Republican Tom Rice, In Heavy Trump District, Voted for Impeachment in Surprise Reversal

Republican Tom Rice, a U.S. Representative from a heavily Republican district in South Carolina, voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday, only days after he had said that he opposed the impeachment effort.

Rice was one of 10 GOP House members to vote for the second impeachment of Trump, for inciting insurrection, following last week's riot by a mob of violent Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol as Congress was meeting to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory. On Monday, the congressman told CBS affiliate WBTW that he would not support the impeachment in the interest of avoiding "further division," while conceding that the outgoing president had "acted recklessly."

"Under the strict definition of the law, I don't know if the President's speech last Wednesday morning amounted to incitement of a riot, but any reasonable person could see the potential for violence," Rice said in a statement after voting in favor of impeachment on Wednesday. "I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable."

Rep. Tom Rice Votes to Impeach Trump
Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) gestures to the crowd during a town hall event in Florence, South Carolina on February 23, 2017. Sean Rayford/Getty

Rice went on to explain that making the decision to impeach Trump was at least partly helped by Trump's behavior both during and after the breach of the Capitol. Rice noted that "the President was watching and tweeted about the Vice President's lack of courage" in failing to overturn the election outcome while Capitol Police were beaten and Congress was forced to go into lockdown.

"For hours while the riot continued, the President communicated only on Twitter and offered only weak requests for restraint," Rice said. "I was on the floor of the House of Representatives when the rioters were beating on the door with tear gas, zip tie restraints, and pipe bombs in their possession. It is only by the grace of God and the blood of the Capitol Police that the death toll was not much, much higher."

"It has been a week since so many were injured, the United States Capitol was ransacked, and six people were killed, including two police officers," added Rice. "Yet, the President has not addressed the nation to ask for calm. He has not visited the injured and grieving. He has not offered condolences. Yesterday in a press briefing at the border, he said his comments were 'perfectly appropriate.'"

Rice has represented South Carolina's 7th Congressional District since 2013. The district is politically dominated by Republicans. Rice defeated his Democratic challenger by a margin of over 20 percent to win reelection for a fourth time in November.

Rice voted in favor of Trump's second impeachment, but he objected to the certification of Biden's Electoral College wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania, with Congress debating the matter hours after the deadly riot occurred. He was also one of 126 Republican representatives to sign a brief in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's failed effort to overturn the election outcome in the U.S. Supreme Court in December.

The violent mob appears to have been primarily fueled by false claims that the election had been "stolen," a notion that many allies of the president and Trump himself had repeatedly pushed in the months following his defeat.

Many in the group that stormed the Capitol with the objective of overturning Biden's win had come from a nearby pro-Trump rally. Trump spoke at the rally, repeating his unverified allegation that he had won the election in a "landslide," while encouraging the crowd to head to the Capitol and urging them to "stop the steal" and "fight like hell."

Newsweek reached out to Rice's office for comment.