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House GOP ousts Trump critic Liz Cheney from top post

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as the chamber’s No. 3 GOP leader on Wednesday, punishing her after she repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Meeting behind closed doors for less than 20 minutes, GOP lawmakers used a voice vote to remove Cheney, R-Wyo., from the party’s No. 3 House position, a jarring turnabout to what’s been her fast-rising career within the party.

She was Congress’ highest-ranking Republican woman and is a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her demotion was the latest evidence that challenging Trump can be career-threatening.

Cheney has refused to stop repudiating Trump and defiantly signaled after the meeting that she intended to use her overthrow to try pointing the party away from the former president.

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she told reporters.

Cheney’s replacement was widely expected to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who entered the House in 2015 at age 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who’s echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans seem ready to toss Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership post after she repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

GOP lawmakers gathered privately in the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday and were expected to vote to remove Cheney, R-Wyo., from the party’s No. 3 House position, a jarring turnabout to what’s been her fast-rising career within the party. She is Congress’ highest-ranking Republican woman and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her demotion would provide the latest evidence that challenging Trump can be career-threatening.

In an audacious signal that she was not backing down, Cheney took to a nearly empty House chamber Tuesday evening to deliver an unapologetic four-minute assault on her GOP adversaries and defense of her own position.

“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” she said, adding, “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

Cheney’s replacement was widely expected to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who entered the House in 2015 at age 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who’s echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating.

It was initially unclear when the separate vote on Cheney’s replacement would be.

Stripping Cheney, 54, of her leadership job would stand as a striking, perhaps historic moment for the GOP.

One of the nation’s two major parties was in effect declaring an extraordinary admission requirement to its highest ranks: fealty to, or at least silence about, Trump’s lie that he lost his November reelection bid due to widespread fraud. In states around the country, officials and judges of both parties found no evidence to support Trump’s claims that extensive illegalities caused his defeat.

It’s been clear that Cheney’s days in leadership were numbered as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., No. 2 leader Steve Scalise, R-La., joined Trump and other Republicans from across the party’s spectrum aligned against her.

Critics said Cheney’s offense wasn’t her views on Trump but her persistence in publicly expressing them, undermining the unity they want party leaders to display as they message in advance of next year’s elections, when they hope to win House control.

“It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about the focus” of House Republicans, Scalise said Tuesday.

Many Republicans also agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s said the allegiance many GOP voters have to Trump is so intense that the party can’t succeed without him.

A small number of Republicans have spoken out against removing Cheney.

“It will do nothing but drive some people away from our party,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and one who has clashed often with Trump.

Seemingly conceding that the numbers were against her, Cheney made no discernible effort to cement support ahead of Wednesday’s vote, several Republicans said.

Rather, she all but erected billboards advertising her clash with Trump, declaring in a Washington Post column last week, “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Cheney has told Republicans she intends to remain in Congress and seek reelection next year in her solidly pro-Trump state. The former president has said he’ll find a GOP primary challenger to oppose her.

Cheney arrived in Congress in 2017 with a well-known brand as an old-school conservative, favoring tax cuts, energy development and an assertive use of U.S. power abroad. By November 2018 she was elected to her current leadership job unopposed and seemed on an ambitious pathway, potentially including runs at becoming speaker, senator or even president.

She occasionally disagreed with Trump during his presidency over issues like his withdrawal from Syria and attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci over the pandemic. But her career hit turbulence in January once she became one of 10 House Republicans to back his second impeachment for inciting his supporters’ deadly Capitol assault of Jan. 6. The Senate acquitted him.

In a memorable statement before the House impeachment vote, Cheney said: “The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.”

Her words – and her pre-vote announcement, which allowed Democrats to cite her opposition during the debate – infuriated many House conservatives.

She withstood a February effort by conservatives to boot her from leadership in a 145-61 secret ballot, but a McCarthy speech on her behalf is credited with saving her. That wasn’t expected to happen this time.

Since then, she’s stood by her views, in one noteworthy incident while McCarthy stood awkwardly nearby at a news conference.

Stefanik also arrived in Congress with sterling GOP establishment credentials. A Harvard graduate, she worked in President George W. Bush’s White House and for the campaign of the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, Wisconsin Rep. and later Speaker Paul Ryan.

Her district, bordering Canada and Vermont, voted twice for Barack Obama and then twice for Trump in the past four presidential elections. She opposed Trump’s trademark 2017 tax cut and his efforts to unilaterally spend billions on his southwestern border wall.

Stefanik grabbed center stage as a fierce Trump defender in 2019 as the House impeached him over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to produce damaging information about Joe Biden, his Democratic rival. Senate acquittal followed.

While Stefanik has won adoration from Trump, some of Washington’s hardest-right conservatives have remained suspicious of her moderate record.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wrote colleagues Tuesday chastising “Republicans who campaign as Republicans but then vote for and advance the Democrats’ agenda once sworn in.”

No Stefanik challenger has yet emerged, and other conservatives like Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are in her camp.

“We have a great deal of support from the Freedom Caucus and others,” she said Tuesday.

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Missouri House votes to crack down on highway protests

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – The Missouri House has passed legislation to crack down on protesters who block roadways. The Republican-led House voted 98-50 to pass the bill.

The legislation would make repeatedly blocking traffic a felony. The tactic is often used to draw attention to racial injustice. Protesters angered by the death of George Floyd blocked traffic on Interstate 70 in the St. Louis area last summer. The House also amended the bill to cram in provisions from dozens of other loosely related bills.

The number of changes made to the Senate bill likely means negotiators will pare it back in the final version.

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Missouri Senate votes down funding for Medicaid expansion

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – The Missouri Senate has voted against paying for Medicaid expansion. Senators on Wednesday voted 20-14 against a proposal to add the funding to the state budget.

The vote locks in the House’s decision not to pay for Medicaid expansion. Missouri voters last year voted to expand who is eligible for government health care coverage to thousands more low-income adults. But the Republican-led Legislature has long opposed growing the program. Now they’re trying to thwart expansion by blocking funding for it.

If lawmakers send the governor a budget without paying for the program, it likely will set up a court battle.

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MO House committee endorses proposed gasoline tax increase

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Missouri House committee unanimously endorsed a proposal to increase the state’s gasoline tax.

The House Transportation Committee’s vote on Monday sends the measure to the full House, where some Republicans oppose raising taxes. If it’s approved, Missouri’s gasoline tax would increase 12.5 cents over five years, resulting in a tax of 29.5 cents per gallon. It would be the first increase since 1996.

House Speaker Rob Vescovo, a Republican from Arnold, has previously said he’s against tax hikes. The Senate approved the measure in March. Supporters say the state needs the revenue to repair deteriorating infrastructure.

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Missouri Senate votes to ban vaccine passports

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led Senate has voted to ban so-called vaccine passports in the state. Senators voted 26-7 Wednesday in favor of a wide-ranging bill that includes a ban on vaccine passports.

Vaccine passports are documentation that shows travelers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups are developing and testing out vaccine passports to encourage travel.

The Missouri bill would ban any requirements that travelers show proof of vaccination in order to fly, get a taxi or use public transportation. Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly said he won’t require vaccine passports.

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GOP conservatives help medical marijuana advance in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas medical marijuana supporters have found support from some conservative Republican legislators, allowing a proposal to advance Monday after weeks of deliberations.

Some Republicans say they have been motivated by conservative neighbors Missouri and Oklahoma legalizing medical marijuana in 2018 through ballot initiatives, while others say many of their constituents support it.

Legalization advocates are glad state lawmakers are seriously considering the matter. But the measure has received pushback, mainly from law enforcement groups that say that there’s not enough evidence that marijuana can treat medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

The state House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Monday approved the bill 13-8, sending it to the full House for approval.

“I think the majority of Kansans want it and I think we need to listen to our voters,” said Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican committee member and a physician, told The Associated Press.

The bill would authorize the state health department to issue medical marijuana identification cards to patients and caregivers for a list of conditions that include cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Medical marijuana could be sold as oils, tinctures, patches or potent edibles, but not in smoking or vaping products. The bill would also set up a licensing process for growers and dispensary owners.

An amendment approved Monday prohibits a cap on the number of licenses state agencies can issue to dispensaries, laboratories and cultivation facilities. It also lowered license fees about half.

“I certainly never want to see us at recreational marijuana,” Eplee said without elaborating. “I think we have the capacity and the ability as a state to make it medical marijuana and leave it at that.”

In testimony to lawmakers last month, Darrell G. Atteberry, legislative chair of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, noted that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs states on its website that there’s no evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD and that it could be harmful for those with the condition.

But medical marijuana advocates note it’s been tough to get evidence due to pot’s legal status in the U.S. Parents of children with disabilities have testified to lawmakers that marijuana would help relieve symptoms such as seizures. Veterans pushing for the bill say marijuana has reduced trauma-induced dreams by helping them get a deep sleep.

Todd Scattini, a Platte City, Missouri, resident and Afghanistan veteran, testified to Kansas legislators in last month’s meeting. In an interview, Scattini said marijuana helped him treat chronic pain from military exercises and manage recurring nightmares.

“For a lot of veterans today, there’s a lot of survivor’s guilt and I suffer from that as well,” Scattini said. “A lot of people spend their time asking ‘Why did my buddy go who was a way better soldier and person than me and I’m still here?’ So there’s a lot of nightmares and anxiety and depression, bad dreams and negative thoughts that take place.”

Christine Gordon, former vice president of the advocacy group Bleeding Kansas, said she has worked for six years to legalize medical marijuana. In 2018, she moved from Lenexa to Littleton, Colorado, seeking cannabis treatment for her now 9-year-old daughter, who has Dravet syndrome and severe autism.

“The fact that they’re even looking at it seriously, not just trying to appease the community, but they’re actually working it is pretty exciting,” Gordon said.

Rep. Randy Garber, a conservative Sabetha Republican, said hearing stories like Gordon’s has played a role in his support of medical marijuana legalization.

“I understand the law enforcement’s concerns, I really do. But what is our job? In my opinion, as a legislator, it is to help the people of Kansas,” Garber said. “And I believe this medical marijuana does help people in need.”

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Kansas Senate majority leader arrested on suspicion of DUI

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A Kansas Senate leader was arrested Tuesday morning in Topeka on suspicion of driving under the influence and attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer, local jail records show.

Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was booked into the Shawnee County jail just before 4 a.m., following his arrest by the Capitol Police. Online booking records show that the Wichita Republican also was arrested on suspicion of speeding and crossing a divided highway.

Suellentrop remained in the jail Tuesday morning. Senate President Ty Masterson’s office confirmed the arrest and said it was gathering information about the incident. It was not immediately clear whether Suellentrop had an attorney.

A report on Suellentrop’s arrest wasn’t immediately available. However, the Capitol Police said it occurred on Interstate 70 near an exit north of downtown and that Suellentrop was traveling in the wrong direction in the westbound lanes of the highway.

Suellentrop is a 68-year-old business owner who served in the House for seven years before being elected to the Senate in 2016. He won re-election last year, and fellow GOP senators chose him as the chamber’s No. 2 leader in December.

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AG Derek Schmidt launches campaign for Kansas governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Attorney General Derek Schmidt has launched his campaign for Kansas governor.

Schmidt’s kickoff Tuesday came after weeks of heightened visibility for the three-term Republican because of the GOP-controlled Legislature’s debates over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Schmidt is the first major Republican to formally announce a candidacy for the right to challenge Kelly in 2022, though former GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer signaled his plans to run Friday.

Lawmakers have boosted Schmidt’s visibility by pushing legislation to give the attorney general a check on the governor’s power during future emergencies. He’s clashed with Kelly during the pandemic and joined battles over the 2020 election.

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Bob Dole says he’s been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Bob Dole, a former longtime senator of Kansas and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, announced Thursday that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Dole, 97, said in a short statement that he was diagnosed recently and would begin treatment on Monday.

“While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” Dole said.

 

Dole, a native of Russell, Kansas, represented the state in Congress for almost 36 years before resigning from the Senate in 1996 to challenge Democratic President Bill Clinton. Dole had unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 1980 and 1988, and he was President Gerald Ford’s vice presidential running mate in 1976, when Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

After his last run for office in 1996, Dole continued to be involved in Republican politics, offering endorsements and commenting on public issues. He was known during his congressional career for both a sharp tongue and his skills in making legislative deals.

Dole was a driving force behind the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, speaking poignantly at its 2004 dedication before tens of thousands of fellow veterans in their 80s and 90s, calling “our final reunion.”

He served with Clinton following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as co-chairman of a scholarship fund for the families of the victims. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2018 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997 for his public service.

Dole overcame disabling war wounds sustained near the end of World War II to forge his lengthy political career. Charging a German position in northern Italy in 1945, Dole was hit by a shell fragment that crushed two vertebrae and paralyzed his arms and legs. The young Army platoon leader spent three years recovering in a hospital but never regained use of his right hand.

Dole left the Army as a captain, but Congress in 2019 approved a promotion for him to colonel. He also received two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for his military service.

A lawyer, Dole served in the Kansas House and as Russell County attorney before being elected to the U.S. House in 1960. He won a Senate seat in 1968 and became Senate majority leader after the 1984 elections. He led Republicans when they were in the minority for eight years, from 1987 to 1995, and then again as majority leader starting in 1995.