Almost immediately after Sen. Mike Enzi announced his retirement over the weekend, some of Liz Cheney’s House colleagues began pleading with her to stick around — while acknowledging that the Wyoming Senate seat is probably hers if she wants it.
“I texted her when I found about it and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got some decisions to make, but we love having you here,’” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). “That just shows how effective of a legislator she is, and how good a person she is, if everyone wants her to stay.”
Story Continued Below
But Davis isn’t the only lawmaker courting Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican and one of the GOP’s most prominent national security voices.
“We actually were in the airport together and I just encouraged her and told her I was going to say a little prayer for her,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “I encouraged her to look at it, that we would love to have her over here.”
The tug-of-war over the second-term congresswoman underscores the serious woman problem in the party, with Republicans on both ends of the Capitol eager to bolster their relatively thin ranks of female lawmakers. House and Senate GOP leaders also want to promote more women candidates in 2020 following a midterm election where suburban women fled the party in droves and when Donald Trump will be on the top of the ticket.
Cheney is one of just 13 GOP women in the House, a stark contrast to the record-breaking number of women serving in the House as Democrats. If the Wyoming Republican decides to jump ship for the Senate, she would leave a glaring hole in the caucus: Cheney is often the only woman surrounded by a sea of men at leadership press conferences.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have made electing more GOP women a high priority. Cheney, a prolific fundraiser and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, would be a prize recruit for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But the 52-year-old Cheney has months to make a final decision. The filing deadline isn’t until May 2020, and Cheney — who briefly launched a controversial primary challenge against Enzi in 2014 — appears to be in no rush, telling reporters she is focused on her current job. Plus, the rest of the potential field is essentially frozen until she weighs in.
“I don’t have any announcements to make about that other than to say how privileged I am to call Mike Enzi a friend… he’s going to be in the Senate for another 18 months,” Cheney told reporters Wednesday. “I look forward to continuing doing work for people back in Wyoming.”
That leaves House and Senate Republicans plenty of time to plead their case — and some have already begun to make their pitch.
Cheney’s colleagues say she has a bright future in the House, where she has quickly risen through the leadership ranks. As only a sophomore, Cheney was elected last year to serve as GOP conference chairwoman. She’s taken steps to reshape the party’s messaging arm and won praise for becoming the first Republican leader to call out Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for racist remarks earlier this year.
Some Republicans tell POLITICO privately that Cheney is their preferred messenger — even more so than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — at what feels like a low point for the party following a brutal midterm election that decimated their ranks of female lawmakers in the House. Others say they can envision her becoming “Speaker Cheney” one day.
That’s why it would sting to lose Cheney to the Senate. And the blow to the House GOP would come sooner than 2020; Cheney would have to step down from her leadership post if she seeks higher office, because of new internal party rules that took effect this year.
“Liz is one of the brightest stars in our conference… It would be a huge loss for us,” said Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.). “But she would be a wonderful addition to the Senate.”
“But of course, a big, big, loss for us,” she added for extra emphasis.
While many members hope she’ll end up staying in the lower chamber, they also say the decision should be based on whatever is best for her.
“She is valuable here. And I think there will be a [recruiting effort] to keep her. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm. “But she’s got to think what’s best for her family and herself first.”
While climbing the House leadership ladder could be an attractive option for Cheney, a high-profile Senate seat would instantly put Cheney in the national spotlight — potentially catapulting her to a future as secretary of Defense or even president.
It’s a reality that Senate Republicans are likely to whisper to her.
Welcoming Cheney to the Senate would provide a major boost to the Republican conference, GOP senators say, which has long struggled to shake its “boy’s club” reputation.
“That would definitely help,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.). “And she’s got pretty good foreign policy, national security chops. She’d be a great addition.”
Josh Holmes, a top McConnell adviser, called Cheney a “rockstar” but said any recruiting push wouldn’t “put a thumb on Liz Cheney.”
“She’ll make her decision based on however she wants to make it,” he said.
Still, female Republicans in the Senate said they would be thrilled to have Cheney join their ranks.
“I think she would be wonderful,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa.). “I think she’s just a really great asset in the House and not making any decision, but I think she’d be a phenomenal voice in the Senate.”
“More women, too,” she added.
Marianne LeVine and James Arkin contributed to this report.