Syracuse, NY – This afternoon, Congresswoman Liz Cheney sat down with Syracuse University’s Vice Chancellor and Provost Gretchen Ritter for a conversation entitled “Courage In Defense Of Democracy” at the Goldstein Auditorium on the school’s campus. Video of the full conversation can be seen here and please watch some of the individual highlights below:
CONGRESSWOMAN LIZ CHENEY: Thank you very much. It is wonderful to be here, wonderful to have the chance to be with my old friend Sean O’Keefe. And to be here to talk about citizenship. And to talk about citizenship here at the Maxwell School with the provost is particularly important and I’m honored to be able to do so.
I wanted to start today, before we go into questions, to talk about the topic of citizenship, and to talk about it, in particular, by taking everyone back to the night of January 6th. And on the night of January 6th, as the House was getting ready to reconvene, I had the opportunity, I wanted to see as we got back onto the House floor, I wanted to see what the condition was, what the circumstances were in Statuary Hall and in the Capitol Rotunda after the day of the attack. And so, I walked off the House floor, and I walked first into Statuary Hall. And Statuary Hall, as many of you probably know, was the first place that the House of Representatives met before the House Chamber was built. And on the floor of Statuary Hall, there are brass plaques that designate the locations of the desks of presidents who served in the House. And so, there’s a plaque that designates where Abraham Lincoln’s desk sat when he was a House member. There’s another plaque for John Quincy Adams’ desk. And it’s also the place where a number of statues representing different states line the walls. And on the night of January 6th, as I walked into Statuary Hall, leaning up against every statue were members of SWAT team, members of National Guard, members of the ATF, in riot gear, exhausted because they’d spent the day engaged in hand-to-hand combat with our fellow citizens. And because they’d spent the day defending the Capitol Building and defending our democratic process of counting electoral votes. And I walked around Statuary Hall and I thanked them for what they’d done, but there were not words to express the emotion of the fact that they’d had to engage in that battle. And then I walked from Statuary Hall into the Capitol Rotunda itself. And when you leave Statuary Hall, you walk underneath the oldest statue in the Capitol. And it’s a statue of Clio, who is the muse of history. And in this statue, Clio rides in a chariot, the chariot of time, and she has a book in her hands, and she’s writing in the book. And Clio is there to remind members of the House – she was put there when the House met in Statuary Hall – to remind us that what we do is recorded in the pages of history, and to remind us of our obligations and of our duties. And when you walk under Clio, you walk through a hall into the Rotunda itself. And this is a place where presidents lie in state. This is a place where the statues of Grant, of Washington, of Eisenhower, of Reagan, of our presidents line the halls.
And again, in the Rotunda on the night of the 6th, were armed men who had defended the nation, who defended the Capitol from that attack. And the message of citizenship is perhaps clearest in the Rotunda in many ways, but there are paintings along the walls of the Rotunda by [John] Trumbull. And one of them is a painting that depicts George Washington when he handed back command of the Continental Army, when he basically said he would relinquish command, when he began the tradition and the history in our nation of a peaceful transfer of power. And every single president of the United States, every one has honored that duty, has treated it as sacred, except for one. And as we think about: what does it mean to be citizens in this Republic? What are the duties? What are the obligations, and what are the blessings? I think that it’s important for all of us, not just those of us who are elected, but for all of us to understand the sacred nature of a peaceful transition of power, and what that means to the perpetuation of our Republic, what it means in this country, and what it means to young people. As I have thought about my own responsibilities and duties and those of all of us over the last year and a half in particular, I think often about my children, and I think about young people across this country. And if there is one thing, above all others, that we have to dedicate ourselves to, it’s to the recognition that this Republic only survives if individuals step forward to defend her. Those who make the biggest and most important sacrifice are the men and women in uniform who protect us. But all of us, every single one of us, has a duty to make sure that this isn’t the last generation that knows a peaceful transfer of power in this great nation. And I’m absolutely committed to doing everything I can to make sure that that is the case. And I hope that all of you, especially the young people and the students who are here today, will leave today understanding and recognizing what a tremendous blessing it is that we get to live in a place where we get to make decisions about our government and our laws. But what a tremendous duty and responsibility of citizenship that that imposes on all of us. And it’s a duty that we should all welcome and a duty that requires places like the Maxwell School who are teaching about citizenship and about the obligations of citizenship in this great country.
CONGRESSWOMAN CHENEY: You know, I have to say that the extent to which, and it’s not just the members of the Committee, but it is Americans all across the country, the recognition that some things are above politics. And we can disagree deeply about policy issues, but we never get to have the debate about tax policy or defense strategy or any of those other issues, if you let the constitutional framework unravel. And so, we have to come together as Americans, regardless of party, to defend fundamentally the framework and the structure that guarantees our freedom.
CONGRESSWOMAN CHENEY: I think that we saw on January 6th that words matter. We have to recognize that in the world in which we’re living today, political violence increasingly is becoming part of our politics, and it cannot be that way. And we all have to be responsible for our words. You know, when you see former President Trump just in the last 24 hours, suggesting in a pretty thinly veiled way, using words that could well cause violence against the Republican Leader of the Senate, saying he has a “death wish.” And then, you know, launching an absolutely despicable, racist attack against Secretary Chao, Leader McConnell’s wife. And then you watch the fact that nobody in my party will say that’s unacceptable. And everybody ought to be asked whether or not that’s acceptable, and everybody ought to be able to say, “No, that is not acceptable.” They ought to be required to say that. But I think that we’ve come to accept a level of venom in our politics that is very dangerous.
CONGRESSWOMAN CHENEY: I would just say that we take for granted sometimes in the United States what it means to live in freedom. But if you want to understand – Lincoln called America an inestimable jewel worth defending. And if you think about what it means to be in a position where you can help to pass this freedom on to the next generation and you think about people who are fighting in Ukraine today for their freedom and you think about the sacrifices that so many people around the world and so many people in the United States have made for freedom, it is a noble thing to determine that you’re going to serve your country and it’s also required.
We were talking earlier about one of the things that I hear sometimes, especially from my Republican colleagues, is ‘January 6th wasn’t all that bad, and it wasn’t all that bad because the institutions held.’ And whenever anybody says that, I tell them the institutions only held because there were individuals who took their responsibility to the Constitution seriously. Because there were people like Rusty Bowers. Because there are people like Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, election workers. Because there are people like Raffensperger who refused the pressure from Donald Trump. It only held because of people and while our government sometimes can seem huge, and it is, it’s too big. I’m a Republican. But while it can seem huge and while it can seem impossible to make a difference, the lesson of January 6th is that the only thing that makes a difference is people, and we need every single good and honorable person of character to step forward and serve the country. So I just can’t encourage you more, as young people here today, watching, that we need you and that it is crucial for the survival of the Republic.
So I really hope you will continue your interest in public service and that you will decide that you’re going to serve this country.
CONGRESSWOMAN CHENEY: But look, I do have real hope and optimism that the country will find people who will lead with integrity and with character and there are certainly people on both sides of the aisle today who represent that. I think it has to be said that the current leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress – in the House and a number in the Senate – are not leading that way. But I think that our history is characterized by moments where people put the country first and did what was right.
One of my sons is in a forensics class in which they have to memorize speeches and he happens to be memorizing Al Gore’s concession speech in 2000. It obviously was a very hard fought campaign. Al Gore and I have a lot of disagreements on policy. I’m glad that campaign and election turned out the way it did, but go watch Al Gore’s concession speech. It’s worth the time, and as my son has been practicing it, it’s very moving because Vice President Gore – I’m sure it was a very painful speech for him to give, but he captures how important it is. He says that the Supreme Court has ruled. He says, make no mistake, I disagree intensely, firmly with how the Supreme Court ruled, but in this nation it’s our honored institutions of democracy that determine the outcome of our elections. And I think that the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle, believe in the honored institutions of our democracy and we’ll get through this period and we will elect people who are going to defend those.