Before he left the Capitol, Rice said his phone rang. On the other side was Steve Scalise from Louisiana, who did not believe he would indict the then president.
“I said, ‘I pressed the right button,'” said Rice.
But Trump supporters at home don’t believe he did it. Rice could now be one of the few members of Congress who has a political price to pay for this vote. In the weeks that followed, several Republicans either campaigned or threatened to crack down on the five-year-old congressman, knowing that 59% of the Myrtle Beach-based district backed the former president through Joe Biden.
“There’s a firestorm going on,” said Katon Dawson, former South Carolina GOP chairman and Rice ally. “South Carolina is big for Donald Trump.”
But Rice doesn’t regret it. He spent the days leading up to the vote “doing everything I could find”, what Trump was doing and whether it would match the alleged “inciting insurgency” charge.
“The more I read, the angrier I get,” Rice told CNN in an interview last week before the Senate acquitted Trump.
“There were very close matchups where I could go either way and sometimes I value myself,” said Rice. “This is not one of those voices.”
Rice, a CPA and tax attorney, has held the party line since arriving in Congress in 2013 and serves as the reluctant financial conservative on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. He voted with and for Trump 94% of the time in the 2020 presidential election. His conservative approach has resulted in sweeping Republican victories and easy re-elections. But Rice’s political career is suddenly in jeopardy, both from corporate political action committees that have suspended their donations and some Trump supporters who are angry about his impeachment vote.
GOP challengers emerge
Before the January 6th rampage in the Capitol, Trump repeatedly urged his supporters to “stop the theft!” In a speech on that day, he urged his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically make their voices heard”, but also to “fight like hell”, “never give up” and “never admit”.
Rice noted that Trump tweeted that then-Vice President Mike Pence lacked the “courage” to oversee the confirmation of the election, which was his constitutional obligation, during the uprising. The mob searched for Pence and the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and rummaged in the senators’ desks on the chamber floor.
Some of the Trump supporters were dressed in tactical gear and armed with zip ties. Others held Trump 2020 flags, broke windows with poles, and set up a gallows for pence. Five people died, including Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, and about 140 police officers were injured.
Rice said it was clear that Trump committed the crime and agreed with many of the points the property managers raised during the impeachment process last week.
“If that’s not a major felony or misdemeanor, I don’t know what it is,” said Rice of Trump’s actions on the day. “I don’t know what the president could have made worse if he hadn’t come down himself and shot us or something.”
The vast majority of his colleagues disagree. Reis is only one of ten Republicans in the House who voted for the indictment. Some of the others have already received primary challengers, but eight of them serve as Rice in less Trump-friendly districts. The ninth is Wyoming MP Liz Cheney, who deserves the wrath of the Trump family but may be better able to handle it because of her stature and a brand built by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who held her seat from 1979 to 1979 1989. At home, many Republicans are angry at what they consider to be unconstitutional impeachment proceedings. The South Carolina Republican Party voted last month to officially reprimand Rice. State lawmakers, including Rep. Russell Fry, a member of the GOP leadership of South Carolina House, are currently considering offers for his seat.
Ken Richardson, chairman of the Horry County Board of Education, has already announced his campaign. Richardson told CNN that he had planned to run against the congressman in 2024 after serving another term in his office, but extended his timeframe following the impeachment vote.
“Sometimes when stars are lined up you have to take advantage of that,” said Richardson.
Republican MP Heather Ammons Crawford said voters in Rice’s district were “very angry” with his vote. When asked if Trump played a role in the deadly uprising, she said, “It really doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the voters think.”
Rice admitted that his decision affected Republicans in his district, claiming his office had received about 5,000 anti-impeachment calls and 4,000 in favor, but said his opponents would be “hard” to gain ground. if their basis for running on justification lay the attack on the Capitol.
Rice said he will launch a campaign on his file in 2022, working on issues such as beach food, hurricane relief and port infrastructure for his tourism-dependent district in the northeast lowlands of Palmetto State.
He said he was helping the Biden administration spend billions more to boost vaccine production and distribution and would consider “a little more incentive” for Americans. But he said he opposed the Democrats’ general Covid-19 aid proposal.
“There are just too many things on this liberal $ 1.9 trillion wish list that I just can’t stand,” said Rice.
“He knew he was going to catch a little devil”
Some Republican strategists said it was too early to say whether Rice’s vote could cost him his seat. Rice received nearly 62% of the vote in 2020 and his campaign is worth more than $ 1.1 million.
Walter Whetsell, a Rice campaign advisor, claimed the primaries were in over a year and the anger had subsided a month ago.
“It will be really difficult to run a campaign against Tom Rice based on some Trump factors,” said Whetsell. “He has a very, very solid record of supporting the things in Congress that Donald Trump fought for.”
J. Edward Bell III, a South Carolina attorney who has donated to Democrats and Republicans, including Rice, said he was “delighted as I could be to see someone choose their conscience”.
“He knew he was going to catch a little devil, but I think in the long run if the Trump … shine wears off, I think he will be looked back as a visionary,” Bell said.
Rice himself believes that Trump is the one who has lost political support. If the presidential election took place now, Trump would lose to Biden in a “landslide”.
“I can absolutely assure you that he would not get anywhere near 74 million votes,” said Rice. “I doubt he would win my district today.”
Still, Rice could use the help of the business wing of the Republican Party.
Many companies decided to suspend and review their donations to the 147 Republicans in Congress who protested against the 2020 election being confirmed. This was a typically humble affair that the pro-Trump rioters made a last stand to overthrow the election.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, over 60% of Rice’s input to his final re-election race came from political action committees. Aflac, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the National Association of Realtors and Home Depot officials told CNN that their PACs are still rethinking their contribution policies to Rice and other lawmakers, referring to what they said after the riot.
Rice pointed out that some House Democrats had also protested the certification in previous election cycles. “I think Republicans are the only ones expected to be responsible for this,” he said.
But Rice said he had “no regrets raising the issue of election fraud” despite the lack of widespread evidence of it and Trump losing numerous challenges in court. He said a letter from the Pennsylvania Senate President was instrumental in his decision to appeal, despite “questioning” him about the violation of the Capitol. He said he had already announced his position and “did not want to return to my word” and change it.
Rice clearly did not appreciate Trump’s heavily armed approach to this vote or the pro-Trump mob who used violence to advance his point.
“This is the executive that is attacking the legislature,” said Rice. “And I don’t do well with bullies.”