Congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating, in part, whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government in last year’s election. But U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., says Americans are generally “missing the real damage that the Russians have done and are doing.”
Speaking in Cody on Saturday, Cheney noted how Russian-linked social media accounts and computer programs known as bots spread misinformation and divisive messages around the 2016 election. For example, the House Intelligence Committee has been provided with Facebook ads purchased by Russia-linked accounts; they ranged from a pre-election ad urging voters to help Jesus defeat the “satan” Hillary Clinton to promoting an anti-Trump “Not my president” march after the election to creating groups that were apparently designed to inflame tensions between people of color and police. Facebook turned over thousands of suspicious ads to Congressional investigators earlier this year.
“What they [the Russians] are doing now is potentially much more damaging than just saying we want this presidential candidate or that presidential candidate. They want to destroy our confidence in our entire system,” Cheney said. “And I think that’s what we need to be getting to the bottom of in a lot of these investigations and paying a lot of attention to that. And, frankly, we ought to be doing the same thing to them.”
“You know, this is a war,” Cheney said.
She said that — thanks in part to the internet — Russia has been able to attack American values in a way the Soviets were unable to do during the Cold War.
“What an amazing thing for [Russian President Vladimir Putin],” Cheney said. “He doesn’t have any money, his economy is in the tank, he’s overstretched with these military deployments now beginning to be around the globe, but if he can destroy us from the inside using the internet and, you know, using social media, that’s a pretty cost-effective thing for him to do.”
The first-term congressman and former State Department official made the remarks during a roughly hour-long talk and question and answer session at the Holiday Inn.
Cheney said she has a lot of respect for her colleagues on House Intelligence Committee, who’ve been required to investigate Trump-Russia ties while working to do so in a non-partisan way.
“But, in my view, when you think about the threats we’re facing as a nation, that is not how they should be spending their time,” she said. Cheney said she’d much rather the committee spend its time figuring out the status of nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and digging into what Russia and China are up to.
“There are huge numbers of issues, but instead there’s just this real political circus mentality around a lot of investigations — some of which are good and should be happening and some are just political and we ought to move on,” she said.
In 2018, Cheney pledged that Republicans will continue their efforts to reform the country’s health care system. An effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — passed the House but failed in the Senate earlier this year.
“The issues around health care reform, we are going to turn back to them after the beginning of next year,” Cheney said. “... It’s crucially important that we do, and I certainly know that and that’s one of the big issues that we’re working on — making sure that we don’t say, ‘Well, we weren’t able to get it done in the Senate, so therefore we’re going to move away from it.’”
She said her party will work to combat the “explosion of health insurance premiums that people are now facing.”
Specifically, Cheney said Republicans will try to create greater competition among health insurance companies by allowing them to work across state lines, letting people buy insurance where they want to.
Cheney is convinced that Obamacare has proven to be so fundamentally flawed that “you can’t fix it.” She praised a provision in the Senate version of the Republicans’ tax reform bill that would eliminate a part of Obamacare that makes health insurance mandatory.
Congressional Republicans hope to reach an agreement on a unified version of the tax bill — and have President Trump sign it — before the end of the year.
“I don’t want to make predictions about what will happen there, because I think it’s very hard to know exactly what’s going to come out of conference,” Cheney said, referring to negotiations between the House and Senate. “But I am hopeful that there’s enough momentum and incentive here to make sure we can cut people’s taxes and simplify our tax code.”
In other remarks, Cheney:
• Argued that media coverage of the Republican-controlled Congress and White House has overlooked the significant progress they’ve made in eliminating or reducing government rules — like the Clean Power Plan, Waters of the U.S. and Bureau of Land Management Planning 2.0 regulations.
“I think that’s the real ... sort of untold success story of the Trump administration so far, is deregulation,” Cheney said.
• Explained her support of a “really important bill” that would require states to honor other states’ concealed carry laws. (In Wyoming, you can carry a concealed gun without a permit, as long as you’re 21 or older, a state resident and not prohibited from possessing guns.) She said House Bill 38 would prevent situations where a Wyomingite might mistakenly violate another state’s concealed carry laws.
The legislation was combined with another bill referred to as the Fix NICS Act, which would penalize states if they fail to send updated lists of people prohibited from possessing firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); that’s the system gun retailers check before selling someone a gun.
The NRA supported the legislation and the Gun Owners of America believed the NICS changes would make it more likely that concealed carry reciprocity would make it through the Senate, Cheney said, being part of the reason why “I thought it was important to go ahead and support the whole package.”
• Was noncommittal when asked by state Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, if she’d support allowing local governments to collect property taxes on the commercial buildings in Yellowstone National Park. Cheney noted that the National Park Service has a long list of maintenance projects and is facing increasing demands.
• Pledged to work on improving VA healthcare system for veterans. Several veterans voiced concerns during the Q&A and later met with Cheney in a separate meeting.
• Expressed reluctance about requiring beef to be labeled with its country of origin.
“I think it’s very important for us to know where our beef is coming from,” Cheney said. However, she’s heard concerns that mandatory country of origin labeling would mean new regulations and drive up costs for producers.
• Plugged her ongoing efforts to pass a bill that would block legal challenges to the Greater Yellowstone area’s wolves’ removal from the endangered species list.
“We need to do the same thing for the grizzly as well, so we’ll be moving on that,” Cheney said.
Editor's note: This version corrects what Cheney said about the Gun Owners of America's position on the firearms bill.