Rep. Liz Cheney isn't backing down from her criticism of former President Donald Trump, even after after Wednesday's vote by House Republicans to remove the Wyoming congresswoman from her leadership role as House Republican Conference Chair, the party's third-ranking position in the House.
In a TODAY exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie shortly after the vote took place and aired Thursday, Cheney said she would do "whatever it takes" to prevent Trump from becoming president again when asked if she'd consider running herself.
"He's unfit. He never again can be anywhere close to the Oval Office," she told Savannah.
"How far are you willing to take this? Would you run for president?" Savannah asked.
"I think that it is the most important issue that we are facing right now as a country, and we're facing a huge array of issues, so he must not ever again be anywhere close to the Oval Office," Cheney replied.
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"I'm going to do everything that I can, both to make sure that that never happens, but also to make sure that the Republican Party gets back to substance and policy."
After Savannah once again pushed on the prospect of a presidential run, Cheney said, "Right now, I am very focused on making sure that our party becomes again a party that stands for truth and stands for fundamental principles that are conservative and mostly stands for the Constitution, and I won't let a former president or anybody else unravel the democracy."
"Whatever it takes?" Savannah asked.
"Whatever it takes," Cheney replied.
The congresswoman also shared what it was like for her to lose her leadership position on Wednesday, a move that strengthens Trump's grip on the Republican Party.
"It was not a surprise," she recalled. "This is really about something that's much, much bigger than the Republican conference in the House. It's a moment where we have to decide as a party whether we're going to embrace the truth.
"I was very honest and I told (my Republican colleagues) I have real affection and admiration for most of them, and I love this institution, and we all have been put here in this moment by history, and history's going to judge us."
Cheney has been criticized by some of her Republican colleagues, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, from California, who've said that her continued takedowns of Trump's false claims of election fraud have prevented the party from focusing on the future. But for Cheney, her criticism isn't about the past, she said.
"For reasons that I don't understand, leaders in my party have decided to embrace the former president who launched that attack, and I think you've watched over the course of the last several months, the former president get more aggressive, more vocal pushing the lie, and I think that's a really important thing for people to understand," she explained. "This isn't about looking backwards. This is about the real-time, current potential damage that he's doing, that he continues to do."
"It's an ongoing threat. So silence is not an option," she added.
Cheney also pushed back on the assertion from her critics that she was ousted from her leadership role because she was distracting the party from being able to focus on President Joe Biden's policies.
"I've been very clear that I think President Biden's policies are dangerous," she told Savannah. "Every single day, I am fighting against those policies and will continue to do that. My view is to be as effective as we can be to fight against those things, our party has to be based on truth."
Cheney went on to address whether she's leading the opposition in exile within her party.
"I intend to be the leader — one of the leaders — in a fight to help to restore our party, in a fight to bring our party back to substance and principle and in a fight to make clear that we won't participate in the really dangerous effort that's under way," she said.
Asked whether her criticism of Trump and the vote are "a battle for the soul of the Republican Party," Cheney said, "This is the opening salvo in that battle, and it's a battle we have to win because it's not just about the Republican Party. It's about the country."
She also addressed Trump's political team coalescing around a primary challenger to Cheney.
"Bring it on," she said.
The vote Wednesday to remove Cheney as GOP conference chair occurred after Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, rebuked Trump for his false claim last week that the 2020 election was stolen, calling his words "THE BIG LIE." She also voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot.
During Wednesday's conference, led by House Minority Leader McCarthy, there was a speedy voice vote to oust her, lawmakers said after it occurred. The effort to remove Cheney has been cast by Republicans as a way to unite the party ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when they will try to gain control of the House.
"We must be true to our principles and to the Constitution,” Cheney told fellow House Republicans before the closed-door vote, according to a source in the room. “We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction and potentially the destruction of our country.”
After the vote, Trump in a statement called Cheney "a bitter, horrible human being."
Cheney's criticism of the former president for his ongoing comments about the election has led to distress among some House Republicans concerned that fighting leadership could overshadow other priorities. On Monday, McCarthy wrote a letter backing the party's bid to replace Cheney with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Trump ally.
"Unfortunately, each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future," McCarthy wrote in the letter. "Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change. As such, you should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair this Wednesday."
In a speech Tuesday evening, Cheney called Trump's claims about the election a threat to democracy.
"I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy," she said. "The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president's claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them. The election is over. That is the rule of law."
According to a source close to Cheney, she has no plans to resign from Congress and intends to run for re-election.
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