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Tom Rice says SC GOP 'cowering before Donald Trump' after censure for his impeachment vote

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Trump Impeachment-Rice (copy)

Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., speaks Dec. 18, 2019, as the House of Representatives debated the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington. Rice was one of only 10 House Republicans on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, to join with Democrats in voting to impeach Trump, a stunning reversal from his position just days earlier. File/House Television via AP

COLUMBIA — Top officials at the South Carolina Republican Party voted Saturday to censure U.S. Rep. Tom Rice for his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, delivering a rare formal reprimand to one of their own congressmen.

The S.C. GOP executive committee approved a censure resolution that criticized Rice, a Myrtle Beach Republican starting his fifth term in Congress, for participating in a process that they argued unfairly pinned blame on Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, party officials told The Post and Courier.

"In the first and most consequential vote of the new session, Mr. Rice sided with (Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and the unprincipled Leftists by voting to impeach the President, betraying the Republican voters that supported Mr. Rice enthusiastically during the last two election cycles," the resolution said, according to a copy obtained by The Post and Courier.

Rice told The Post and Courier that he still stands by his impeachment vote even after the state party censure. He criticized the S.C. GOP leadership for not seeing how Trump stirred up protesters and failed to do enough to condemn the rioters as they ransacked the U.S. Capitol building to halt Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

“I think the South Carolina Republican Party has forgotten its own creed that says, ‘I will cower before no man save my God.’ It seems to me they are cowering before Donald Trump,” Rice said. “If the president who did what Donald Trump did that day and sent a mob to stall Congress and the result was an attack on the legislative branch of the United States government, that is a clear violation of the constitution. It’s absolutely a high crime or misdemeanor. I don’t care if the president that does that is Republican or a Democrat, I’m voting for impeachment.”

Rice, who will likely face a fierce primary challenge to keep his seat even after supporting Trump's presidential campaigns and fiscal policies, said he will continue to work S.C. GOP leadership after his censure, though he wished party leaders spoke with him before the vote Saturday.

The S.C. GOP censure was approved by voice vote, with 43 members in favor of the resolution, no members against and two abstaining, according to S.C. GOP spokeswoman Claire Robinson. Voting members hailed from 41 of the state's 46 counties.

While the symbolic move carries no further penalty, it represents an extraordinary rebuke for a sitting GOP congressman by the state party and further demonstrates the extent of the political fallout Rice is facing among Republican activists in his home state and his district that covers the Pee Dee.

The last time the S.C. GOP voted to censure a high-profile elected official in the state came over a decade ago, when they approved one for then-Gov. Mark Sanford after he admitted going secretly on a multi-day excursion to Argentina to carry out an extramarital affair.

S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick, who immediately expressed frustration with Rice shortly after the impeachment vote, said Saturday's censure shows disapproval from the grassroots of the party.

"This is the kind of thing you've come to expect from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat leadership, but it was really disappointing to see any Republicans approve of it, participate in it in any shape, form or fashion, and I think it plays into the Democrats' game," McKissick said.

McKissick said he does not believe Trump deserves any blame for the violence at the Capitol, pointing to reporting in the weeks since that suggests the riot was planned in advance of Trump's speech on the National Mall. Trump repeatedly touted the planned protest on his Twitter feed, encouraging supporters to come to a "wild" rally.

The S.C. GOP executive committee also unanimously voted in favor of a resolution condemning all political violence.

South Carolina is not the first state in recent weeks that has seen the state GOP censure Republican officials for splitting with Trump.

The Arizona GOP voted last week in favor of similar resolutions for former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of the late longtime U.S. Sen. John McCain, for criticizing Trump. They also censured Gov. Doug Ducey for the emergency restrictions he put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some pro-Trump Republicans in Massachusetts are also seeking to censure their GOP Gov. Charlie Baker for supporting the impeachment.

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Rice’s vote to impeach came as a shock to many across his heavily Republican district and beyond, given the congressman’s long track record of supporting Trump.

He campaigned for Trump during both the 2016 and 2020 election cycles and was involved in the creation of tax reform initiatives that became one of Trump's most cherished accomplishments in office.

But on Jan. 6, when hundreds clad in Trump-branded apparel broke into the Capitol Building in an attempt to stop Congress from approving the 2020 election results, Rice said he changed his mind on the president’s fitness to lead. 

Following the riots, Rice still supported objecting to the election results out of concern that some election laws were changed without the constitutional authority to do so.

But in the days following that vote, Rice said he grew increasingly frustrated at Trump’s lackluster response to the violence, the deaths of police officers and his lack of support for Vice President Mike Pence. 

On the day of the impeachment vote, Rice said he wished the articles of impeachment were never brought to a vote. But when asked to vote on if he thought Trump should be president or not, he was one of 10 Republicans to break party lines and support impeachment.

He was the only Republican in the South to vote in favor of impeachment, and the only member of Congress to support both the objection of the election results and subsequent impeachment.

Horry County GOP Co-Chair Dreama Perdue said she and other county chairs began the process of censuring Rice immediately after hearing about his vote. She said she wanted it formally on record that the party doesn’t support Rice turning against Trump.   

The resolution was drafted by Republican Party officials throughout Rice's district and first approved by the Marion County GOP, which then sent it up to the state committee for a vote.

Rice hasn’t faced primary challengers in the last couple election cycles, but that is certain to change in his upcoming campaign. 

Within hours of his impeachment vote, other Republican politicians in the area, including Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson, began publicly mulling the idea of running for the seat in 2022.

State Rep. William Bailey, R-Little River, formally declared he has created an exploratory committee to primary Rice this week, and more candidates are expected to announce in the weeks and months ahead.

Bailey applauded the S.C. GOP's "historic vote" Saturday to censure Rice, saying Rice's impeachment vote "showed the people of his district and South Carolinians across the state that he no longer represents their interests.

Given that Rice is expected to face multiple challengers, McKissick said he does not anticipate the state party will get involved in the primary in a direct effort to oust him from office.

During a contentious telephone town hall meeting with voters this week, Rice said he voted his conscience, acknowledging the move could cost him reelection but saying he hopes voters respect that he will stand up for what he thinks is right.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

Myrtle Beach Reporter

Tyler Fleming covers Myrtle Beach and Horry County for the Post & Courier. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in history and political science. Tyler likes video games, baseball and reading.

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