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Liz Cheney’s role on Jan. 6 committee grows after GOP pulls participation

WASHINGTON — In May, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., was stripped of her role as the third-ranking Republican in the House by fellow party members who said they had tired of her frequent and vocal opposition to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of massive election fraud, as well as her vote to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Just two months later, Cheney’s stature is rising again, this time as the first Republican named to the House select committee charged with investigating that Jan. 6 attack. While her participation has triggered more attacks from Trump and others within her own party, she’s drawing strong reviews from Democrats who praise her work ethic and contributions to the committee thus far.

After Cheney was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the committee, her role was always meant to send a message of bipartisanship. But when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pulled his own Republican appointees this week, Cheney’s role has only grown, Democratic aides and lawmakers told NBC News.

She won’t be alone — Pelosi on Sunday added another Trump critic, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., to the panel in an effort to bulk up Republican participation — but her role will still be distinct.

“She will definitely have an elevated role and an amplified voice,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the select committee, said in an interview.

He said Cheney speaks for millions of Americans, including Republicans, who are looking for answers to many lingering questions about Jan. 6. “She comes in with a lot of credibility and legitimacy,” he said.

Cheney remains a steadfast opponent of House Democrats on most fronts as well as a vocal and frequent critic of President Joe Biden’s policy agenda, including major issues of taxes, immigration, abortion, national security and government spending.

But she has joined the Democrats on the Jan. 6 committee seamlessly, those members say, gaining trust that is rarely found across the political aisle, especially after the attack on the Capitol. She attends Zoom and in-person preparation meetings and has displayed an impressive level of commitment, knowledge and a “ferocious” work ethic.

“If you close your eyes, in our meetings, our Zooms, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish which voice she was,” committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said. “That’s the truth. We’re all talking about next steps and process and what we want to get out of this, and she’s been a committed partner in that.”

The members have also been in regular contact through a group text established by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. One Democratic member called her “brilliant.”

“In the meetings that we’ve had thus far, she is very determined to get to the truth, and operates in a very no-nonsense fashion,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said of Cheney.

She has joined the group for two meetings in Pelosi’s office and spoken with her on the phone at least once, when Pelosi offered her a position on the committee. Cheney accepted the position but told Pelosi she couldn’t go to the news conference announcing the picks because she had to take her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to the doctor, a source familiar with the conversation said.

Before Jan. 6, it would have been unimaginable to think that the most powerful Democrat in Congress, known for her political prowess and progressive résumé, would tap a deeply conservative, politically astute and Teflon-tough Republican politician who also happens to be the daughter of a vice president that Democrats bitterly battled for decades.

But the interests of the two women have merged with their public insistence that vital questions about the attack on their place of work must still be answered.

That connection was strengthened this week when Cheney came to Pelosi’s defense after the speaker refused to accept two of McCarthy’s committee selections — Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind. — with Cheney insisting the investigation “must go forward” and declaring she is “absolutely dedicated and committed to making sure that this investigation holds those accountable who did this and ensures that it never happens again.”

“She resonated with Speaker Pelosi this week because both of them are, you know, women in a male-dominated profession who are not going to be pushed around,” Raskin said.

Pelosi’s rejection of the two Republicans is what led to McCarthy pulling all of his appointees, forgoing GOP representation, except for Cheney.

Pelosi even toasted Cheney. In one meeting with the committee members, Pelosi raised a glass of water, saying, “Let us salute Liz Cheney for her courage.”

Cheney has little in common with most of her Democratic colleagues.

Raskin, a constitutional lawyer and professor, and Cheney have vastly different perspectives about constitutional law and issues of war and the role of government. But they, too, have found common ground.

Raskin said that during a recent phone conversation between the two, Cheney asked him a question about First Amendment law on behalf of her son who is entering law school. Raskin, who lost his son, who was also in law school, to suicide this past winter, said he’s going to work on the answer this weekend and that the discussion touched him.

“I’m somebody who completely mixes my political life and commitments with my family life,” Raskin said. “Our kids have always been part of what we’re doing, and I think that, you know, her kids are also very much on her mind and in her heart during this time.”

Her district went for Trump by almost 44 points, while Raskin’s district went for Biden by more than 40.

Cheney has already put her stamp on the committee. She has requested that a Republican adviser be hired and has requested former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, a source familiar with the committee’s discussions said. Riggleman was defeated in a primary during the 2020 election cycle and has since gathered extensive research on extremism.

“I think she brings a very important perspective, and I think she brings a conservative stature and pedigree that will be valued,” Schiff said of Cheney.

Because the committee is still in the beginning stages, its members have not yet divvied up roles or assignments. But members point to her background in national security as an asset in helping understand domestic terrorism and extremism.

Unsurprisingly, Republican members have distanced themselves from her as an outlier in the GOP.

“I think she’s put herself on a little bit of an island,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said of Cheney.

But living in House Republican exile seems to be her only punishment for the time being. McCarthy had earlier warned his members that anyone taking a select committee post from Pelosi could be putting their other committee assignments at risk. So far he has not acted on that threat.

Asked how Republicans should interact with Cheney, McCarthy said, “The way we interact with any Democrat in the process.”

Cheney’s participation is unlikely to win her further support among Republican voters. Trump has made his desire to see her defeated in a GOP primary clear, and at least a half-dozen Republicans in Wyoming have stated their intention to run. But she’s raised more than $3 million for her re-election bid since Jan. 6 and members of the committee say she seems undeterred.

“Liz Cheney feels the urgency of this task in her bones,” Raskin said. “She was there on Jan. 6, and she has not suppressed her memories of profound danger.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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