Rep. Liz Cheney isn't backing down from her criticism of former President Donald Trump, even 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. "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 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 vote Wednesday to remove Cheney as GOP conference chair occurred after Cheney rebuked Trump for his false claim last week that the 2020 election was stolen, calling his words "THE BIG LIE." Following the vote, Trump in a statement called Cheney "a bitter, horrible human being."
The congresswoman told Savannah the vote, a move that strengthens Trump's grip on the Republican Party, was "not a surprise."
"This is really about something that's much, much bigger than the Republican conference in the House," she added. "It's a moment where we have to decide as a party whether we're going to embrace the truth."
During Wednesday's conference, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, 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.
Cheney told Savannah that she will "absolutely" run for re-election and "absolutely" thinks she can win, despite Trump's political team looking to coalesce around a primary challenger to her.
"Bring it on," she said. "If they think that they're going to come into Wyoming and make the argument that the people of Wyoming should vote for someone who is loyal to Donald Trump over somebody who's loyal to the Constitution, I welcome that debate."
A little over three months ago, House Republicans first voted on whether to remove Cheney from leadership after she voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. She held on to her title at the time, and on Wednesday weighed in on what's changed about her relationship with House Republicans over the past few months.
"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 told Savannah.
Cheney has been criticized by some of her Republican colleagues — including Leader McCarthy, who wrote a letter backing a bid to replace Cheney with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Trump ally — 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.
"This isn't about looking backwards. This is about the real-time, current potential damage that he's doing, that he continues to do," she said. "It's an ongoing threat. So silence is not an option."
She also accused Leader McCarthy, who visited Trump in Florida days after the Jan. 6 riots, of "not leading with principles right now."
"Leader McCarthy's visit to the former president, Mar-a-Lago, was really stunning," Cheney continued. "Given what the former president did, he's not just former president. He provoked an attack on the Capitol, an attack on our democracy, and so I can't understand why you would want to go rehabilitate him."
She then expressed a desire for a commission to look at the Jan. 6 riot and suggested her previous calls for one may have played a role in her ouster.
“There is real concern among a number of members of my own party about a Jan. 6 commission,” she said. “I've been very public that that commission needs to be bipartisan. It needs to look only at Jan. 6 and the events leading up to it, not at the (Black Lives Matter) and antifa riots last summer. I think that that kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing.”
Asked if she thinks any members of Congress were complicit in the attack, she replied: “I don't want to go that far. Each time we have something happen in this country that is that a crisis, we have a commission, and there's no reason why there should be any resistance to doing so in this case."
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 explained. "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."
While almost two-thirds of Republican voters do not believe President Biden legitimately won the election, Cheney said that shouldn't change how her party approaches leadership.
"Leadership is about leading, and it's about telling the truth," she said. "It's about making sure that people understand how important these fundamental principles are. And I think that is incumbent upon anybody who's elected, upon anybody who's in leadership to tell the truth."
"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 later added.
Many have framed Cheney's criticism of Trump and the vote to remove her as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, and Savannah questioned Cheney on whether she feels Trump's already won it.
"Actually, I'm in office and he's out of office," she replied. "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, and it's about whether or not we're going to respect our electoral process."
Still, she emphasized that she has no intention of leaving the Republican Party and stressed that the Justice Department should decide whether Trump should be criminally charged in the riots.
"It's very important that the investigations that the Department of Justice has under way be allowed to go wherever it leads. I think the American people have to know," she said.
Asked how her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, would feel about her stance, she said she speaks with him usually every day.
"I'm just immensely, immensely proud to be his daughter," she said. "I learned from him the importance of having the courage of your convictions. I learned from him what it means to stand up for what's right. People say, 'Well, this is courageous.' I'm not landing on Omaha Beach. That's courage. This is duty."
"Do you think he's proud to be your father on this day?" Savannah said.
"I know he is," Cheney replied.
Watch Savannah's full exclusive interview with Cheney on YouTube.