Tom Rice Slams Biden, Trump, Warns Political Leaders Aim to 'Rip Us Apart'

Representative Tom Rice, a South Carolina Republican, isn't afraid to criticize GOP leaders along with Democratic ones, warning that some of those currently in power are working to "rip us apart."

Along with nine other House Republicans, Rice bucked his party and voted to impeach former President Donald Trump following the January 6, 2021 attack against the U.S. Capitol. Although the GOP congressman voted with Trump the vast majority of the time, and still speaks favorably about much of the "consequential" former president's agenda, he is deeply against what happened when Trump's supporters assaulted the federal legislative branch of government a little more than 16 months ago.

"If anybody tears up our Constitution, shreds our Constitution, as what happened on January 6, I'm going to try to hold them accountable. I don't care if they're a red team or a blue team," he told Newsweek in a phone interview this week.

That view has earned him praise from conservatives like Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, and the endorsement of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Meanwhile, it has garnered the ire of Trump and resulted in the former president endorsing Rice's GOP primary challenger, South Carolina state House Representative Russell Fry. When the two Republicans go head-to-head for their party's nomination on June 14, it will be widely viewed as a test of Trump's continued influence over the party. Rice, for his part, remains confident the voters will ultimately continue to back him.

Rep. Tom Rice
Representative Tom Rice (R-South Carolina) will face off against a Trump-endorsed opponent in his GOP primary on June 14. Above, Rice questions Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig as he testifies before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee on March 17 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The congressman expressed his concern about the political divisions in Congress, contending that the House select committee investigating January 6 is unlikely to produce what will be viewed as a fair assessment by many on the political right. Rice said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, made the committee "more partisan than it needed to be," and also criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, for opposing an initially proposed bipartisan committee.

Newsweek spoke with Rice by phone on Monday. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

You're just under a month out from your primary in South Carolina. How are you feeling about the race and what are you hearing from voters on the ground? Are they talking about your impeachment vote against former President Trump?

Most people don't, but some do. I think that it's certainly on the forefront of the minds of people on both ends of the spectrum. I get approached all the time by people if I'm in a restaurant or grocery store or whatever, and they come up and thank me. Most of them thank me. And I know there's a lot of them who don't approach me that are angry. I'll see how many of each of them there are come Election Day.

I'm feeling pretty good about it. I know that vote was certainly a very public thing, and it angered some people. So I know that this election will be harder than my elections—my primary elections in the past. But, you know, I'm very proud of my record and very proud of what I've done for the district. I think people are much better off because of it. I'm reminding them of those things.

Speaking of your record, I believe you voted with President Trump something like 90 to 94 percent of the time, according to some analyses...

Yeah, according to the Real Clear Politics analysis, I think it was—there's two of them. Or maybe it's FiveThirtyEight, I don't know. One of them, I voted 169 out of 180 times with him. I voted against him 11 times and one of those is impeachment. So that's ten. I voted against him on spending bills, because I thought he was spending too much money four times. I voted against him on—he wanted to withdraw aid from Ukraine that had been in place since Russia invaded Crimea. I thought that was a bad idea. He wanted to end some of the sanctions on Russia, with Russia still in Crimea. I thought it was a bad idea. So I voted against him. There's one other thing, off the top of my head, I was thinking about this a little while ago, but seven out of those other ten—I think most people in my district would agree with.

I guess it would be pretty safe to say that largely—with of course the exception being what happened on January 6, 2021—you generally agree with the former president and his Make America Great Again movement?

Look, I think the president, before he was ever thought of as the president, before he ever announced he was running—you know I ran 2012. I took office in 2013. Unemployment across my district, average 12 or 13 percent. People couldn't find a job and they were having to leave the district and go to other places. I wanted our district to thrive and I wanted our country to thrive. So I thought that the federal government and our economic system, was holding our economy back. And I ran on Make America Competitive Again. I wanted to do tax reform, trade reform. I wanted to exploit, you know, reasonably, our fuel resources and a lot of the very things that President Trump—you know, I worked on it when President Obama was there, we didn't make all that much progress. When President Trump came, he had the same agenda. That's why I voted with him. It's not because I loved Donald Trump. It's because his agenda was my agenda before he ever came along. And I'm proud of what we accomplished together.

I was one of the drafters of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. I went to Mexico City and I went to Toronto with Bob Lighthizer, who was Trump's trade rep, to renegotiate the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement]. I defended Trump and the tariffs to pull China to the table when Republicans and Democrats were arguing that it was too hard and that we shouldn't impose those. I'm proud of how far we came and what it did. The unemployment rate in my district dropped by 75 percent. Poverty at record lows. Wages were growing at over 3 percent, which hadn't happened in decades.

What I thought was right, and what President Trump helped put in place, proved to be exactly right. He was a consequential president. And I campaigned for him when he campaigned in 2020. And I was disappointed when he lost. But he lost. You can't— if anybody, if anybody erodes our Constitution, if anybody tears up our Constitution, shreds our Constitution, as what happened on January 6, I'm going to try to hold them accountable. I don't care if they're a red team or a blue team. To me, the source of our freedom and our prosperity is that Constitution. It's too fragile, even if it's close. I'm going to hold those people accountable. And I really think deep down in their heart, even the conservatives that are angry with me, they understand that.

Why do you think so few of your House Republican colleagues made that choice along with you? It was just you and nine others.

Everybody has their own viewpoint. To me, it's inarguable. What does frustrate me is things like the leadership of the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell says Trump's responsible and doesn't vote to hold him responsible. [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy tells his leadership team that Trump is responsible and that he should be impeached or that he should be removed under Article 25 and then votes the other way, and then castigates other people for holding Trump accountable, for doing exactly what he said should be done. He castigates them for that. I just, I don't understand that. And I think that's one of the problems with Washington. People's opinion of Washington is that they believe that the people in Washington operate under a different set of rules, and if they do something wrong, nobody holds them accountable. They're like elitist.

I believe, again, if you're going to try to destroy my Constitution, the thing that provides me with my freedom and prosperity, then I will hold you accountable. I don't care if it's the blue team or the red team. We've got to get out of this team stuff and we got to do what's right. For me it was a very clear choice.

You mentioned McCarthy. Fellow GOP Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, they've been very critical of him as well. If you do win your reelection, and it looks like Republicans are likely to take the majority at this point, would you support McCarthy for speaker?

I haven't reached a decision on that yet.

Late last year, you told Politico that you regret voting not to certify President Joe Biden's win on January 6. You also still said that there were "real issues" with the 2020 election. But you just said now that Trump didn't win. So what do you mean when you say that there were real issues? Or has that view changed?

No, I haven't changed. What happened was various officials or agencies or courts changed the election rules based on the coronavirus in the lead-up to the November 2020 election. There's a real legal issue on whether or not they can do that under the Constitution. The Constitution specifically says that those state legislatures themselves will establish the rules for the election, not the courts, not the secretary of state, nobody else. Now, here's the problem. President Trump had a huge legal defense and he knew this was going on, and he could have challenged it before the election. Once the election's over and they certify, that's the end of it.

I gave him every chance to defend his position. He didn't produce anything meaningful in terms of fraud. And the folks he hired were just, what's the right way to say this? He should have hired a much more professional team than [attorneys] Lin Wood and Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. They didn't do an effective job. I think Lin Wood and Sidney Powell both have said some really out[landish things]—and they're facing legal consequences for it.

You said earlier in the interview Trump did not win. So you do believe that Biden legitimately won the election?

That's not what I said. I didn't say that. I said Trump lost, that's what I said.

OK, Trump lost. So do you believe that the "issues" were potentially big enough that they were the difference between Trump and Biden winning?

I don't know that. I think that President Trump should have put those legal matters to rest before the election. And when he didn't, the election was over. It's too late.

When it comes to the House January 6 Select Committee, you voted for the initial proposal that didn't pass the Senate. Then you voted against the committee that is now moving forward with the investigation. Why did you vote against the second committee?

Because Ms. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi wouldn't allow the Republicans to appoint their own members to the committee. That was the main reason. And then the second reason is because they said that her actions were off limits. So they're only going to examine faults with the Republicans and not with the Democrats. Here's the thing about the committee. The purpose of it is to gather information and to give the public some semblance of closure, to let them know that these facts are being looked at thoroughly and that they can trust the result. That's the purpose of the committee, and to ease this tension that has stretched the country to a breaking point, right? Well, if Mrs. Pelosi is not going to allow the minority to appoint their own members, how are they going to convince Republicans around the country that what this community produces is trustworthy? I don't think they will.

I think they're preaching to the choir. I think she made this more partisan than it needed to be. And I think it was a huge mistake for Mitch McConnell to torpedo the bipartisan committee in the Senate. I think we could have had a much better balanced review of what happened that would have given the public faith in the results, that I don't think you're going to get that from this committee.

Representative Cheney is the vice chair and Kinzinger is on the committee. Of course, it's only two very anti-Trump Republicans. Cheney recently praised you quite highly on Twitter. I assume you saw that. Do you think—

I'm not saying anything negative about her in any way.

I said the same things about the committee that I'm saying now when the committee was formed and I don't think she was terribly happy with me about that. But I believe it's true. I believe that there's certainly a segment of the population who really wants this committee to resolve what they're doing and to get to the bottom of these things. But for people who feel that they were not represented in this, that they were disenfranchised, or whatever else. It's an awful shame that it is not more balanced.

What do you make of the controversial decision to issue subpoenas for Kevin McCarthy and several other of your Republican colleagues? Do you think that that's also a mistake?

Yes, I do. I think if it was more balanced than I would likely feel otherwise. But given the more political nature of this committee, I think it's a mistake, and I think it's going to potentially lead to more mistakes like this in the future. I think that's extremely unfortunate. I think we need people who are trying to pull this country and this Congress together rather than continuing to try to rip it to pieces.

I think [former President] Barack Obama was a polarizing figure, and I think Nancy Pelosi is a polarizing figure. I think Donald Trump is a polarizing figure. And I didn't want Joe Biden to be president. And I think he's done a terrible job. I think he's failed on almost every single front. But one thing he ran on, that when he won I hoped would be true, is that he would work with both sides of the aisle and try to bring the country together. In my opinion, he's done just the opposite.

We have in my lifetime, I think, every president up until Barack Obama really tried to pull people together. And I think the last three have not. And I think they've been more divisive than they have [been] uniting forces. And we desperately need somebody who will step forward and work on uniting the country instead of continuing to try to rip us apart.

One issue that it does seem, for the most part, Republicans and Democrats are pretty aligned on right now is Ukraine. You've been quite vocal in your support for Ukraine and also criticized Biden over his response to the war. You even said you didn't think it would have happened if Trump was still president. But then you also criticized Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Do you still think Biden is doing a bad job in terms of responding to the situation, or do you think that he's stepped up? What's your assessment of the situation right now?

I think he has made some steps forward, but I think he's three steps behind. I think he just needs to do what he said he was going to do. He said when the Russian army was sitting on the Ukrainian border, amassing, he said if they invade, we will impose crippling sanctions. And I still don't think he's done it. The week after they invaded, I brought in a bill that would have embargoed Russian oil and would have removed the most favored nation status. I talked to the Ways and Means leaders, and they met over the next week or the following week and were ready to drop that bill and pass it that day. And the White House intervened and said the president has got to lead on this. And so they did it in pieces. And I still think it's in place. As far as I know, they haven't placed tariffs on Russian products. Why he wants to allow American consumers to continue to fund the Russian side of this war is beyond me.

And why they would place these SWIFT banking sanctions on the top five Russian banks, but not the other hundred that are out there, I have no idea. I don't know what his counter motive is, and I don't know why he wants to drag his feet the way he does, but don't tell the world that you're going to do something and then don't do it. I think he looks feckless and weak. It started with Afghanistan, and I believe that was one of Putin's motivations, or certainly one of the things gave him comfort in doing this, is that Joe Biden would be ineffective and unstrategic and weak. And I think that's what he's been.

With this $40 billion aid package it ended up being 57 Republicans that voted against the bill. Also, Trump spoke against the package. Does it concern you that when it comes to this Ukraine aid and the Ukraine issue, most of the opposition, at least within Congress, is actually coming from your side of the aisle?

I don't understand their point of view. I've heard various Republican legislators praising Putin, which I think is horrifying. And you know, President Trump tipping his hat to Putin, which I think is terrible. I think we need to be showing a united front here. And a united front against Russia in Ukraine. A former president second-guessing the current administration, I think it's just horrible—I think it's terrible that he would say anything to praise Putin, and against Ukraine, it's not helpful. I'm trying to think of the right word, destructive. I think it's divisive, destructive and shows weakness, even more weakness on our part.

Obviously you're very critical of Biden. You're critical of Trump. If it ends up being Trump versus Biden in 2024 as it's looking—

I don't know. I don't know. Wait, wait, wait, wait—I would not vote for Joe Biden no matter what. I think he's done a horrible job.

Tom Rice
Above, Representative Tom Rice (R-South Carolina) addresses reporters during a press conference to unveil the Joseph H. Rainey Room in the in the U.S. Capitol on February 3 in Washington, D.C. Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Would you possibly vote for Trump?

I'm not going to answer that. I'm not gonna answer that. Are we going to talk about Russell Fry? I thought that's what this call was about.

What is your main concern with Russell Fry? What do you think makes you stand out from him?

Oh, gosh. The first words that come are that I show up to work and he wants to get paid not to work. He's missed one seventh of his votes and he's been there for seven years. So he's missed a whole year of votes. I think Republicans typically like to pay people to work and not pay people not to work. He wants to get paid, not to work. That's the main thing. Second thing is my conservative record. He's in the bottom 10 percent of conservative legislators in the Republican Party, according to the American Conservative Union. Third thing is, Republicans typically believe in smaller government, lower taxes, more freedom. And he seems to believe in bigger government if you look at his voting record, and he's voted for the biggest tax increase in South Carolina history. So there are a lot of reasons why I'm way, way different than Russell Fry.

And, you know, this [ReAwaken America] event that he attended this weekend is pretty far out there in terms of—these folks believe that the virus changed your DNA and that 5G is a tool for mind control. I read that on their website or in a news story. That's pretty far out there, right?

Yes, definitely. Was there anything else that you really think is important to share with our readers and your voters before I let you go?

There's a segment of voters who think the impeachment vote is the reason that Trump is not president anymore. If you could take a few sentences and lay out that the impeachment vote occurred after the electoral certification was completed in Congress. Joe Biden was certified as the president—was going to be the president whether or not Donald Trump was impeached.