HORRY COUNTY — A week after shocking the nation, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice faced a mix of responses from his constituents about his surprise vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
Rice held a telephone town hall Monday primarily to provide updates on the COVID-19 vaccination effort, but the majority of questions he received dealt with the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol building riots and his following vote in favor of impeachment.
While the town hall was technically for questions, many of the callers used their moments to tell Rice they would never vote for him again, while others thanked him for taking a stand. Some simply wanted to hear his thoughts straight from the source and one caller asked why he didn’t stand up to Trump sooner.
“As far as I see it, regardless of the terrible violence in Washington, you voted to impeach our president and you voted against your constituencies," one caller said. "Basically you’ve committed political suicide because next time around I don’t think you’re going to get elected."
Horry County GOP co-chair Dreama Perdue said the constituents she's heard from are angry. And on behalf of them, she joined other party leaders to show their opposition to his vote by wanting to formally reprimand him.
Due to S.C. GOP rules, it’s unclear whether the effort to formally censure Rice would be possible in time for the the state party executive committee’s quarterly meeting Saturday.
Rice was one of 10 Republicans in Congress to vote for impeachment and the only GOP member from the South in the group. The congressman had been a longtime supporter of Trump, working with the president in the past to craft tax and economic reform legislation, but the events of Jan. 6 changed his perspective.
“I campaigned for him more than myself,” Rice stated about his loyalty to the president. “I didn’t sign up to protect Donald Trump, I took an oath to protect the Constitution.”
During the riots that attempted to halt the certification of the 2020 Electoral College results, Rice found himself barricaded in an office while rioters roamed the Capitol building calling out Vice President Mike Pence. Trump had singled out Pence for support that day during his campaign's "Stop the Steal" rally and the vice president had to be taken away to safety.
Rice said he felt betrayed by the leader of his party.
“The fact the president would do that to Mike Pence, who has stood by him for four years... It’s inexcusable and unbelievable that a person can be so disloyal to people who have been loyal to him,” Rice said.
A couple callers thanked Rice for his stand, adding that the vote helps heal the partisan divide threatening to rip the country in half.
“I cried on 9/11 when our country was attacked by outsiders,” another caller said. “But I cried, perhaps even harder, seeing our own people attack our government.”
Another caller said he had always supported Rice politically and will continue to do so even after the impeachment vote.
“I think you’re a statesman for doing this,” he said.
Rice said two-thirds of the 6,000 messages sent to his office were from constituents against his vote to impeach. On the other hand, 80 percent of the 500 messages he received to his own cell phone and personal email were in support of him.
The vote has already inspired some to consider challenging Rice in 2022. Horry County Schools Board Chairman Ken Richardson expressed interest in the position but after the system is through the pandemic.
While not addressing any particular challenger, Rice said he knows his vote could cost him re-election and that Trump may start working against him. But he told the callers who were against him that he would work hard to earn their trust in the coming months. He said he will never be someone who lets partisan politics sway him from doing what he thinks is best for the district.
“If you want a congressman that is going to bow down to bullies, and back down when people threaten, who won’t do the right thing and go along with the crowd ... I’m not your guy,” Rice said. “But if you want someone who will stand up for what’s right and protect our Constitution like I took an oath to do, I am your guy.”
Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this report.