Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, said Monday that anyone claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen is “poisoning our democratic system,” a direct response to former President Donald Trump.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” Cheney, chair of the House Republican Conference, said in a tweet. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
A Cheney spokesman told NBC News that the congresswoman was responding to Trump’s statement from earlier in the morning, in which he said: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”
Cheney, R-Wyo., also warned Monday that the GOP should not “whitewash” what happened on Jan. 6, telling a crowd of donors and scholars during an off-the-record interview with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at the annual American Enterprise Institute retreat: “We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen.”
“It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” Cheney said in remarks first reported by CNN. An aide familiar with the comments confirmed the accuracy of to NBC News. “We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on Jan. 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”
Cheney has refused to back down from her criticisms of Trump, despite growing pressure from other Republicans. She was the highest-ranking Republican to vote to impeach Trump for his role in egging on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and has been at odds with other members of House GOP leadership over embracing Trump and entertaining his election claims since then. She has repeatedly and forcefully rejected Trump’s stolen election lie.
Use of “the big lie” to describe Trump’s false narrative of a stolen election — a reference to a Nazi propaganda strategy — was popularized earlier this year. Soon after a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol in an attempt to block Congress from affirming President Joe Biden’s victory, the then-president-elect accused Trump, along with Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who both led objections to certified state vote totals, of perpetuating “the big lie.”
Rep. Cheney pushes back on Trump’s election fraud claims, creating GOP rift
During Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, which began after the Democratic-controlled House charged him with a single count of incitement of insurrection, Democratic impeachment managers referred to “the big lie” repeatedly to describe Trump’s persistent election untruths.
“The big lie” refers to an idea perpetuated by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who said if one repeats a significant lie enough, people will start to believe it.
Trump’s attempted commandeering of the phrase to fit his narrative on Monday, similar to his rebranding of “fake news” in the aftermath of the 2016 election, has been echoed by some conservatives. For example, Hawley has referred to “Biden’s big lie about election integrity.”
While Cheney has emerged as Trump’s most powerful House Republican critic, an attempt in February by Trump allies to strip her of her leadership post failed overwhelmingly, 145 to 61.
The lopsided vote came by secret ballot, indicating broad private support for Cheney inside the conference, even though many have been wary of speaking out publicly for fear of igniting the ex-president’s wrath.