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Bentz supported Cheney ouster in need for ’unity’

Oregon Capital Bureau photo U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, whose district in the House of Representatives includes Jackson County, says Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s criticisms of former President Donald Trump distrated the party from more important goals.
Southern Oregon congressman says focus must be on winning back U.S. House

Oregon's lone Republican in Congress said his party's caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives will be better focused now that it has removed an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump from its leadership.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, whose district includes Jackson County, declined to respond to a direct question of whether he voted Wednesday to remove U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, as the GOP House conference chair.

But in a statement after the caucus meeting where a voice vote removed Cheney, Bentz praised the result as positive for Republicans, who are in the narrow 222-212 minority in the House.

"If we are to win back the House in 2022, the Republican caucus must be unified, and we must focus on the real problems the country is facing," Bentz said in the statement.

It was a reversal of Bentz's earlier stance backing Cheney following her vote to impeach Trump for "incitement to insurrection" by encouraging the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead.

A longtime Republican state lawmaker from Ontario, Bentz was elected in November 2020 to represent Oregon's 2nd Congressional District, which takes in most of Eastern, Central and parts of southwestern Oregon.

Bentz replaced Greg Walden, who retired following 20 years in the House. Like Walden, Bentz is the lone Republican in the Oregon congressional delegation, which includes two senators and the other four House members.

After he lost his re-election bid for the White House to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump continued to tout conspiracy theories. He also promoted debunked claims that the election had been stolen from him by widespread voter fraud.

Bentz had been among a group of incoming GOP lawmakers who issued a statement in December calling for "a congressional investigation and review into what has happened in states where election irregularities have been observed."

On Jan. 6, Bentz came to the Capitol planning to challenge the certification by Congress of the Electoral College votes in Pennsylvania. A mob of rioters stormed the Capitol, forcing lawmakers into hiding as they ransacked the chambers and fought with police.

Several hundred rioters are being prosecuted for a wide range of assault and other charges stemming from the attack.

After National Guard troops and police removed the last rioters several hours later, Bentz joined other Republicans in challenging Pennsylvania's vote.

Congress rejected the challenges to Pennsylvania and other votes and certified the election of Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president.

In a press release issued just before 4 a.m. the day after the riot, Bentz said that the certification meant Biden was the legally elected president.

He said he had questioned the outcome because he had heard from constituents who believed the election was tainted by unspecified fraud.

Cheney, a former state department official and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the most high-profile Republican to favor the impeachment of Trump.

Bentz initially helped House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, repulse an attempt Feb. 3 by the Freedom Caucus, the party's most conservative House members, to remove Cheney for her impeachment vote.

In a closed-door meeting, Cheney told colleagues, "I won’t apologize for the vote,” according to the Associated Press.

Bentz said he was convinced by Cheney's argument that she had voted as an individual House member, not in her role as conference chair.

Cheney said she was alarmed by the GOP's turning away from such recent events that she found devastating to the core institutions of American democracy.

In frequent statements, Cheney repeated her call for the party to reject Trump as the first step in rehabilitating the image of Republicans as a part of the long history of peaceful two-party government.

Bentz joined with McCarthy, other former Cheney backers, and the already disenchanted Freedom Caucus to question Cheney's effectiveness as a GOP leader.

It took the House Republican Caucus a little over 20 minutes Wednesday to vote Cheney out.

Cheney said afterward that if Trump runs for the White House in 2024, "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office."

Bentz says he backs the choice of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York., who was chosen to replace Cheney.

In a statement Tuesday, Bentz said Stefanik would put the party's focus on fighting Biden.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Congresswoman Stefanik, with Leader McCarthy and Whip Scalise, will look forward, not back, and that together Republicans will win back the House in 2022."