Republican U.S. Rep Liz Cheney of Wyoming spoke with Walton Family Foundation executive director Caryl Stern on Dec. 19 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)
Americans have an obligation to do everything they can to defend the Constitution and that includes educating themselves, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney told a sold-out crowd at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville Monday evening.
“We have an obligation to make sure that as Americans we understand how our institutions work, we understand the protections that the Constitution gives us,” the Wyoming Republican said. “And if we don’t take the responsibility to educate ourselves, then we won’t be able to defend the institutions.”
Cheney, Wyoming’s sole representative in the U.S. House, served as vice chair for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
The panel examined the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when former President Donald Trump called on supporters to block the certification of election results he claimed were fraudulent. Following 18 months of investigation, the committee hosted its final public meeting Monday afternoon.
The panel agreed unanimously to refer Trump to the Justice Department for potential criminal charges, including inciting or aiding an insurrection. The panel also referred four House Republicans to the House Ethics Committee for refusing to testify.
Holding those responsible for the attack accountable is key to preventing a similar situation from happening again, Cheney said Monday night.
Having a president willing to overturn an election despite the rulings of the courts is dangerous, she said. That’s why it’s important to educate people that the rule of law means they can disagree with court rulings, but they can’t ignore them.
Caryl Stern, Walton Family Foundation’s executive director and a former UNICEF USA president and CEO, led Monday’s discussion.
The lecture was presented in conjunction with We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy, an exhibition that features historical documents like original copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence alongside works of art.
Cheney’s lecture was the last in a series of events tied to the exhibition, which previously included a discussion with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Cheney served as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, from 2019 to 2021. She was removed from her position following her criticism of Trump. The Wyoming Congresswoman was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Capitol insurrection.
First elected to Congress in 2016, Cheney lost her re-election bid in August during her state’s Republican primary election. Despite her defeat, Cheney said the midterm elections gave her “tremendous hope.”
“What we saw was a rejection of election deniers and that’s just so fundamentally important,” she said.
Voters need to continue demanding competence, seriousness in representatives who will uphold their oath of office, Cheney said.
It’s also important to walk away from reflexive partisanship, elect people who want to have a substantive debate and apply the same standards to elected officials that people would if they were hiring someone for other jobs, she said.
“But that means we need more candidates, we need more people to run for office because you have to have the choice of good people who are willing to step up and run so we can demand excellence,” Cheney said.
Americans also need to continue to stand up against the rejection of fundamental Constitutional protections, especially when it’s not politically beneficial, Cheney said.
“If we only defend the Constitution when it serves our political purposes, then we won’t ever be able to call on it as a shield when we need it,” she said.
The “blessing of freedom” is fragile, so people must be vigilant and not grow complacent, because the attack on the Capitol demonstrates how quickly democracy can be disrupted, Cheney said.
“It was attacked by citizens and it was attacked by people, frankly, who Donald Trump preyed on their patriotism,” she said. “In so many ways he preyed on people’s patriotism and he turned it into a weapon.”
Washington County Democrats chair Lou Reed Sharp attended Monday’s lecture and agreed with Cheney’s assessment that Americans take a lot of freedoms for granted that could easily go away.
“I think she’s dead on,” Sharp said. “Somehow they’ve co-opted our patriotism and preyed upon it, and so I think it’s encouraging to know that it’s okay to stand up for the Constitution and what’s right is right.”
Arkansas Rural Caucus representative Leah Garrett, attended Cheney’s talk because she was interested in what the Congresswoman had to say about the Jan. 6 hearings, her perspective on where the country is headed and if she’d hint at plans to run for office in 2024.
Like Reed, Garrett was struck by Cheney’s discussion of always protecting the Constitution because it guards people from oppression.
“I think it’s really important in the fact that she’s like you have to stand up for it even if you don’t always agree with who wins the election,” Garrett said. “It’s super important for the country.”
Cheney said she isn’t sure what comes next for her, but said she does want to continue being involved in issues that concern the Constitution and education. Despite all of the challenges to her political career and to the country’s democracy, Cheney is hopeful.
“America gives me hope, and as complicated and as intense and as difficult as our political battles sometimes are, at the end of the day we have throughout history come together and moved forward, and that gives me hope,” she said.
Arkansas PBS streamed the lecture, which is available in its entirety at www.crystalbridges.org.
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