican official familiar with the group’s strategy.

To Cheney, the behind-the-scenes campaign against her only highlights how beholden to Trump that McCarthy is — and the lengths to which he will go as he grasps for the speakership.

A spokesperson for Cheney, Jeremy Adler, blistered McCarthy for working against her candidacy while supporting some of the most extreme members of the House Republican conference.

“It’s sad but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy is continuing down the morally bankrupt path of embracing House Republicans who are white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, but attacking Liz Cheney for telling the truth and standing for the Constitution,” Adler said.

A principal at The Morning Group, Mackenzie Jortner Dolan, declined to comment on the firm’s decision to drop Cheney. As of mid-September, Dolan was still working for the congresswoman, emailing Republican donors to promote a fundraiser that Cheney held in Dallas on Monday with former President George W. Bush.

She raised nearly $400,000 at the Bush event, for which tickets began at $1,000.

Cheney has not suffered financially for her outspoken criticism of Trump and McCarthy. Through the end of September, she had raised over $5 million and had more than $3.6 million on hand.

She has retained support from an array of leading Republicans, including Bush; Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader; and former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

She has, however, emerged as perhaps Trump’s top priority to defeat. After meeting with a series of would-be challengers, Trump in September endorsed Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne attorney who had taken part in a failed, last-ditch effort to strip him of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination two months after he had clinched it.

Hageman, who was once a Cheney family friend and served as an adviser to Cheney’s short-lived 2014 Senate campaign, raised just over $300,000 for the quarter, but she only filed her candidacy Sept 9.

Trump has endorsed a handful of other Republicans challenging the lawmakers who voted to impeach him and was exultant last month when Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who cast one of the 10 Republican votes to impeach, said he would retire from Congress rather than run against a former Trump White House official.

“1 Down, 9 To Go!”, Trump said in a statement at the time.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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