Politics & Policy

Chip Roy Charts His Own Course in the House

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) leaves a House Republican Caucus candidates forum for the running of GOP conference chair in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
The Texas congressman stood athwart efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but since January he’s taken a very different path from Liz Cheney’s. It might not be enough to spare him from facing a primary challenger.

When Chip Roy first ran for Congress in 2018, Politico dubbed him “the next Ted Cruz.” According to the report, top Republicans were worried that Roy, the former chief of staff to the Texas senator, was actually “going to make Cruz look like a squishy moderate.” As a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the Texas conservative certainly had a Cruzian flair for rankling GOP leadership, as displayed by his recent challenge to Elise Stefanik for House Republican Conference chair that highlighted her moderate voting record.

But Donald Trump has continued to confound politics in such a way that the moderate–conservative divide inside the Republican Party has often mattered less than the simple fact of whether one is loyal to Trump. And on one of the most important votes of Roy’s short career so far, he broke sharply with Cruz — and Trump.

Following the 2020 election, Roy staunchly opposed efforts to overturn the results of the Electoral College. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s lawsuit to invalidate the electoral votes of several states was “a dangerous violation of federalism,” Roy warned in December.

On January 2, Cruz (following Missouri senator Josh Hawley’s lead) released a letter objecting to the certification of electoral votes unless an “emergency 10-day audit” of the election was conducted in several states. But Roy held firm. On January 3, 2021, as a majority of House Republicans and more than a dozen GOP senators prepared to object to the certification of electoral votes in several states Biden won, Roy took to the House floor to object to seating his House colleagues from those states. With this move, he was attempting to force his colleagues to be consistent: If they were contesting the results at the top of the ticket, did that mean the results in their own elections were also illegitimate?

On January 6, after police were attacked and the Capitol was stormed by a mob trying to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, most of Roy’s House GOP colleagues went ahead and cast votes objecting to the certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes anyway.

In a House floor speech that night, Roy said that his vote to certify the results “may well sign my political death warrant, but so be it.”

“I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I will not bend its words into contortions for personal political expediency,” he continued. A week later, when an attempt to impeach Trump for the second time was launched, Roy voted against impeachment on the grounds that the articles were flawed, as was the timing of the action; but he also said that Trump “deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly impeachable conduct — pressuring the vice president to violate his oath to the Constitution to count the electors.”

But since January, Roy has taken a path very different from that of Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman and then-chair of the House GOP Conference. Cheney voted to impeach and then continued to push back on Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the results of the election. That rhetoric led to her ouster from GOP leadership in May.

Unlike Cheney, Roy has done a lot to remind GOP primary voters that he’s on their side. He has focused mostly on problems that President Biden and congressional Democrats caused or have handled poorly. “If there’s a decision to be made for this country, do the opposite of what the Biden administration is doing, and then you’ll have success,” Roy told National Review in a recent interview. “Unemployment is paying people more not to work, so [businesses] can’t hire people. Small businesses are getting crushed,” he says. The administration is “abandoning Israel while inflation is taking off,” Roy says, while rattling off a long list of issues. He has traveled to the border and sounded the alarm throughout the spring about the ongoing migrant crisis.

While the border, the economy, and national security are the three most important issues facing the country today in his view, he’s also found time to address many more problems. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow members of the Freedom Caucus at press conferences condemning the Equality Act, the incursion of critical race theory into education and government, and other progressive policies.

Roy compares his disagreement with Cruz over certifying the Electoral College votes to the rare instances when the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas ended up on opposite sides of a Supreme Court decision: “They are two very smart judges who would occasionally disagree. That happens, and that’s okay.” He voted against establishing an independent January 6 commission because it would empower “people who are unelected and unaccountable to have subpoena power” and encourage “a fishing expedition.”

And, although he now says he doesn’t want to rehash the matter, Roy has positioned himself against Liz Cheney.

At the beginning of February, Roy voted to keep Cheney in her post, but by the end of that month he said Cheney had “forfeited” the right to remain in leadership. At a February 25 Freedom Caucus press conference, Roy said: “Yesterday, Liz [Cheney] forfeited her right to be chair of the Republican Conference. You cannot stand up and make a statement that is so completely out of step with the Republican Conference.”

Cheney’s offense? After a GOP Conference meeting, a reporter asked House GOP leadership if Trump should be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and Cheney replied: “That’s up to CPAC. I’ve been clear in my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following January 6, I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

“When you walk out of the Conference and you stand next to Kevin McCarthy, and as the Conference chair you said that, now she’s speaking for all of us,” Roy told NR in an earlier phone interview, the day after that press conference. He described Cheney’s comments as a “gratuitous swipe . . . not just at the president but frankly at the large bloc of Americans that support the former president.”

But why did Roy, who said in January that Trump had clearly committed an impeachable act, think it was so offensive for Cheney to say Trump shouldn’t have a role in the party?

“That an action was condemnable — that an action was impeachable — doesn’t mean necessarily it should be impeached,” Roy said.

“It’s kind of like there are sins in the Bible for which you might leave a spouse — you know, committing adultery, for example. That doesn’t mean that the marriage should fall apart,” he added. “What I think we’ve got to do is work with the president and work with our entire coalition of Republicans behind four years of a really strong agenda and move forward.”

On May 12, the day that the House GOP booted Cheney from her post in leadership, Roy’s campaign sent out a fundraising email boasting that Roy “was the FIRST to call Cheney out on her anti-Trump and self-serving hysterics.”

Despite Roy’s criticism of her, Cheney, who skipped the vote for her replacement, said she still would have backed Roy over Stefanik. “I would have voted for Chip,” Cheney told CNN on May 14. “I think it’s important for us to have people in leadership who are conservative, and I think it’s also really important for us to have people in leadership who are committed to the truth and committed to the Constitution.” In January, Stefanik said she opposed the certification of electors from several states and promoted unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Trump, meanwhile, backed Stefanik over Roy despite the fact that Roy had an impeccably conservative voting record, siding with Trump on key votes much more often than the moderate Stefanik did. “Can’t imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy — he has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district,” Trump wrote in a blog post before the vote for House GOP Conference chair. “I support Elise, by far, over Chip!”

The comments from Cheney and Trump about Roy show that — as much as many Republicans say they want to move on — the 2020 election and January 6 are still major fault lines inside the Republican Party.

As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, Trump has “made supporting his claims of a stolen election — or at least remaining silent about them — a litmus test of sorts as he decides whom to endorse for state and federal contests in 2022 and 2024.”

But is there any reason to believe Trump’s prediction of a Roy primary loss (which reads more like a threat) will come true? Matt McCall, who lost to Roy 47.3 percent to 52.7 percent in the 2018 GOP primary runoff, certainly hopes so.

“I have asked Trump for his endorsement to run against Chip Roy. If Trump endorses, I will run, and we will kick Chip Roy’s ass,” McCall told National Review in a phone interview. “I’ve approached [Trump’s] team. Steve Bannon, I think, is working on that for us.”

McCall, a businessman who did not challenge Roy again in 2020, says he’s interested in running in 2022 because of Roy’s response to the 2020 election and his comment that Trump had committed an impeachable act. McCall believes that the elections in every state where voting procedures were changed without the approval of the legislature — including his own state of Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott added six days of early voting — were unconstitutional, and that the U.S. House of Representatives should have decided the presidential election.

McCall, who looks to Texas congressman Louie Gohmert as a political role model (“I think he’s a very, very sharp man and very conservative”), can be more than a little rough around the edges. This showed up again when he began speculating on why Cruz endorsed Roy.

“I have no idea why [Cruz] went to so much trouble to put Chip into office,” says McCall. “Maybe he intends to run for president and they’ve got dreams of running Chip for Senate.”

“Maybe it was blackmail, that’s what a lot of people say — you know, there’s pictures with Ted and sheep,” he adds. “I don’t know.” McCall did not offer evidence Cruz had been blackmailed about anything. “I’m not trying to pick a fight with Ted Cruz,” he says.

While McCall is committed to running if Trump backs him, he also says he’s happy to endorse any other Republican Trump might endorse: “If [Trump] picks somebody else, I will back him. I’m with Trump.”

Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the GOP of Travis County, home to Austin, dismisses McCall’s primary threats as bluster. “Would I bet any amount of money Chip’s going to lose a primary in 2022? No, I wouldn’t,” Mackowiak tells National Review. “I think he’s got a 95 percent likelihood of being renominated.”

It might be too early to be quite that confident about Roy’s prospects. Redistricting is bound to make the district (which Roy carried by 6.7 points in the 2020 general election and 2.6 points in the 2018 midterms) more Republican and more Trump-friendly, and it was Roy himself who suggested he may have signed his political death warrant when he voted to certify the election.

But there are many reasons to believe Roy remains the heavy favorite heading into 2022. Roy was an unknown staffer when he defeated McCall by five points in 2018; by 2022 he’ll have served four years in D.C., and it’s still very difficult to unseat incumbents. Trump might not throw his support behind a challenger if Roy seems likely to prevail, and even if he did, a Trump endorsement isn’t all-powerful: See, for example, the 32-point loss by Trump-endorsed House candidate Lynda Bennett in a North Carolina open primary in 2020. And, again, Roy has been highlighting and focusing on issues that appeal to Republican voters.

Even his challenge to Stefanik, which drew a public shot from Trump, allowed Roy to burnish his credentials as a conservative willing to take on the establishment. He notes that his first act as a congressman was to back Jim Jordan over Kevin McCarthy to be minority leader, and Roy won’t commit now to voting for McCarthy as speaker in 2023 if Republicans take the House: “I never commit to those sorts of things ahead of time.” Asked if he would rule out running for any spot in House leadership, including speaker if the GOP wins a majority, Roy says: “I would never rule anything out. I would never suggest to you that . . . that’s what my focus is here.”

Although he’s mostly gotten back on track with the GOP base, the one thing Roy hasn’t done is recant his criticism of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. “I spoke loudly and forcefully about what I believe because I believe it’s my duty to do that,” Roy says.

The question hanging over the Republican Party is what happens if Trump runs again in 2024. If he does, and suffers a defeat, will he try to overturn it as illegitimate, 2020-style? It remains extremely unlikely that he could get Congress to do so. There were many guardrails that stopped him from getting close in 2020: The courts, many GOP state legislators, state and local election officials, and pro-Trump governors refused to go along with the scheme. The current terms of Republican senators who strongly opposed Trump’s post-election efforts — Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton, Bill Cassidy, and others — don’t expire until 2027.

But it’s worth taking seriously the small chance of a catastrophic event. If history repeats itself in 2024 but some of the guardrails fail, it could depend on Republican senators and congressmen like Roy to ensure that America remains a republic.

What does Roy say to voters concerned that Republicans would go along with a scheme to overturn the results of the Electoral College in 2024 if they control Congress and had the power to do it?

He answers at first by saying that, “if Joe Biden continues to do what he does, then you’re gonna have a landslide along the lines of 1980 in the wake of Jimmy Carter. . . . That’s what I actually believe. I don’t think it will be close.”

“To answer your question directly, there’s a reason I took the position I took,” Roy continues. “The rule of law must govern. The rule of law must be what decides. I neither want, you know, a Nancy Pelosi House of Representatives to make a determination over the will and interest of Texans in terms of our electors any more than I want a hypothetical Republican” leader to do the same.

“Under the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution, the states send us the electors, and then we count the electors,” he says. “Otherwise our whole federal system gets turned on its head, and we’re more like a parliament than we are a republic.”

Roy notes that the Electoral Count Act of 1887 ought to come into play only when states send competing slates of electors, as has occurred on rare occasions in U.S. history. But what if a GOP-controlled state legislature actually did send a competing slate of electors to Washington in 2024?

Roy notes that the courts would litigate contested claims, but if members of Congress were actually presented with competing slates of electors, “you choose to accept or reject either of those slates of electors. . . . Then we just have to use our judgment based on the statute.”

How can Roy assure his constituents that his best judgment would be to vote to certify the electors of the candidate who actually received the most votes in a contested state? Roy says simply, pointing to his votes on January 6: “Because that’s what I did.”

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