Date March 12, 2024
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At Brown, former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney emphasizes the importance of upholding the Constitution

Speaking at the University’s 103rd Ogden Memorial Lecture, the former Wyoming congresswoman shared her views on the significance of civic engagement and the dangers of following “cult of personality” leaders.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The day after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building, Liz Cheney, then a U.S. congresswoman representing Wyoming, had a realization at the dinner table she shared with her husband and two youngest kids.

“I’ve grown up in a country where I never questioned, ‘oh, we’re going to have a peaceful transfer [of power after a presidential election]’, and [remember] thinking… are my children going to be able to say that?” Cheney said at Brown University on Tuesday, March 12. “I feel a tremendous dedication and commitment to… make sure that all of our kids grow up in that country.”

Doing so, said Cheney, the mother of five children, involves putting politics aside in favor of defending the U.S. Constitution. Citing a reference presidential candidate Al Gore made to 19th century Sen. Stephan A. Douglas in Gore’s 2000 concession speech — which she called one of the finest speeches in American political history — she said: “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.”

Before a crowd of more than 600 people, including former U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, both of whom represented Rhode Island, Cheney delivered the University’s 103rd Ogden Memorial Lecture at Brown’s Salomon Center for Teaching with a talk titled “Defending Democracy.”

On the day of the Georgia presidential primaries, the former U.S. representative for Wyoming’s at-large congressional district discussed her views on why former president Donald Trump is not a suitable candidate for reelection; shared personal anecdotes about getting involved with politics in childhood as the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; and urged civic engagement through voting and running for public office.

In her remarks, Cheney — who wrote the memoir “Oath and Honor,” published in December — implored the audience to hold Trump accountable for his lack of response to shut down the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

“A president who knows the Capitol is under assault and does nothing and refuses to tell the mob to leave: That’s depravity,” Cheney said. “And we can’t ever as a nation look away from that. We have an obligation to remember. We have an obligation to tell the truth about what happened.”

The longtime Republican added that she is proud of her work serving as vice chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. “As a committee, we reflected many times on the non-partisan nature of what we were doing,” Cheney said.

If anyone came into the event at Brown wondering whether Cheney was unsure about who will make a better fit in an increasingly certain Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden election rematch, she left little doubt: “There are lot of Joe Biden's policies… that I don't like very much, but we can recover from bad policies,” she said. “We can't recover from a president torching the Constitution.”

The personal anecdotes Cheney shared included describing how she sealed envelopes for former U.S. President Gerald Ford’s campaign as a child in the 1970s and had a formative experience studying law at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, under the tutelage of professors like Barack Obama and Elena Kagan.

She urged attendees not to feel hopeless about the state of the American political system, noting that she was speaking especially to women when she said: “Please run for office today. I know how tempting it can be to say, ‘What a mess, why would I want to do that?’ But you have to do it. We need you to do it.”

Cheney, who lost her seat in Congress in 2022, added that she would not rule out running for office again.

The lecture was followed by a wide-ranging Q&A session moderated by Brown President Christina H. Paxson, who asked questions submitted by students, faculty and other community members covering issues including disinformation, the future of the Republican party and the current conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Asked about the violence in the Middle East, Cheney, who was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she is a strong supporter of Israel and that there “is no context that justifies the slaughter we saw on Oct. 7.” She added that it is necessary to defeat Hamas so Palestinians can live in peace. “Hamas is responsible for the conditions in which the Palestinian people are living today. And I think that any innocent death is horrific.”

As for Cheney’s advice for young people, including the many Brown students in the audience, she encouraged not giving up on politics as the country faces immense challenges. 

“The energy and the commitment and the passion that young people bring to all of these issues, that's the ingredient that we need to save the country,” she said. “And as long as you work on issues that you care about, and then you go and you vote. You have to go vote.”