On Jan. 13, 2021, Rep. Tom Rice, R.S.C., was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump, accused of inciting his supporters to attack the US Capitol. That vote earned him condemnation from Trump and a sea of challengers trying to unseat him in the June GOP primary.
While none of Rice’s fellow Republicans who voted for impeachment said they regretted their vote, four chose not to run for re-election. Trump has already endorsed one of Rice’s competitors, State Rep. Russell Fry, and thus turned the primary into another proxy war over the party’s future.
Rice’s impeachment vote weighed throughout Thursday’s debate between five of the candidates vying for the Republican nomination, and when Rice was asked to justify his impeachment vote, the congressman was ready. . Over the next three minutes, Rice both defended her decision and fired at the hypocrisy of her own party leadership.
“Democracy is a fragile thing,” Rice began, “and the only thing we have to protect ourselves from tyranny is our Constitution, and our Constitution must be protected at all costs.”
Rice described the scene inside the Capitol during the attack, then said that after they were evacuated, he couldn’t understand why Trump hadn’t yet appeared on Fox News to help quell the violence. About 20 minutes into the assault, Trump tweeted an attack on Vice President Mike Pence, whom he had pressured to unilaterally overturn the 2020 election results. That, for Rice, was the last straw. water that broke the camel’s back.
“My friends, you may wonder if his speech that morning was incitement or not, but to me, that tweet was incitement,” Rice said. “If they had gotten hold of Mike Pence, we could have lost our democracy that day.”
“So, in my view, our Constitution is too precious to risk,” Rice continued. “And the only difference between me and all these leaders in Washington who said, ‘Oh, Donald Trump has gone too far. He should be impeached. He should be impeached,” then voted the other way? I took a principled stand and defended our Constitution.
There are three main takeaways from this brief speech.
First, that kicker was an obvious dig at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Last month, two reporters released audio of McCarthy chatting with House GOP leaders and blaming Trump for the attack. Alluding to McCarthy’s later creeps, it’s clear that Rice hopes that McCarthy’s cowardice, not his own political bravery, is seen as the real sin here.
Second, when it comes to discussions of Republicans who have stepped up to defend democracy, it seems to me that the only reason we haven’t heard Rice’s name as much as the names of Rep. Liz Cheney, R -Wyo., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., is that Rice is not on the Jan. 6 committee with them. Rice was one of 35 Republicans to vote in favor of creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack. In December, he told Politico he didn’t regret his impeachment vote – but he regretted voting against certifying Joe Biden’s victory even after the attack.
Rice’s endorsement of his vote — more so than Trump’s endorsement of a rival — is to me what defines the stakes in his primary and the future of the Republican Party.
“In the wee hours of that disgraceful night, waiting for our great country’s Capitol to be secured, I knew I had to vote to certify,” Rice said. “But because I had made a public announcement of my intention to object, I did not want to go back on my word. So yes, I regret my objection vote.
Third, Rice’s endorsement of his vote — more so than Trump’s endorsement of a rival — is to me what defines the stakes in his primary and the future of the Republican Party. Rice is definitely a conservative and definitely a supporter. When Trump was in office, he supported almost every policy put to a vote. During this Congress, he voted against virtually every Democratic legislative priority to come to the House.
Without his willingness to recall Trump’s role on Jan. 6, Rice would have no problem being reelected. There was no poll in his district, so we can’t judge on that front yet. But he has $1.5 million more in his campaign war chest than Fry — none of the other candidates come close. Fry is seen by some local conservatives as a near-clone of Rice — but Rice happened to be the one who voted to impeach Trump, the Myrtle Beach Sun News reported. His district’s Republican Party chairman even told South Carolina Public Radio reporter Victoria Hansen that if not for his impeachment vote, he “could have kept his job forever,” she said. to an NPR podcast in February.
Plus, Rice knows his constituents resent him for “betraying” Trump — and he could have run away from that vote, pulling a McCarthy and begging Trump for forgiveness. Instead, he made peace with the fact that it might cost him his seat. According to this NPR podcast from February, Rice said that “if the consequences are that people think what happened is OK, then, you know, I guess I’m not the guy.”
It is, I think, the bare minimum, the absolute floor, of what we should expect from elected officials. Because he’s right: if his district really chooses to drop him because of his vote against Trump, that’s democracy in action. That doesn’t mean, however, that he should go quietly or help them attack the Constitution he’s sworn to uphold.