Tom Rice faces setbacks

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Before leaving the Capitol, his phone rang, according to Rice. On the other line was House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who did not believe he actually intended to accuse the then president.

“I said, ‘I pressed the right button,'” Rice said.

But Trump’s supporters at home do not think he did. Rice may now be one of the few members of Congress facing a political award for this vote. In the following weeks, several Republicans have either launched campaigns or threatened to run against the five-time congressman, knowing that 59% of the Myrtle Beach-based district supported the former president over Joe Biden.

“There’s a firestorm,” said Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina GOP president and Rice ally. “South Carolina is big for Donald Trump.”

But rice does not regret. He spent the days leading up to the vote “pulling out everything I could find” about what Trump was doing and whether it would fit the alleged charge, “incitement to rebellion.”

“The more I read, the more mad I became,” Rice told CNN in an interview last week before the Senate acquitted Trump.

“There have been very close voices where I could go both ways, and sometimes I guess myself,” Rice said. “This is not one of those voices.”

Rice, a CPA and tax lawyer, has held the party line since joining Congress in 2013 and served as a low-key fiscal conservative on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. He voted with Trump 94% of the time and for him in the 2020 presidential election. His conservative approach has led to sweeping Republican primary victories and easy re-election.
But Rise’s political career is suddenly in jeopardy, whipped by both corporate policy action committees that have suspended their donations and by some Trump supporters who are furious at his prosecution.

GOP challengers show up

Before the riots at the Capitol on January 6, Trump repeatedly asked his supporters to “stop stealing!” In a speech that day, he urged his supporters “to make your voices heard peacefully and patriotically,” but also to “fight like hell,” “never give up,” and “never admit.”

Rice has noted that Trump tweeted that then-Vice President Mike Pence lacked the “courage” to oversee the certification of the election, which was his constitutional obligation, during the uprising. The crowd searched for Pence and House speaker Nancy Pelosi, rummaging through the senators’ desks on the chamber floor.

Some of Trump’s supporters were dressed in tactical gear, armed with a zipper. Others held Trump 2020 flags, broke windows with rods and put a gallows up to Pence. Five people died, including the Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknickand about 140 officers were wounded.

Rice said it was clear that Trump committed the crime and agreed with many of the points made by House leaders during the prosecution last week.

“If it’s not a high crime or misdemeanor, I do not know what it is,” Rice of Trump’s actions said that day. “I do not know what the president could have done worse unless he himself came down there and started shooting at us or something like that.”

The Republican rep.  Tom Rice listens to a voter during a 2017 City Hall meeting in Society Hill, South Carolina.
The vast majority of his colleagues disagree. Rice is just one of ten House Republicans who voted to accuse. Some of the others has also already received primary challengers, but eight of them are earning in less Trump-friendly districts end rice. The ninth is the Wyoming rep. Liz Cheney, who has served the wrath of the Trump family but may be better able to handle it because of her stature and a name tag built by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who held his seat from 1979 to 1989.
At home, many Republicans are furious at what they consider a constitutional prosecution. South Carolina Republican Party voted last month to formally censor rice. State legislators including rep. Russell Fry, a member of the South Carolina House GOP management, is now considering bidding 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 fight the congressman in 2024 after completing another term in his office, but moved up in his time frame after the prosecution.

“Sometimes when stars line up, you have to take advantage of it,” Richardson said.

Republican State Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford said voters in Rice’s district are “very sorry.” When asked if Trump played a role in the deadly uprising, she said, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what voters think.”

Rice acknowledged that his decision concerned Republicans in his district, claiming that his office received about 5,000 calls from his constituents against the charge and 4,000 for, but said his opponents would have “difficulty” gaining traction if their basis for running is on justification the attack on the Capitol.

Rice said he would fight in 2022 on his record and work on topics such as beach industry, hurricane relief and port infrastructure for his tourist-dependent district in the northeastern lowlands of Palmetto state.

He said he supports the Biden administration in spending billions more on increasing vaccine production and distribution and will consider “a little more stimulus” for Americans. But he said he was against the Democrats’ overall Covid-19 relief proposal.

“There’s just too many things in this $ 1.9 trillion, pork-filled liberal wish list that I just can not stomach,” Rice said.

‘He knew he wanted to catch a little devil’

Some Republican strategists said it was too early to say whether Rise’s vote could cost him his seat. Rice received almost 62% of the vote in 2020, and his campaign has over $ 1.1 million available.

Walter Whetsell, a Rice campaign adviser, claimed the primary election is over a year from now and the anger has subsided from even a month ago.

“It’s really going to be hard to run a campaign against Tom Rice based on some Trump factors,” Whetsell said. “He has a very, very solid record for supporting the things in Congress that Donald Trump fought for.”

J. Edward Bell III, a lawyer in South Carolina who has donated to Democrats and Republicans including Rice, said he was “as happy as I could be to see someone vote their conscience.”

“He knew he wanted to catch a little devil, but I think in the long run, when Trump … the brilliance starts to wane, I think he’ll be considered a visionary,” Bell said.

Rice himself believes that Trump is the one who has lost political support. If the presidential election were held now, he said Trump would lose to Biden in a “landslide.”

“I can definitely assure you that he would not get anything approaching 74 million votes,” Rice said. “I doubt he would win my district today.”

Rep.  Tom Rice speaks at a town hall meeting at the Florence County Library in 2017 in Florence, South Carolina.

Still, Rice could use the help of the Republican Party’s business wing.

Many companies decided to suspend and review their donations to the 147 Republicans in Congress who protested the certification of the 2020 election, a typical humdrum affair that the pro-Trump rebels became a last resort to overthrow the election.

Over 60% of Rice’s contribution to his last race came, according to political committees to the Center for Responsive Policy. But Aflac, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, National Association of Realtors and Home Depot representatives told CNN that their PACs are still reassessing their contribution policies to Rice and other lawmakers, citing their statements in the wake of the uprising.

Rice pointed out that some House Democrats in previous election cycles had also opposed the certification. “I assume Republicans are the only ones expected to be held accountable,” he said.

But Rice said he does not “regret having raised the issue” of voter fraud, even though there is no broad evidence of it, and Trump lost several challenges in court. He said a letter from the Pennsylvania Senate president was critical of his decision to object, though he “guessed” it after breaking 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 the vote or the pro-Trump mob that used violence to make his point.

“This is the executive branch that is attacking the legislature,” Rice said. “And I do not suffer bullies well.”

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