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A Q&A with Tom Rice: Why he voted for impeachment

The South Carolina Republican joined Democrats in impeaching the president.

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  • 7 min to read

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump — again. 

Trump was first impeached in December of 2019 when he was accused of holding up congressionally-approved aid in return for a Ukrainian investigation into Hunter Biden. That impeachment vote in the House was along party lines, and he was acquitted in the Senate. 

Trump was impeached the second time with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in voting to send Trump to trial in the Senate. He's accused of helping cause the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that halted the congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden's electoral college win, left 100 injured and five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Another officer committed suicide days after the riot.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, who was first elected to South Carolina's 7th congressional district in 2012, was one of those votes. 

Rice had previously said he was against impeachment, and his vote was a surprise to many South Carolina Republicans.

Here's why Rice voted the way he did. 

What factors caused you to change your mind and vote for impeachment? 

Rice: "I didn’t want them to bring forth the impeachment. I thought it would be very divisive for the country. But once they did bring it, and I had to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it was a clear vote for me.                                                                           

"I have backed this president. I supported him in his first election and his second election. I spent more time campaigning for him this time than I did for me; him and Lindsey Graham. I have taken votes for him on the House floor; votes that were easy and votes that were hard. He’s pushed policies that I thought lifted everybody. That’s my goal. American competitiveness and giving the American dream to everybody is my goal and I felt like we made a lot of progress these first three years. But this month he’s done everything he could possibly do to tear it down. 

"What happened last Wednesday with the riot that occurred, I don’t know that his speech that morning was the incitement. I don’t know if that qualifies as incitement of a riot in the technical definition of criminal law — I’m not a criminal lawyer — but I know this: that once the Capitol was breached and there were rioters inside the Capitol and they were tearing the Capitol apart and they were trying to get to the Senate floor and the House floor — the vice president was on the Senate floor — the president tweeted out that the vice president didn’t have the courage to do what was right. He wasn’t worried about the safety of the vice president. 

"He was expressing his anger to the crowd and then when they were beating on the door of the House floor — and I was in there and was shocked that they were able to get that far — it went on for hours and the president offered only very tepid and measured requests for restraints. He would say stuff like ‘The election was stolen and I feel your pain, but don’t be violent,’ and he only offered it on Twitter and he didn’t do press conferences. He didn’t reach out to the American people. He didn’t say ‘Stop,’ he didn’t say ‘Be calm,’ he didn’t say ‘Go home’ for hours. And then when they evacuated us from the House floor and sequestered us across the street and I’m listening for footsteps thinking ‘Anybody could come in with a weapon, and I got no weapon.’ I was doing interviews with local media back home saying ‘Where’s the president?’

"He made no effort — he made the smallest effort he possibly could to say he made any effort at all to quell the violence. And I think he was sitting in the White House watching it on TV and couldn’t be bothered to stop it. I can’t imagine any other president in my lifetime that wouldn’t have done a presidential address and called for calm. That day, Capitol Police officers fighting for their lives and hundreds — I don’t know how many were injured — and one died that day, and many were severely beaten. Another committed suicide later. And the president has not done a presidential address since then, he’s not addressed the nation.

"I can’t imagine an event much more tragic, and he hasn’t addressed the country and asked for calm. Now we’ve got all these warnings from these national intelligence agencies saying that ‘Be vigilant, because we’ve got the potential for armed protests and events.’ And the president, he never said ‘Stop,’ and ‘Go home,’ and ‘Be calm’ and ‘Don’t do this,’ and ‘This is a country of debate and not violence,’ until [Wednesday], when we’re debating his impeachment. In the last 15 minutes, he issues a two-sentence statement. I think he’s abdicated leadership. I think it is abhorrent and I’m completely disappointed and shocked that he’s acted in this way. I think he’s abdicated his leadership.

"I didn’t want the impeachment. I’d have preferred that they just waited the eight days and let him walk away, but if my vote is 'Should he stay president or not?'' I’m going to vote ‘no.’"

What could Trump have done differently for you to vote against impeachment? 

Rice: "I think the main thing he could have done is to have been… much more clear and explicit about ‘This is going to be a peaceful rally;’ number one. Number two, when the violence started, he should have immediately called for calm. He should have done a press conference. He should have gotten every news media possibility, outlet, source, whatever he could possibly do and get out there everywhere. And he should have gotten in his car and ridden to the Capitol and addressed that crowd. That’s what he should have done.  That’s what any thoughtful person would have done; anybody who had put people in danger that way, should have done. And he instead sat in the White House and watched TV."

How is this impeachment different from the last time? 

Rice: "I don’t think he did anything impeachable. In fact, I think often the Democrats are accusing other folks of doing exactly what they’re doing. When Hunter Biden and Joe Biden were over there basically saying ‘We’ve got aid for you but we’re going to give it you unless Hunter Biden gets a job with a natural gas company’ — that’s not exactly what happened but it sure appears that that’s the result of what happened. I think there was a pay-for-play scheme, quid-pro-quo scheme going on there and that’s what they accused Donald Trump of. 

"I think in this case, what happened was the president had his rally. The people marched up to the Capitol. A riot ensued, which any rational person could have foreseen the potential for violence. And the president sat by and watched it happen and made no real attempt to stop it. And the result was that hundreds of police officers and others were injured and some were killed. And that to me is an abdication of leadership, and it’s nothing like what happened last time. It’s not comparable to what happened last time."

Do you think Trump should be convicted in the Senate?

Rice: "One of the things that bothered me about the vote today is that we didn’t take evidence and we didn’t have hearings and all that. I don’t like that, as a lawyer, I really don’t like it and I would have preferred that we do it that way, but we’re not the people who do the trial, it’s the Senate that does the trial. And before any trial they will take evidence. I want them to go through their normal process and whatever they decide, that’s up to them. I’m not going to pre-judge that."

Do you believe that Joe Biden is a legitimately-elected president? 

Rice: "Yes. 

"Now, let me say this: I also believe there were problems with the election. When people in the media say, as they almost universally do, that there was no problems with this election, that there’s no proven issues, that’s garbage. It’s not true. 

"In each of the states where the objections were raised, people who were not in the legislature changed the rules, the law, with respect to the election in the weeks before the election. In the constitution, only the state legislatures have that power. [In] the Pennsylvania state Senate, the president of the Senate and like 30 senators wrote a letter to Congress and said, ‘This is what our attorney general and our state Supreme Court have done to alter the law in the weeks before the election, and they have taken away our purview and we request that you do not certify our electoral votes.’ That’s why I joined in the objection and did that. That doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump, that was about election integrity. 

"What the constitution says is state legislatures have the authority to establish the rules for the elections, the laws for the elections. In each of those cases, people who were not in the legislature, either elected or unelected bureaucrats, changed those rules in the weeks before the election and that’s why I voted to object to the electoral college certification in those states." 

(Editor’s note: Rice’s reasoning for objecting to certifying the electoral college votes in some states was based on changes to the states’ election rules, but he didn’t allege fraud. “They are two different things,” he said.)

Donald Trump got 66% of the vote in Horry County. Do you think your constituents understand the problems with his actions, or will you have to convince them that you made the right decision? 

Rice: "He won the majority of the votes in my district. That was two and a half months ago. That was before last week. That was before six people were killed and hundreds injured and he did nothing to stop it. And he’s taken no responsibility for it and he says that his comments were perfectly adequate. I suspect that if the election was today, it would be different. 

"But, that being said, folks hire me to be their representative. They hire me to take the time to learn about the facts and the law and to make decisions that folks believe they would make if they were here and they had the time to do it. 

"That job is the honor of my life and I love that job and I think I did that today and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I think it was the right vote, but if it costs me the job, then so be it. I understand it and I will go on with my life and move on."

What’s your vision for the future of the Republican Party for the next four years with Joe Biden as president?

Rice: "On many major issues, we are 180 degrees different. So what I plan to do is look for areas where we do agree and try to move forward on those. My goal when I ran for Congress in 2012 and today is to make our country a competitive place to do business and to give everybody opportunity. I want everybody to have a job. And a lot of Joe Biden’s policies I think are antithetic to that goal. So on those, I will oppose him. But I will always be looking for areas where we do agree, where we can move forward, and try to push things forward. My goal is for everybody to have a shot at the American dream."

Do you believe the Republican Party has a place for Trump in the future?

Rice: "I hope so. I think that he did a lot of good his first three years and I think I helped him do it. And I think we lifted people up. But I sure think he is doing his dead level best to tear it all down in his last month. 

"I hope that he has the grace to finish strong and to usher in this new administration and for us to move forward."

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(2) comments

joeflo29579

I am thoroughly disgusted with Tom Rice. I voted for him twice, ut never will again!! Too many representatives after they are elected that they were put there to represent the people that elected them. Most people in his district are strong Trump supporters and he is supposed to support them as well as the President. I don't know who bought this guy off, but he had better enjoy his LAST term in office, as he has doomed his future!!

NoMoreRice

[angry] There are enough problems in our country and now we have to deal with impeachment of President Trump for something that was planned days before he gave his speech. Shame on you and you will have to live knowing that you had a part in causing the violence that seems to be ahead of us because of your vote.

I, like many others in Myrtle Beach, will do my best to be sure you're not reelected.

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