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GOP Rep. Rice stands by his impeachment vote of Trump. It could cost him his job

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed another GOP primary challenger in the upcoming midterm elections, as he tries to take down the small number of Republican House members who voted to impeach him following last year's attack on the Capitol.

"Congressman Tom Rice of South Carolina, the coward who abandoned his constituents by caving to Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left, and who actually voted against me on Impeachment Hoax #2, must be thrown out of office ASAP," Trump wrote in a statement Tuesday.

But Rice is not backing down.

"If we are going to have a scenario where the president can try to intimidate Congress into doing what he wants, well shoot, we might as well have a monarchy," Rice said in an interview from his Myrtle Beach home.

The congressman, who represents the state's 7th District, had just returned from a chamber of commerce speaking engagement, where he was greeted by protesters angry about his impeachment vote.

Rice told those who attended the event he's proud of his accomplishments during his five terms in office. He was recently named ranking member of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. He says he helped Trump draft the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and voted with the former president more than 90% of the time.

But even those who know the congressman's voting record are upset about his vote to impeach. Immediately after, Rice was censured by the state's Republican Party.

Still, he stands by his belief that Trump was responsible for the Capitol violence.

He vividly remembers seeing beaten, bloody police while seeking safety from the House floor. Rice says the former president should have stopped the attack instead of watching it on television in the Oval Office, surrounded by Secret Service members.

"And I guess if the consequences are that the people think what happened is OK, then I guess, you know, I'm not that guy," Rice said.

South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry (left), who's seen here in a 2021 photo, was endorsed Tuesday by former President Donald Trump in his primary challenge to Rep. Tom Rice.
Jeffrey Collins / AP
South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry (left), who's seen here in a 2021 photo, was endorsed Tuesday by former President Donald Trump in his primary challenge to Rep. Tom Rice.

The congressman faces a slew of challengers, including South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry. The 37-year-old was just endorsed by Trump, who called Fry Tuesday.

"He said he's been following our work at the Statehouse, from election integrity to the heartbeat bill to the open carry bill we passed last year," Fry said.

Fry believes he better represents people in the 7th Congressional District because he listens to what they want — unlike Rice.

"He hasn't done that and continued to kind of poke the voters in the eye and they're frustrated, and I get that because I'm frustrated too," Fry said.

Also frustrated is Jeanette Spurlock, a single mother of three who says the district doesn't need another politician. She's also mounting a primary challenge.

Spurlock is angry that Rice not only voted to impeach Trump, but also recently doubled down, saying he regrets not voting to certify the election for President Biden.

"My heart is just aching because I feel betrayed and a lot of people do feel betrayed," said Spurlock, who was making campaign T-shirts in her spare bedroom.

She has no plans to drop out. She, like several others, just wants to run against Rice.

"That is one of the vulnerabilities of Tom Rice. Nobody would have thought of doing that," said Jerry Rovner, the district's GOP chair. "I mean, Tom could have been in that seat forever."

Rovner believes the impeachment vote could cost Rice his job.

He expects the number of challengers to dwindle following the Trump endorsement and says an open primary, one that allows any voter to participate, may favor the congressman in the strongly Republican district.

"So, if there's not a viable candidate on the Democratic side, he's going to get a lot of votes because people are going to come in and vote in the primary," Rovner said.

Rice was among 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Capitol riot. Three of them have announced their departure from Congress.

But Rice feels he still has support in his South Carolina district.

"I will tell you that for every person that expresses disappointment, 10 people tell me thank you," he said. "Now, are those the people that are going to vote in the Republican primary? I don't know."

What Rice does know: His political future could come down to one vote.

Copyright 2022 South Carolina Public Radio

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.