Liz Cheney, Tart-Tongued Fighter, Is Warring With Rand Paul Over Who’s Trumpier

WASHINGTON — After becoming the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress, Representative Liz Cheney, the sharp-tongued lawmaker from Wyoming, wasted little time establishing her reputation as one of her party’s most combative partisan brawlers.

Ms. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, routinely lashes out at Democrats and detractors of President Trump. She branded Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of two Muslim women in Congress, “an anti-Semitic socialist who slanders US troops.” She said anti-Trump texts sent by F.B.I. agents “could well be treason.” She asked Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to “do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history.”

Now, the tough-talking congresswoman, who is pondering a run for Senate, has laced into a fellow Republican, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in a nasty and deeply personal clash — with multigenerational undertones — over Afghanistan policy and the firing of John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s hawkish national security adviser. The feud, which began on Twitter and has continued on television, has cemented Ms. Cheney’s reputation as the most combative Cheney in Washington.

At a time when the president’s hold on the Republican Party is as strong as ever, it comes down to a contest between Ms. Cheney and Mr. Paul over who is Trumpier.

Ms. Cheney, an unapologetic proponent of using the United States’ military might around the globe, is a backer of Mr. Bolton, who served in the George W. Bush administration with her father. Mr. Paul, a libertarian whose own father, former Representative Ron Paul, has called the Bush-Cheney approach a “crazed neocon foreign policy,” is among the most vocal opponents in Congress of armed foreign intervention.

Their back-and-forth has gotten downright nasty.

Ms. Cheney has invoked Mr. Paul’s 2016 Republican presidential primary loss to Mr. Trump, calling the senator “a big loser (then & now),” and resurfaced a four-year-old Trump tweet likening Mr. Paul to “a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain.” Mr. Paul shot back, suggesting that Ms. Cheney “might just be mad still about when Candidate Trump shredded your Dad’s failed foreign policy and endless wars.”

On Friday, at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore, Ms. Cheney took a victory lap.

“I enjoyed it,” she said wryly. “I thought it was an enlightening exchange. Here I had been thinking the Senate was dull.”

A lawyer, former State Department official, onetime Fox News pundit and mother of five, Ms. Cheney, 53, has had a stunning ascent in Washington. Some view her as a possible House speaker, though she may be setting her sights across the Capitol. She is weighing a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Michael B. Enzi, a Republican whom she briefly sought to oust in 2014 in a campaign that ended in disaster for her.

Ms. Cheney declined to be interviewed for this article. But she is a fixture on the Washington talk show circuit, and is on the forefront of Republican efforts to paint Democrats as “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism,” as she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this year. Her colleagues say she has brought an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking.

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“We have a problem in our conference where a lot of our members fear engagement with the media because of the media bias that we all believe to exist,” said Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida. “Liz seems to understand the importance of doing a lot of media and also doing hostile media.”

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, said Ms. Cheney “hasn’t been afraid to call out some of the most radical members of the socialist Democrats.” But her tendency to name-check her opponents makes at least some colleagues uncomfortable.

“I think we have to get away from personalities,” said Representative Tom Emmer, Republican of Minnesota and the chairman the party’s campaign arm. “From a messaging standpoint, I think it’s a mistake — you don’t use names. This is not about the people — this is about their ideas. We need to have a battle of ideas in this country.”

Ms. Cheney’s meteoric rise has injected the politics of the personal into the highest levels of congressional leadership in a way not seen since Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker whose political action committee instructed Republicans to “learn to speak like Newt” by describing Democrats using words like decay, traitors, radical, sick, destroy, pathetic, corrupt and shame.

“I think that she’s been very effective when she’s been on TV,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview. “I think she is personable, knowledgeable and assertive without being hostile.”

And in a party where 90 percent of House Republicans are white men, Mr. Gingrich said, Ms. Cheney is a huge asset in Republicans’ efforts to demonize three liberal freshman Democrats — Representative Rashida Tlaib of Minnesota, Ms. Omar and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — who have become lightning rods on the right, fueling Republican fund-raising.

“You need a woman member to do that,” he said.

Ms. Cheney’s supporters say she pushes back hard at Democrats because she is deeply concerned about the direction in which the party, particularly the progressive left, would take the country. And they say she has drawn a sharp line against hateful speech, no matter where it comes from. When Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, seemed to embrace white supremacy, Ms. Cheney was among the first to condemn him.

But she also knows that tough talk wins elections. After Republicans took a drubbing in the 2018 midterms, losing control of the House, she complained the party had been too tame.

“We’ve got to change the way that we operate and really, in some ways, be more aggressive, have more of a rapid response,” she told The Associated Press at the time.

Ms. Cheney grew up around politics, handing out fliers and politicking for her father, who was elected to the House in 1978, when she was still a teenager. He once was the No. 3 House Republican; when Ms. Cheney’s colleagues voted her into the same post last year, the former vice president sat in the front row, wearing a silent smile, those in attendance said.

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“The vice president has a great line: He says, ‘I’m conservative and I’m not mad about it,’” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “I think that’s the attitude Liz has had. She’s defending conservative Republican principles, she’s doing it with a smile on her face, and she’s doing it in an aggressive fashion.”

In 2013, after moving from suburban Washington to Wyoming, Ms. Cheney announced she would challenge Mr. Enzi, a genial and well-liked incumbent, in a Republican primary race.

It was an audacious move, and the campaign did not go well. Ms. Cheney was branded a carpetbagger; “Cheney for Virginia” bumper stickers sprung up around the state. Her ambitions divided the Wyoming Republican Party, splitting old alliances and friendships. It also created a rift within the Cheney family. Ms. Cheney came out in opposition of same-sex marriage, angering her sister, Mary Cheney, and Mary’s wife, Heather Poe.

She withdrew from the race in January 2014, citing “serious health issues” in her family. But in 2016, when Representative Cynthia Lummis announced her retirement, Ms. Cheney sought her seat and won. Now Ms. Lummis has announced her candidacy for Mr. Enzi’s seat, promising a “barn burner” of a race if Ms. Cheney challenges her.

A Lummis-Cheney matchup would be “very difficult to handicap,” said Tucker Fagan, a former aide to Ms. Lummis. Mr. Fagan said Ms. Cheney’s high profile in Washington and her combative style are assets.

“Here our representative is being interviewed on national television,” he said. “So we’re not just the flyover state. We’re somebody to contend with.”

In the House, Ms. Cheney’s policies are as bellicose as her messaging. She has led an unsuccessful charge against a resolution, sponsored by Mr. Gaetz and Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, barring federal money from being used for war with Iran. She has also argued forcefully against a withdrawal of troops from Syria.

That is the root of her disagreement with Mr. Paul, which seems to have begun Sunday after Mr. Trump disclosed that he had canceled peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David to end the war in Afghanistan. Ms. Cheney tweeted that he was right to do so.

That prompted Mr. Paul to tweet a Washington Examiner op-ed article from Wyoming legislators upbraiding Ms. Cheney for opposing the president’s push to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The tit-for-tat escalated, with the senator blasting the #NeverTrumpCheneys — a double swipe at the congresswoman and her father — and accusing Ms. Cheney of “pro-Bolton blather.”

On Friday, she seemed determined to have the last word.

“They’re issues that surround whether or not you put America first, as President Trump does,” Ms. Cheney told reporters, referring to her foreign policy disagreements with Mr. Paul, “or blame America first, as Rand Paul does and has for years.”

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