By Marianna Sotomayor and Paul Kane,
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney visited the House floor on Thursday and patiently waited to greet more than a dozen members waiting to shake his hand.
They were all Democrats.
The man who was once portrayed by the Democratic Party as the dark villain of the Bush administration, responsible for failed wars, ruinous energy policies and torturing America’s enemies in a betrayal of the nation’s values has found common ground with his onetime foes over Jan. 6.
Cheney and his daughter Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) are among the few Republicans who have joined Democrats in condemning last year’s attack on the Capitol as an assault on democracy and blaming former president Donald Trump for that deadly day.
They were the only two Republicans on the House floor Thursday for an event to mark the anniversary of the attack, but they were hardly alone.
One by one, Democrats put aside their fierce and lasting policy divides with the Cheneys to thank them for condemning the attack and Trump’s continued effort to undermine the 2020 presidential election results with his false claims of fraud.
Ahead of the chamber’s noon session, Rep. Adam B. Schiff huddled at length with the two Cheneys — Liz is one of two Republicans who serve alongside the California Democrat on the committee investigating Jan. 6. Schiff, who knows what it’s like to be detested by the other party, told the former vice president and onetime Wyoming congressman, “It’s good to see you again.”
Following a brief moment of silence and remarks by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), several Democratic congresswomen embraced Liz Cheney. At several points she introduced her colleagues who serve alongside her on the Jan. 6 committee, including Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), to the former vice president by simply saying, “This is my father. . . . This is dad.”
“It was great coming back. I think Liz is doing a hell of a job, and I’m here to support her,” Cheney told reporters upon leaving the House floor.
Asked to reflect on Republican leaders’ decision not to show up on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the attack, Cheney said he could no longer recognize the party he helped lead as House minority whip and then vice president.
“It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” he said.
The exiling of the Cheneys by Republicans and the welcoming embrace they have received from Democrats stands as one of the most stark examples of the Republican Party’s transformation from the pro-big-business, hawkish military era of the past to one where fealty to Trump and his nationalistic worldview drive the agenda.
Neither Cheney has moderated their positions on any number of conservative issues they have held over the years, but their determination to take on Trump and call out fellow Republicans is more than enough for Democrats.
Liz Cheney was in the chamber during the insurrection and became one of the only House Republicans to pointedly blame Trump for instigating the most violent attack on the Capitol since British forces set it on fire in 1814.
Her vote to impeach Trump and continued outspokenness angered many of her GOP colleagues who remained aligned with Trump or feared blaming him for the attack. That led to her being kicked out of her leadership spot as conference chair in May after she said she would continue to speak out against the former president.
When her father left office in 2009, it was hard to imagine what would cause him to be rejected by Republicans and embraced by Democrats.
During his time as vice president, his relationship with Democrats was marked by bitter disagreements, particularly over the Iraq War, that often went beyond policy disagreements and into questions of character and patriotism.
In 2007, when Democrats took the House majority, Cheney had become such a political boogeyman to liberals that more than two dozen House Democrats co-sponsored a resolution of impeachment against the vice president for his role in the Iraq War. House leaders had to maneuver to squelch debate on the matter.
Pelosi and Cheney had an acrimonious relationship of their own.
Cheney said in 2007 that if Pelosi was successful at preventing a U.S. troop increase in Iraq it would “validate the al-Qaeda strategy.”
Pelosi demanded an apology, saying Cheney had questioned her patriotism.
He declined and said he didn’t question her patriotism, just her judgment.
Those tensions didn’t soften after Cheney left office, with Pelosi saying in 2014 that the former vice president was responsible for the use of torture during the Bush administration’s War on Terror as the Senate debated whether to declassify a report on the subject.
“That’s what I believe,” she told CNN. “I think he’s proud of it.”
On Thursday, those old tensions were put aside as they focused on their shared feelings about Jan. 6.
“Well, we were very honored by his being there,” said Pelosi, who held Cheney’s hand when speaking to him on the floor earlier in the day. “He has the right to be on the floor as a former member of the House, and I was happy to welcome him back and to congratulate him on the courage of” his daughter.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also applauded Cheney for his daughter’s courage during a lengthier conversation in which both men were overheard talking about other news of day such as testing frequently for the coronavirus.
“I told him, thank you for being here,” he said. “What it reflects is the great respect that we have for Liz Cheney. I mean, he’s her father, he was the vice president, but I think you saw the why because, first of all, we appreciated the fact that he’s here supporting his daughter in what is otherwise a very significant minority position in the Republican Party, which is, which is very sad.”
The former vice president’s embrace of Pelosi’s leadership on Jan. 6 matters is jarring for veterans of the Senate, where for eight years he served as the president of that chamber and frequently visited with GOP senators to plot strategy.
Back in 2004, at a time when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy and other Democrats accused Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, of profiting off the Iraq War, the Vermont Democrat approached the vice president on the Senate floor.
“Hey Dick,” Leahy recalled saying in an interview Thursday, “why don’t you talk to the Democratic side?”
Cheney wasn’t amused.
“F— yourself,” he told Leahy before complaining about the Democrat’s recent comments about him.
But like for many Democrats, Cheney’s public support for his daughter’s outspoken anti-Trump vows has softened Leahy’s feelings toward the elder Cheney.
He said that the younger Cheney’s actions remind him of the stories he heard when he first arrived in Washington in 1975.
“I’m very proud of Liz Cheney. And what I couldn’t help but think of is, when I first came here, and hearing from, talking with Hugh Scott and Barry Goldwater. One was the Republican leader, one was Mr. Conservative, and how they had to go down and tell Richard Nixon, you have to leave,” said Leahy, now third in line to the presidency as Senate president pro tempore, noting the roles the two late GOP senators played in persuading Nixon to resign as president.
“They thought it was a thing they had to do,” said Leahy, who watched Liz Cheney’s media appearances Thursday morning. “And that’s what I was thinking of, more than anything else.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.