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Ernst defends fellow Republican leader Cheney — but calls for intra-GOP peace

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa — Sen. Joni Ernst doesn’t agree with Liz Cheney’s opposition to former President Donald Trump. The Iowa Republican still says her fellow GOP leader has the right to stand her ground.

Ernst, the Capitol’s only other Republican woman in elected leadership aside from Cheney, said in an interview that her Wyoming colleague shouldn’t be expected to fall in line rhetorically or keep her mouth shut just to appease her GOP critics. But as Cheney forgoes a fight to keep her House leadership spot amid a push to unseat her for her Donald Trump apostasy, Ernst urged their party to get past its long-running battle between pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions as it prepares its campaign to take back Congress next year.

“Any elected official should stand their ground. If you feel firmly about something, you should stand your ground. But I also believe that we need to come together as a party, recognize we have differences within the party but the goal with us should be to win seats,” Ernst said here after a stop on her annual 99-county tour.

With “what’s going on in the House,” she added, “they need to evaluate: Is this helping or hurting our party?”

Ernst is the No. 5 leader in the Senate Republican conference and will seek to ascend to the No. 4 spot of Republican Policy Committee chair following next year’s retirement of Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. The second-term senator did not say explicitly she wants Cheney to remain as the No. 3 House Republican but had warm words for her colleague even as many in the House GOP seek to toss Cheney out of leadership.

“I know Liz. I appreciate Liz so much. And she feels very strongly about her stance. And again, I know many Republicans that feel very strongly about their stance: pro-Trump, not for Trump, whatever it is. But at the end of the day we have work to get done,” Ernst said.

Cheney may be ousted as soon as next week for continuing to push back against Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him. She survived a bid to remove her from leadership earlier this year after she voted to impeach Trump for inciting a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Ernst voted to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial, although she also voted to certify the election for President Joe Biden even as most House Republicans and a handful of Senate Republicans sought to challenge the election results.

Her warm words for Cheney on Wednesday went beyond those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who declined to weigh in when asked if he would do anything to help Cheney keep her position.

“100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” he said at an event in Kentucky. McConnell has previously backed Cheney amid the Wyoming Republican’s criticism from within their party.

And when Ernst does talk about Trump, she doesn’t sound at all like Cheney — or McConnell, who criticized Trump before his own acquittal vote and has since avoided the former president’s jabs.

“I appreciate President Trump and I appreciate all he has done for our country. And I think we made significant strides forward under the Trump administration, especially in our economy. But everybody has the right to express their opinion,” Ernst said.

She followed with a piece of advice for her party: “At the end of the day we need to all pull together as Republicans and make sure that we’re securing seats.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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