Congressman Tom Rice, SC-7, told his staff not to come into work on Wednesday, Jan. 6, ahead of him voting to protest the electors from swing states.
He had an uneasy feeling that the streets of D.C. would be filled with political rallies and the chance for turmoil would be high. What he didn’t suspect was by Wednesday afternoon the very halls of the U.S. Capitol building would be flooded by a mob of President Donald Trump supporters attempting an insurrection with the encouragement of the sitting president.
The Myrtle Beach and Georgetown representative said he was shocked when he heard security announce there was a breach in what he thought was a secure building. Then the president’s supporters began banging on the doors to get into the House of Representatives in an unsuccessful effort to intimidate congress from certifying the election.
Rice tweeted “where is the president?” in response to what he was seeing.
“He needed to be showing himself as a leader and defusing the situation,” Rice said in an interview with the Post & Courier, regretful that the president’s supporters were involved in attack the Capitol.
As the day went on, Rice hoped the president would strongly condemn the mob. But after a lackluster response in which the president took a soft tone on the insurrection, Rice felt like the mayor of D.C. was acting more like a leader than the man holding the highest office in the land.
“I watched the president’s speech and I was just cringing,” Rice said. “This whole idea that we could overturn the election was a lie from the beginning primarily because Trump is such a lightning rod and he was saying ‘if Republicans fight hard enough I’ll get four more years.’ That was a lie from the beginning because the Democrats control the house.”
As the mob was escorted out, and only a handful of arrests made, Rice was able to return to the chambers to cast his ballot. To that point, Rice hadn’t taken a public stance on if he would oppose the certification of the electoral college.
Ultimately, and despite the day’s events, he sided to join the protest of the election with his other Republicans in the state delegation, save newcomer Rep. Nancy Mace out of Charleston.
“I was actually on the fence until (Wednesday),” Rice said. “I signed on and then 30 minutes later we were under siege.”
Congress, with bipartisan support, upheld the general election and electoral college outcome on Wednesday by declaring Joseph Biden the 46th President of the United States.
Despite the insurrectionists best efforts, the unruly mob couldn’t change reality.
Rice said he knew that the election protest had no chance of succeeding and that Biden was on the path to being the next president. He said he believes there was some level of fraud in the election, as there have been in previous elections, but suspects the evidence doesn’t support there being enough of it to give Trump another four years.
As congressional leaders and Republican party leaders touted the objection as a viable way to help Trump secure another term, Rice felt the public was being lied to. There simply was not an outcome where either the Republican-majority Senate or the Democratic-majority House had the level of support for an objection to be successful.
“(Trump) created this expectation. It wasn’t just him saying this, it was Ted Cruz and Jim Jordan who were saying ‘we are going to put this up’ but there was no chance it would ever happen,” Rice said. “And for him to whip people up like that with that atmosphere to tell people to walk down to the Capitol and confront congress was a terrible thing to do, it was totally irresponsible.”
As the siege happened, Rice said he got more and more angry with the president and the response to the crisis from the White House.
“I think it was two huge failures on his part,” Rice said. “Then why did it take the National Guard so long to get out there? I’m not sure the White House didn’t have something to do with that.”
But Rice objected to the electors anyways.
He claims his personal reason for signing onto the objection was over a matter of constitutional law. The proof of fraud he saw was not enough to overcome the vote totals, but he was concerned about the role states play in elections.
Previously Rice had taken sides with those questioning the electoral process. He signed onto a lawsuit out of Texas that sought Supreme Court intervention over the allowed conditions of the election in several swing states that ended up going for Biden.
To Rice, this legal action wasn’t about uprooting massive fraud. He signed onto the briefing out of his belief that ahead of Nov. 3 many justices and government officials were out-of-line on rulings about which ballots should count and how the election would proceed.
Essentially Rice’s argument is that the constitution allows only state legislatures to make the election laws and he was against justices and non-elected government officials overturning those laws or changing them in the weeks and days leading up to election night. He believes only those in statehouse have that right.
Rice said he further believes the legislatures in swing states like Georgia and Pennsylvania didn’t fully realize the impact of the court decisions until after the election was over. For example, he pointed to court rulings in Pennsylvania that waived absentee requirements and filing period without legislative approval.
“I felt like there were legitimate grounds for it,” Rice said before the vote. “The Texas lawsuit was about the constitution saying the legislatures will decide ... so is that a valid constitutional question?”
Article I of the Constitution does leave election laws up to the states, but as with many legal questions involving the Constitution, it’s up to the courts to interpret the law. Likewise, the role of congress to protest the electoral college is also a matter of constitutional debate.
The Supreme Court ultimately did not take up the Texas lawsuit since the filers were not in the states of the laws they were questioning, but Rice said other lawsuits with similar arguments are originating in many swing states.
In addition, many of Rice’s party members, including Sen. Tim Scott, as well as the Democrats, argued it was inappropriate for congress to intervene in elections like the rioters wanted. Rice respected both ways of viewing the constitutional provisions, but ultimately a statement from Vice President Mike Pence and a letter from the Pennsylvania legislature swayed his vote.
“The letter from the Pennsylvania legislatures said they felt their prerogative had been throated and they have no recourse because their supreme court is partisan,” he said.
Rice said he is an accountant and not an expert on election laws, but he tried to hear out both sides and made the decision that made most sense to him. And early Thursday morning, he sided with the objectors, a group that included members of congress that had made false claims of rampant fraud without supplying any material evidence.
“It wasn’t about shoring up Donald Trump, it was about shoring up our election system,” Rice said. “And in terms of yesterday, the president acted terribly and the result was a disaster.”
A new administration is coming and the Democrats have control over both houses of Congress. Rice said it is time for the current president to congratulate Biden on the victory and to move on.
Barring any unforeseen delay, Biden is expected to become the next president at noon Jan. 20.
“As far as I am concerned, it is time for (Trump) to congratulate Mr. Biden, pack his bags and get out of there,” Rice said. “I think the nation is horrified right now, but I also believe there is a cause for the anger. It is partisan and ineffective governing and it’s the ‘team media’ that whips people into a frenzy. I think the president plays into that, I think the media plays into that and I think the Democratic leadership plays into that. We all need to tone it down.”
For Rice, he has two takeaways from the vote and riot on Jan. 6.
The first being that lying and stirring up the public for years can have awful consequences, no matter who does it. He said more should have been done to stand up to unsubstantiated claims of fraud in both 2016 and now.
As seen on Wednesday, he said, when people feel they were not heard in the election, even if their concerns aren’t justified, it can lead to rash and deadly actions.
“If you get to the point where you feel your vote doesn’t matter what is your recourse,” Rice asked. “So we have to make sure our elections are proper and administered in a way people believe is fair.”
But Rice will accept Biden as the new president, even if he wishes Republicans maintained control of government.