“I can’t imagine another president in my lifetime that would not have tried to intervene there, would not have tried to say, ‘Hey, this needs to stop, and you need to go home,’” Rice told AP.
“For him to sit there and watch TV, and watch these policemen being beaten up, and the Capitol being stormed, and not to be very aggressive about ... getting out there and trying to speak to these people himself, is just beyond my imagination.”
Just hours earlier that day, Trump had called, at a rally in Washington, for the same supporters to “fight like hell” against certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
On Wednesday, Rice joined with Democrats to support impeachment, which passed the U.S. House.
Some initially thought the vote by the once-steadfast Trump supporter may have been a mistake, a misfire to be corrected while voting remained open.
But, Rice said, his vote to impeach was very intentional.
“I have been with this president through thick and thin. I have supported him in campaigning. I have supported him in voting,” Rice said. “It hurts my heart.”
Among the lesser-known members of South Carolina's delegation, Rice had long been a reliable backer of the president, campaigning with him and, according to FiveThirtyEight, voting 94% of the time in favor of Trump-backed legislation — the highest percentage among South Carolina's current delegation.
In his only primary since first being elected in 2012, Rice won with 84% of the vote. He's been reelected each time with at least 56% of votes cast.
Some say Rice's decision Wednesday may come back to haunt him against a field of primary challengers in 2022, when he plans to seek a sixth term. Rice represents South Carolina’s 7th District, an area including Myrtle Beach that has voted heavily for Trump.
Walter Whetsell, Rice's longtime political advisor, said he expected Rice would field primary opposition based off Wednesday's landmark vote, but noted it would be difficult for someone to say they'd be a candidate more closely aligned with Trump's policies than Rice.
“It is a remarkably high hurdle to make that argument, when you have, in Tom Rice, a guy that supported Donald Trump 94% of the time," Whetsell said.
Some of that blowback appears to have already begun. In South Carolina's Horry County, GOP Chairwoman Dreama Perdue said her phone had been ringing nearly constantly since Rice’s vote, with angry constituents venting their frustration over what many have characterized as a betrayal.
“We were all taken aback by this,” Perdue said, adding she’s had to set the phone down as some callers ranted so she could do tasks around the house, like taking out her trash. “There are some that, as soon as I answer, they’re just yelling and screaming.“
State GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said he was “severely disappointed” with Rice. And Matt Moore, McKissick's predecessor, said he initially assumed Rice was planning to retire, given possible electoral ramifications.
“My first reaction was, gosh, Tom Rice is not running again," Moore said, citing Trump's high base of support in Rice's district.
On Thursday, however, Rice said he knew he'd likely face a difficult primary and that the impeachment vote could potentially cost him his seat. “If it does, it does,” said Rice.
When asked by AP on his final thoughts in an interview, he paused and said, “You tell my constituents I love ’em, and it’s the honor of my life to do this job.” He added, “I’ve tried to do my best to do the right thing and represent their interests, but if they decide that it’s time for me to come home, that’s OK, too.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, Republican Tom Rice and his wife, Wrenzie, celebrate after his win over Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu in South Carolina's new 7th Congressional District in Carolina Forest, S.C. Rice said Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 he knows he may lose his seat thanks to his support of the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Rice on Wednesday was one of only 10 House Republicans to join Democrats in voting to impeach the president. (Charles Slate/The Sun News via AP, File)
Credit: Charles Slate
Credit: Charles Slate
In this Dec. 18, 2019, file photo, taken from video, Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington. Rice was one of only 10 House Republican on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 to join with Democrats in voting to impeach President Trump, a stunning reversal from his position just days earlier. (House Television via AP, File)