In the earliest days of the January 6 Committee, Congresswoman Liz Cheney invited Congressman Jamie Raskin, her colleague on the panel, to her office. Raskin couldn’t help but immediately notice what stood out amid the décor: “This huge Stalinesque portrait of Dick Cheney right over the receptionist desk when you enter.”
Raskin looked up at the visage of the former vice president and quipped, “Oh, I’ve got one of those too.” Cheney burst out laughing. This was one of many moments the two members of Congress have shared over the years as the two have built an unlikely odd couple friendship. What unites them now—and continues to keep them together—is a passionate antagonism for Donald Trump, and a sincere worry that American democracy is on the precipice of dissolution.
It’s safe to say that Raskin and Cheney enjoy a counterintuitive relationship. Cheney is the scion to a neoconservative legacy who over the years has been the face of everything that hardcore liberals have reviled. Raskin is almost a caricature of a liberal politician: a Harvard-educated constitutional scholar who represents Silver Spring, Maryland in Congress. It’s easy to picture them at each other’s throats every chance they get. That hasn’t been the case.
“Liz is an enormously engaging and charming person. She has acted with great honesty to confront the lies of the Trump machinery,” Raskin said in an interview by phone on Tuesday, a few hours before Cheney lost her primary. “So that means a lot to Democrats. We want to feel that our defense of democracy is not a solely partisan thing, that we are acting as citizens to democracy and people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger give us hope that there is a popular commitment to constitutional values.”
Before Raskin was the Democratic headliner at the Gridiron Club’s 137th dinner, he ran his jokes past Cheney. She told him which were funny and which weren’t. Theirs is one of those friendships where they embrace their differences.
“She called me up and said come to the floor, I want you to my daughter Elizabeth and she said, ‘Elizabeth, I want you to meet the guy who wrote that book saying that grandpa wasn’t really elected vice president’ because I wrote a book called Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. the American People about Bush v. Gore and about right wing judicial advocates,” Raskin recalled.
After the January 6 Committee’s work wraps up, Raskin and Cheney are set to debate at Gettysburg College.
On Tuesday night, Cheney, as expected, was shellacked in the Republican primary for Wyoming’s at-large congressional seat by Trump acolyte Harriet Hageman. Cheney is one of almost two dozen Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Trump. As she gamed out her reelection campaign, the incumbent congresswoman opted against pledging fealty to Trump, despite the fact that it was the obvious path to certain reelection—one taken by a myriad of successful Republican primary candidates.
Instead, her campaign leaned hard in the opposite direction, highlighting the events of January 6 and the danger Trump still poses. That marked her undoing in the primary but it also endeared her to Democrats in a way that was nigh on impossible before Trump rose through Republican politics.
Raskin says both he and Cheney have changed as broader alliance lines in American politics have changed. “She’s changing. I’m changing. Politics is changing. I believe she repents of some of her original orthodox, rightwing conservatism on some cultural issues,” Raskin said. “She voted with us on marriage equality when before she had opposed it.”
Raskin and Cheney’s rivalry-turned-friendship isn’t as rare as one would think. There are plenty of high-profile politicians who have struck up unlikely friendships and not lost their party’s bona fides in the process. (Remember Barack Obama’s late pal Tom Coburn?) Raskin himself has also made a visible effort of staying friendly with lawmakers who mostly disagree with him on policy. After Congresswoman Nancy Mace eked out a victory over her Trump-backed challenger in her district’s Republican primary, Raskin made an effort to congratulate her on the steps of the Capitol. Mace, it’s worth noting, isn’t a complete Trump-hater or “Republican In Name Only.”
Raskin argues that the value in such friendships lies in the way they can play a larger role in sustaining democracy. “Look, January 6 is as close to fascism in my lifetime, and I did some research about coups all over the world,” Raskin said. “Democracies fail because of the lack of forbearance and the lack of comity between the two sides. But what you learn is the progressive parties alone can never defeat fascism. You need the center right and the center left acting together.”
Cheney’s time in American politics is hardly over. She said as much in her election night speech. And early on Wednesday morning, she officially set up a new leadership PAC called The Great Task, to continue her fight against Trumpism going forward. Raskin is largely supportive of this. He doesn’t expect any of Cheney’s work on the January 6 Committee or the enthusiasm behind it to dissipate.
What’s less clear is whether or not Cheney will take the plunge and run for president. Should she do so, she’s likely to run as a Republican rather than an independent conservative—this despite the fact that the latter approach, in all likelihood, would more adversely affect Trump’s own designs on returning to the Oval Office. Naturally, a book deal is almost a certainty as well, and will precede any larger or more ambitious projects down the line.
I asked Raskin whether he would have backed Cheney if Democrats had an actual chance of winning her congressional seat (there is a Democratic nominee but calling that candidate a long shot in deep-red Wyoming is an understatement).
“Well, you put me to the test there. Put it this way: If her district were the district that made the difference between a Democratic or Republican majority, I would support Liz but only if she were to commit to vote for the Democrat for speaker,” Raskin said.
But this is a moot point now that Cheney will be out of Congress in a matter of months. What will continue, Raskin said, is his friend will stay hellbent on fighting Trump.
“She will follow Donald Trump to the gates of hell if she needs to to make sure that justice is done and that truth is known,” Raskin said. “I would give anything to live in an America where Liz Cheney is the leader of the Republican Party and we consistently beat her in the general election. That to me is a country worth living in and fighting for. But I don’t think that God is finished with Liz Cheney yet.”