Democratic legislators and Republican Congressmen gathered in the Speaker’s office of the House of Representatives as the group prepared for the first meeting of the committee to investigate the January 6 uprising in the Capitol.
Pelosi spoke of “solemn responsibility” to them and raised a glass of water to Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president and the only Republican in the audience.
“Let us thank Liz for her courage,” she said, according to a person familiar with the congregation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Politics often creates unlikely alliances, strange agreements between potential adversaries who abandon their differences in order to get involved in a common cause.
But the nascent partnership between Pelosi and Cheney is noteworthy, if not surprising, as longtime political opponents join forces to investigate what happened on the day the former president Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
Rarely has this similarity of minds – the two most powerful women on Capitol Hill, supporters at opposite ends of the political divide – united by a shared belief that the truth of the uprising must be revealed and the perpetrators must be held accountable. They believe that there is as much at stake as the functioning of American democracy.
“Nothing brings politicians closer together like a common enemy,” said John Pitney, a former Republican staff member and professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.
The committee will hold its first hearings next week, and the stakes for the Pelosi-Cheney alliance are higher than ever. The group will hear testimony from police officers who fought Trump supporters in the Capitol that day. Officers portrayed the hours-long siege not as a gathering of peaceful protesters, as some Republicans claim, but rather as a violent crowd trying to prevent Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s election.
As their new partnership develops, the flows of risks and rewards are uneven. Pelosi benefits more politically from bringing Cheney to his side, giving the committee’s investigation the loud bipartisan press he needs to keep from being seen as a purely political undertaking.
For Cheney, who has already been removed from the GOP leadership for her criticism of Trump, the political danger is much greater. She was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for the uprising, and her willingness to oppose his main ally, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, now leaves her isolated on Capitol Hill. She faces a retaliatory strike from the ranks and serious major problems in connection with her re-election at home.
“I’m terrified,” Senator Cynthia Lummis, also a Republican from Wyoming, said of Cheney’s actions.
Cheney, however, shows no sign of abandoning what she sees as an existential struggle, not only for the party she and her family helped build, but for the soul of the nation itself.
“The American people deserve to know what happened,” she said this week.
Standing on the steps of the Capitol, Cheney criticized McCarthy’s rhetoric as “shameful” and backed Pelosi’s decision to block two of his appointees on the commission because of their alliance with Trump.
McCarthy suggested that Cheney might now be closer to Pelosi than her own party, and refused to have Republicans on the committee.
Pelosi and Cheney are hardly loyal friends.
Despite their long résumé in American politics, they had never spoken to each other up to this point.
Pelosi won her first term as speaker during the George W. Bush administration, mainly by attacking the White House due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hawkish defensive stance of the then vice president Dick Cheney
Liz Cheney took office in 2017 defending her father’s legacy by boldly speaking at one of her first press conferences in support of an improved interrogation technique, water rides, which he called torture. During Trump’s first impeachment, in her speeches, she tore apart Pelosi’s intentions.
Although both are political members of the royal family, Pelosi and Cheney have worked in parallel political universes for most of their careers. Different generations, they bring different styles to work – Pelosi, liberal from San Francisco, Cheney, conservative from Wyoming. The only thing they have in common is that they are both mothers of five.
However, when Pelosi called Cheney the morning after the vote to set up a Special Committee to Investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol, both seemed to immediately grasp the historic importance of the moment.
Pelosi thanked Cheney for her patriotism and invited her to join the group – a stunning moment when the Democratic speaker appointed a Republican to the seat.
Cheney quickly agreed, responding that she was honored to serve, according to another person familiar with the conversation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personal negotiations.
Behind closed doors, those on the committee see Cheney as a serious and constructive member, hardly a Republican figurehead, but a determined partner in what she says should be a “sober” investigation. It was Cheney who pushed the idea for former Republican Denver Riggleman of Virginia to serve as an advisor to a committee under consideration, one of the people said.
Rep. Benny Thompson, D-Miss, Chair of the Jan. 6 commission, said that while he and the others did not know Cheney well, he found she was “just like any other member with whom I have a relationship. I think it’s good. I just want us to have more of that relationship in this institution. It would be better for us. “
For Cheney and Pelosi, the commission and its findings are likely to be the defining aspects of their careers.
Pelosi has led the House of Representatives to impeach Trump twice and is determined to hold him accountable for his actions on January 6 as she wraps up her final years as speaker.
Seven people died during the siege and its aftermath, including Trump supporter Ashley Babbitt, who was shot dead by police when she climbed through a broken window trying to enter the House’s room. Three other Trump supporters in the mafia have died of natural causes. The next day, police officer Brian Siknik, who fought with the rioters, died. Two other officers committed suicide.
Cheney, who warned her party in an article that “history is watching” at this moment, vows to run for a fourth term, but her political future is uncertain.
Pitney, a professor who worked for the senior Cheney in the House of Representatives decades ago but left the Republican Party during the Trump era, said the Pelosi-Cheney connection would be one in history.
“It’s like one of those sci-fi movies from the 1950s where everyone comes together about an alien invader,” he said. Pelosi and Cheney “have a legitimate common interest in understanding the insurrection.”
Associated Press contributors Mary Claire Jalonik and Alan Fram contributed to this report.