Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, fended off a challenge from her conference’s right flank to strip her of her leadership position in a secret ballot vote held late Wednesday night after she voted to impeach Donald J. Trump last month.
The lopsided vote, 145 to 61, according to two people familiar with the results, showed that even as a majority of House Republicans opposed impeaching Mr. Trump, most were not prepared to punish one of their top leaders for doing so — at least not under a blanket of anonymity. It amounted to both a victory for Ms. Cheney, who refused to apologize for voting to impeach Mr. Trump, and a vote of confidence in Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top Republican, who delivered an impassioned speech in Ms. Cheney’s defense.
A fierce and at times painful debate played out in a private meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday night, as lawmakers rose to both air their grievances against Ms. Cheney and defend her.
Members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, some of whom led the charge to strip Ms. Cheney of her post, accused her of “aiding the enemy” by releasing a lengthy statement the day before the impeachment vote explaining why she was supporting the effort against Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the discussion. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the former president’s fiercest defenders, said he felt Ms. Cheney could not represent a conference that had overwhelmingly voted against impeachment, given her own vote.
Other lawmakers said they were particularly upset by Ms. Cheney’s decision to identify herself in her statement as the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
But Ms. Cheney had a number of powerful defenders rally to her side, particularly Mr. McCarthy, who repeatedly made clear throughout the hourslong debate that he wanted Ms. Cheney to remain in leadership, and asked members to let him lead by picking his team.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who previously held the role of conference chairwoman, also rose to speak in support of Ms. Cheney, arguing now was the not the time to change leaders.
And Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump who also voted to impeach him, also spoke in Ms. Cheney’s defense, and accused Mr. McCarthy of doing more to defend Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — who is facing scrutiny for endorsing violent behavior and conspiracy theories in social media posts made before she came to Congress — than to defend Ms. Cheney, calling his leadership “embarrassing.”