Just a couple of hours after Joe Biden’s speech marking the anniversary of the Capitol assault — in which he warned of dire threats to American democracy — another scene captivated political observers in Washington.
In the House of Representatives, a minute of silence to remember the shocking events of January 6 attracted an unexpected guest: former vice president Dick Cheney.
Voting had already been completed for the week, so most members had already left town, but a few stuck around for the symbolic occasion Thursday.
On the left, over a dozen Democrats stood with hands on their hearts, silently remembering the violent riot by Trump supporters, who a year ago beat on the doors of the same chamber, attempting to halt the certification of Biden’s victory.
On the right, only two Republicans were present — the representative from Wyoming, Liz Cheney, and her father, vice president to former president George W. Bush.
After the ceremony, when asked why all other Republicans chose not to attend, the older Cheney — who in the 1980s held the seat now occupied by his daughter — responded: “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.”
The remarks quickly spread through the political circles: one of the leaders of the American invasion of Iraq, an arch-neoconservative, was denouncing his own party’s leadership.
“What Dick Cheney did was remarkable and commendable,” Allan Lichtman, a professor at Washington-based American University, told AFP.
With Donald Trump towering over the Republican Party, dragging it farther right, any Republican who stands in opposition will rehabilitate their image with the moderate mainstream to a degree, he explained.
George W. Bush, formerly criticized for his costly “war on terror,” has a new reputation as a defender of immigration. Colin Powell, the man who assured the UN that Iraq possessed chemical weapons, was honored as a brilliant military leader after his death.
In criticizing Trump, these men have reset their image, but — as Lichtman is quick to note — these “Grand Old Party” retirees have little to lose.
A political risk
But Liz Cheney, is “jeopardizing her own political career,” Lichtman said.
The 55-year-old Republican was first elected to the House in 2016, and quickly rose in rank, gaining a top leadership position in 2019.
A traditional conservative, she was largely supportive of the Trump presidency — until January 6, 2021.
After the assault on the Capitol, Cheney voted for Trump’s second impeachment along with a handful of other Republicans, many of whom announced their retirements.
For any seeking reelection, the former president has promised to support their opponents.
Cheney, who once opposed gay marriage while having a lesbian sister — a view she has since reversed — has now transformed into the leading voice of anti-Trump Republicans, a position which has alienated her from her own party.
In May, she was voted out of her House leadership position, to be replaced with a Trump loyalist.
Cheney, who Trump has decried as “disloyal” and a “warmonger,” is one of only two Republicans on a House committee investigating the January 6 attack.
Republican leaders have tried to criticize the committee as a partisan witch-hunt, which Cheney’s presence undercuts.
Lichtman believes that, in the long-term, Cheney “will be remembered as a clarion — almost a lonely voice of principle — within the Republican Party.”
The cost she pays may become clear later this year, with Trump backing her Republican primary challenger for the mid-term elections.