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McCarthy calls endorsement of Cheney’s primary foe a ‘special case’

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>McCarthy endorsed Rep. Liz Cheney's primary opponent last month.
Getty Images
McCarthy endorsed Rep. Liz Cheney's primary opponent last month.

By Melanie Zanona, CNN

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he won’t be wading into any other primaries to oust incumbents in his own party, after taking the unprecedented step of endorsing Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary opponent last month.

“This is a very special case,” McCarthy told CNN during an interview at the House GOP’s annual policy retreat.

The California Republican has gone all-in to take down Cheney, his one-time ally and a former member of his leadership team, after she voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting the January 6, 2021, insurrection and continued to call out the former President’s lies about the 2020 election from her perch in party leadership.

McCarthy has thrown his political weight behind Harriet Hageman, a Trump-backed congressional candidate who is challenging Cheney in Wyoming — an endorsement that earned him plaudits on the right, a key constituency in a potential future bid for the speaker’s gavel. The GOP leader is hosting a fundraiser for Hageman at the home of his longtime friend and adviser Jeff Miller, with over 100 House Republicans joining the invite list in a huge show of force, according to sources familiar with the event.

But McCarthy hasn’t taken similar moves to oust — or punish — some of the most controversial fringe members in his conference. That includes Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, who both recently addressed a conference organized by a known white nationalist, though McCarthy condemned their appearances at the event and said he spoke to Greene privately about it.

“A leader with honor would be rejecting — not protecting — the pro-Putin, anti-Semitic, white nationalist members of the party, instead of fighting against Liz Cheney for telling the truth,” Jeremy Adler, Cheney’s spokesman, said in a statement to CNN.

At last year’s House GOP retreat, McCarthy and Cheney’s relationship hit an all-time low when she publicly broke with him over the scope of a bipartisan January 6 commission and didn’t rule out a 2024 presidential bid. Afterward, Republicans moved quickly to dump Cheney and replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York as the House GOP conference chair.

“The conference chair was going out and doing her own thing,” McCarthy said of last year’s retreat. “It wasn’t about our policies.”

When asked whether he would allow Cheney to join the House GOP conference if she returned to Congress next year, McCarthy wouldn’t entertain the idea of her winning and predicted she would lose her primary.

McCarthy’s vengeance against Cheney, however, does not extend to the other nine House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump: “I support them,” McCarthy told CNN.

McCarthy noted he is backing the other incumbents such as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is facing a Trump-backed primary challenger in Washington state, and Rep. David Valadao, a fellow California Republican and close McCarthy ally. Both represent swing seats that are critical in their quest for the majority.

However, McCarthy’s support of those lawmakers puts him directly at odds with Trump, who is on a revenge tour against the Republicans who voted to impeach him or have sharply criticized him. But McCarthy dismissed the idea it would imperil their efforts to recapture the House.

“He’s gonna be different on impeachment,” McCarthy acknowledged, “but otherwise, I see him working to help us win the majority.”

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