In reversal, US Rep. Tom Rice of SC votes to impeach Trump

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was one of only 10 House Republican to join with Democrats on Wednesday in voting to impeach President Donald Trump, a stunning reversal from his position just days earlier.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Rice said he didn’t know if Trump’s speech “amounted to incitement of a riot, but any reasonable person could see the potential for violence.”

But saying that Trump ”communicated only on Twitter and offered only weak requests for restraint” as the violence continued, Rice — who was in the House as the riot went on — said it “is only by the grace of God and the blood of the Capitol Police that the death toll was not much, much higher.”

Rice represents South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District, an area near Myrtle Beach that has voted heavily for Trump. The Republican, recently elected to his fifth term, is among the lesser-known members of South Carolina’s delegation but has been a steadfast supporter of the president.

On Wednesday, Rice joined with Democrats to support impeachment, which passed the U.S. House 232-197. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol after the president’s calls for them to “fight like hell” against the election results.

Ten Republicans fled Trump, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a “clear and present danger” if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that a trial would not begin before then.

Two days ago, Rice told local media he didn’t support impeachment, saying that Trump had acted recklessly in his comments last week, but, with just days remaining in his term, “Let’s not stoke further division.”

But on Tuesday, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, released a statement saying, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” Her stance became the lead of GOP opposition to Trump.

During Trump’s first impeachment, Rice — like most congressional Republicans — opposed both articles, saying he voted against them in a procedure that “was the culmination of three years of corrupt effort by the Democratic Party and the federal bureaucracy to discredit and remove” Trump, adding that the president had “been the target of an astounding barrage of lies, deceit, and corruption.”

“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years,” Rice said. “I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But this utter failure is inexcusable.”

Drew McKissick, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said he was “severely disappointed” in Rice’s vote, calling impeachment “nothing more than a political stunt” that “will do nothing but harm the country and our Party.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.