Cheney Takes on Trump-Endorsed Harriet Hageman & Others at Wyoming House Republican Debate
Anyone hoping for a knockdown, drag-out, battle of wits and wills at Thursday's Wyoming US House Republican Debate would be disappointed.
Every congressional nominee, including current Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman, Senator Anthony Bouchard, and more were on their best behavior during the event. Each candidate was respectful to their opponents, and to the audience, and the debate went off without a hitch.
Sheridan College hosted the debate, in conjunction with Wyoming PBS and, though the event was closed to the public due to safety concerns, those concerns turned out to be for naught. There were some thinly-veiled comments every now and again but, for the most part, the candidates demonstrated the type of camaraderie that the rest of American politics would be wise to replicate.
The debate itself covered a wide-array of issues, from gasoline prices to inflation, the war in Ukraine, to the January 6 insurrection (of which Congresswoman Cheney leads the investigation). Each candidate tackled those issues in 90 seconds or less, before participating in a lightning round of questioning designed to evoke immediate thoughts on essential issues. Then, each candidate got to make one final pitch for themselves on why Wyoming residents should vote for them in November.
Craig Blumenshine moderated the debate, and his docile tone set the, well, tone, for the rest of the evening.
Steve Peck, publisher of The Ranger newspaper in Riverton and the Public Affairs Producer for Wyoming PBS, Bob Beck, the News Director of Wyoming Public Media, and Stephen Dow, with The Sheridan Press served as the panelists for the event, asking questions throughout the evening.
Congresswoman Cheney was joined on stage by her opponents: Harriet Hageman, Robyn Belinskey, Anthony Bouchard, and Denton Knapp. Each candidate brought their own talking points, their own ideas, and their own brand of Wyoming to the Sheridan College stage.
Wasting no time in cutting to the controversial subject matter, panelist Steve Peck brought up Cheney's role in the January 6 House Committee, and her semi-abandonment from the Republican party. He asked the candidates what "this divergence of views" meant to the race and what it said about the Republican party.
Hageman was the first to answer, and her very first sentence raised some eyebrows.
"My first response is that we're not a democracy, we're a Republic," Hageman said. "And I think that's an extremely important distinction, and I think it's one that was missed by the statements last night. Our Republic is not in danger because of President Donald J. Trump. President Trump was an excellent president for the United States of America, and especially the state of Wyoming."
Hageman said that the "threat to our republic" came from other sources, making mention of Hillary Clinton, President Biden and his son, Hunter.
Hageman also referenced a situation in Portland, Oregon that recently happened after the announcement of the Roe v. Wade reversal by the Supreme Court.
"We have a situation, what we saw in Portland," Hageman said. "Where you have rioters attacking the federal courthouse and federal agents. You have billions of dollars of damage being done to our cities through rioting and the people are not being held accountable for those things."
She did not mention the similar actions that took place at the U.S. Capitol in January of 2021.
Congresswoman Cheney did, however.
"I think there's no question that what we saw on January 6 was clearly an attempt to delay the count of the electoral votes," Cheney stated. "Anybody who was there understands the violence that was involved. I'm frankly stunned that one of my opponents on the stage, who is a member of the Wyoming Bar, who has sworn an oath, as many of us on the stage have, to the Constitution, would be in a position where she is suggesting that somehow what happened on January 6 was justified. Or that, somehow, what happened that day...that people have the right to ignore the rulings of the courts. We are, in fact, a nation of laws. And we are a nation of laws only if we defend our Constitutional Republic. And as I made clear last night, we have to put our oath to the Constitution above party."
Cheney stated that the Republican party has a rich history, and it's a history that she was proud to be a part of. She said Republicans are known for embracing conservative values, such as limited government, low taxes, and a strong national defense.
"But we are now embracing a cult of personality," she stated. "And I won't be part of that. And I will always stand for my oath and stand for the truth."
Anthony Bouchard made his feelings about the January 6 issue known as well. He said that, really, none of it even actually matters at this point.
"It's a lot of distraction," Bouchard said. "We aren't talking about the real issues that the people of Wyoming care about, like putting fuel in their fuel tank. We're focused on something that happened, that people disagree on. Certainly my opponent has a certain view that she has stuck to, but the Republicans as a whole...they're tired of it."
Colonial Denton Knapp used the question to speak about why he was running for the Republican House seat to begin with.
"I've not been a politician," Knapp started. "I've been a servant all my life with the army and that shapes how I think. And I came in because of what I saw happen with the Federal Government, and the fact that I could do something. So I stepped forward for that. We've devolved into a two-party system for the most part in this country. And if you're not on those partly lines, you're shoved to the side."
Colonial Knapp shared that he's been a Republican all his life, and said that he believes in the platform. And he took issue with Congresswoman Cheney's comments about the Republican Party devolving into a cult of personality.
"I don't believe it's a cult of personality that we need to worry about," Colonial Knapp stated. "[We need] somebody to get in and do action in Congress for two years."
Ms. Hageman was then given the chance to offer a rebuttal, and that's exactly what she did.
"The biggest threat to our Republic is the current administration and the corruption of our various institutions," Hageman stated. "The Department of Justice, the FBI, and the other things that have happened over the last couple of years. And what we have is a committee in Congress right now [that are] focusing on something that happened 18 months ago. They're not focusing on the issues that are important to the people in Wyoming. And they're also ignoring the corruption that is absolutely destroying Washington D.C. and, as a result, taking down the rest of the country."
Continuing down the rabbit hole of the January 6 insurrection, Bob Beck asked nominee Belinskey why she wasn't more concerned about the events of that fateful day and the fact that some former important members of the Trump administration admitted that Trump said his goal was to overturn the election.
"[I'm not concerned] because I have actually watched several hours of video myself from every angle possible and have done my own due diligence on this," Belinskey stated. "I believe again, this is a distraction from what is actually going on in our country right now. We don't need to be spending this kind of money and time on a situation where, again, we have lawlessness in our country. Instead of dealing with those issues, we are dealing with something that, again, happened a while ago and was a setup from the beginning for the election situation. Our voices...We, the people, were stifled. Our first amendment right was washed out the door. And so, you know, to me, this is a waste of time and our resources to go after something. We should be going after the lawlessness in our country."
Nominee Belinskey did not actually state what that lawlessness entailed, however.
Congresswoman Cheney stated that the work the January 6 Committee is doing is, in fact, important work. And it's being done for an important reason.
"You know, I think that there's a real tragedy that's occurring and, and the tragedy is that there are politicians in this country, beginning with Donald Trump, who have lied to the American people and people have been betrayed," Cheney said. "He consistently has said that the election was stolen when it wasn't; when it's absolutely clear...the courts determined the outcome, as you've seen. You've watched our hearings; predominantly, maybe entirely Republican witnesses, from the former attorney general, the former deputy attorney general, to the head of the Trump campaign. [All have said that] the election was not stolen. I'd be interested to know whether or not my opponent, Ms. Hageman is willing to say here tonight that the election was not stolen. She knows it wasn't stolen. I think that she can't say that it wasn't stolen because she's completely beholden to Donald Trump. And if she says it wasn't stolen, he will not support her. So we've gotta be honest. We have to be truthful elected officials, in particular public servants. We owe that to those people we represent."
And so, the debate continued. Nominees discussed the Biden administration. All agreed that the President wasn't doing nearly as much as he could/should be doing. They also discussed gasoline prices, and why Wyoming is such an important resource, if it's allowed to be.
The panelists also asked how important, if it at all, bipartisan cooperation is in Washington D.C.
All of the candidates attempted to offer concrete solutions to the country's current inflation. Most agreed that it was the President's infrastructure bill that has contributed to the rising costs the most.
The nominees also spoke about healthcare and how vital it is to Americans, many of whom are still reeling from the effects of ObamaCare,
Candidates then participated in a 'lightning round' of questioning. The panelists gave each candidate one word or phrase, and each nominee offered their thoughts and opinions.
As the debate neared its close, each candidate was given the opportunity to explain to their potential constituents why they were the best person for the job.
This is a great opportunity to have all five of us here. It's the first time we've been together in the same room and [and had the] opportunity to debate and hear each other's ideas. So what sets us apart? Well, everybody's talking about the same issues. We are all Republicans and, for the most part, pro-life, pro second amendment, pro state's rights. So what makes us different? You've got some great experience here. I've been a servant all my life, and that's what I do. Why did I run? Because I saw what's happened in the federal government and I knew I could make a difference. I got mad. And part of that running is ensuring that I'm representing our state here. And those that elect me can trust that I will make ethical and moral decisions for their benefit.
And if I can't do that, I'll leave. So, leadership - I've done that all my life, starting at 18 years old. I went to west point for four years and then 30 years the army and I led. And my last 10 years was leading at strategic level. And that's working and negotiating and coming up with solutions that have to have an end state to be executed. So whether it's budget or bills or acquisition, whatever it is, I can bring that to federal government. I can woo committees and I can make a difference. People ask, 'Why didn't you start at [the] state or local [level]?' There's no time! I can get in there now for two years and make a difference.
"I've said it before, I'm a different candidate because I started out in conservative grassroots politics and I was effective. If you like our gun laws here in our state, constitutional carry, I was the driving force behind that. And I'm proud to have the Senator that sponsored it in the audience. It was because we spent a decade trying to pass that policy and we couldn't get it done. And we had to get people involved on the outside. We need more people who know how to get people in the fight in Congress, instead of just giving great speeches and becoming actors and saying all the right things and then going back there and doing nothing.
If you send me to Congress, I'll use the resources of the office, the budget, the staff to do just that - to bring the fight back because the problem is... Republicans will get control. I think they will, but will we have the right Republicans there? Will we have people that will actually fight? And that means standing up to leadership. That's something I've done. I've got the battle scars. When they call me in the office, I tell them I don't work for them. And that's what we need more of in Congress.
"It’s been a tremendous honor – the highest honor of my professional life – to represent the people of Wyoming for the last five and a half years. I am a conservative Republican. I’m going to work hard to earn the vote of every Wyomingite in this election. And I think it’s important for people to know that I believe that the most conservative of conservative principles is fidelity to our Constitution. In Wyoming, we ride for the brand, and our brand is the United States Constitution. So, I’m going to ask people for their vote. I’m going to work hard to earn that vote.
But people need to know something about me. I will never put party above my duty to the country. I will never put party above my duty to the Constitution. I swore an oath under God and I will abide by that oath. I won’t say something that I know is wrong simply to earn the votes of people to earn political support. That’s what the voters of Wyoming deserve. That’s what the voters of Wyoming demand. That’s the kind of respect that we owe the voters of this great state. We need to recognize that if we are not faithful to the Constitution, if we embrace lies, if we embrace the lies of Donald Trump, if we tell the people of Wyoming something is not true, we will soon find ourselves without the structure and the basis and the framework of our Constitutional Republic.
If we don’t abide by the Constitution when it is politically inconvenient, then we will not have the Constitution as our shield when we need to defend our First Amendment rights and our Second Amendment rights. So, I’m asking for your vote and I’m asking you to understand that I will never violate my oath of office, and if you’re looking for somebody who will, then you need to vote for somebody else on this stage because I won’t. I will always put my oath first.
The constitution is used a lot in this debate and in our leaders. But you know what? It's about being the relatable candidate, the one that's for 'We, the people.' the actual one who is standing up for people, who are just ordinary, like myself. This is not rocket science. We don't need anymore politicians or attorneys to keep telling us what to do.
This is important for Wyoming. We need a voice. We need someone who's actually relatable and knows what goes on in the state at whatever level. I have been around for 30 years here in Wyoming. I've seen everything I need to know to be a representative of this state. And I have been doing some of the work already. And to me, that's important, because I'm not waiting to be elected. I wanna make sure that I am doing the work for the people here in Wyoming. This is an important race, folks. And I am doing this on my own. I'm the grassroots Republican candidate that is hellbent to make sure that we have a voice in DC. I've been there. I know what it's like, and we have to take back our state.
Well, it is wonderful to be here tonight and I wanna thank you for sponsoring this and for the audience being here. It's wonderful to see some new faces on stage. I have been traveling the state, as I said, over 30,000 miles now. And one of the words that I hear over and over and over again is 'accountability.' The people of Wyoming do not believe that they're being represented in Congress right now because our representative doesn't come to Wyoming. She doesn't come here to talk to us to explain her vote, to defend the decisions that she's making. She focuses an awful lot of time on the January 6th committee, but she's not addressing the issues that are important to Wyoming. I'm the only real proven success up here on this stage. I have been fighting the issues for Wyoming for over 25 years.
I have been fighting to protect our water rights, our property rights and our constitutional rights. I have been representing our municipalities, our counties, the state of Wyoming, our farmers, and ranchers, our oil and gas companies, our irrigation districts, our small businesses. I have been representing them and I've been fighting back against the federal overreach that we've talked about over and over and over again tonight. I have fought back and I've beat the EPA, the USDA the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service. I actually am the one person who has done something to get more access to federal lands in the state of Wyoming. I know how these agencies work. I have the experience to go back there and actually fight against them. And I'm asking for your vote on August 16th.
And with that, the debate was closed. Candidates mingled on stage immediately afterwards, shaking hands with their opponents, even exchanging a few smiles. There were a few pointed shots taken throughout the evening, to be sure. But all-in-all, the debate was about as respectful, dignified, and important as one could be.
The candidates on the stage disagreed with each other on certain issues, but all of them showed that they were there for one simple reason: to represent Wyoming and make sure that its citizens were represented and spoken for in Washington D.C.
The full video of the Wyoming US House Republican Debate can be seen below, courtesy of Wyoming PBS: