Some of the House Republicans who supported Wednesday’s impeachment of President Trump are providing detailed explanations for their votes in the face of backlash from GOP loyalists.
Perhaps the most surprising of the 10 GOP yes votes came from Rep. Tom Rice, who represents the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. Rice was one of the dozens of House Republicans who objected to the formal certification of the Electoral College vote in the hours after both chambers were cleared due to Trump supporters storming the Capitol. But a week later, he chose to impeach a president he has voted with 94 percent of the time.
“I have been with this president through thick and thin. I have supported him in campaigning. I have supported him in voting,” Rice told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It hurts my heart.”
South Carolina’s GOP state chair, Drew McKissick, said in a statement following Rice’s vote that “to say I'm severely disappointed in Congressman Tom Rice would be an understatement.” The Seventh District, which Rice has represented since 2013, voted heavily for the president.
“If it does, it does,” said Rice when asked if the vote might cost him his seat, adding, “You tell my constituents I love ’em, and it’s the honor of my life to do this job. 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.”
Rice’s change of heart appeared to come from Trump’s delayed response to calling off his followers. He noted in a statement after his vote, “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. 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.’”
“This utter failure is inexcusable,” concluded Rice.
The highest-ranking Republican to vote to impeach was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who serves on the GOP House leadership team. Following her vote, members of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus began circulating a petition calling for Cheney to resign from her post as conference chair. Cheney, however, said she had no intention of doing so.
“I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” Cheney told Politico. “It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis.”
A number of Republicans have stepped up in defense of Cheney, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, making her ouster from her leadership position far less likely. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the sole House member from Wyoming, had said in a statement explaining her vote that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Cheney was also targeted by her state party, which issued a statement following her vote.
“There has not been a time during our tenure when we have seen this type of an outcry from our fellow Republicans, with the anger and frustration being palpable in the comments we have received,” said the Wyoming Republican Party. “Our telephone has not stopped ringing, our email is filling up, and our website has seen more traffic than at any previous time. The consensus is clear that those who are reaching out to the Party vehemently disagree with Representative Cheney’s decision and actions.”
“We are receiving the message loud and clear that what happened yesterday is a true travesty for Wyoming and the country,” concluded the scathing list of grievances.
The last time a Republican congress member from Wyoming lost a primary challenge was 1968.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington was another one of the yes votes, saying in a floor speech prior to her vote, “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side. I’m choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
On Thursday night she posted a lengthy series of tweets in an attempt to further explain her vote, writing, “In conversations w/residents about this week’s impeachment vote, some are unclear on what transpired before & during that involved President Trump. Here are the indisputable and publicly available facts.”
In the more than dozen messages that followed, Herrera Beutler laid out how the president had called his followers to Washington, D.C., lied to them about Vice President Mike Pence’s ability to overturn the election and spoke at the rally immediately preceding the assault on the Capitol.
While the riot was in full swing & a mob was in the Capitol hunting Mike Pence, the president tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts ....
— Jaime Herrera Beutler (@HerreraBeutler) January 15, 2021
“The commander in chief’s primary job is to protect U.S. citizens,” concluded Herrera Beutler. “While this mob hunted for Pence, who had fled to a secure location, the only action we know the president took was calling GOP Senators, seeking their support to delay the Electoral College certification. Hours after the Capitol was breached, the president released a pathetic video denouncing the violence but telling the perpetrators ‘I love you,’ and ‘you are special.’”
At least one Republican women’s group has already vowed to challenge Herrera Beutler in next year’s primary, but Washington’s rules could make it slightly more difficult to target her. The state has a top-two primary, in which all candidates from all parties compete, with the two highest vote totals advancing to November.
Another yes vote on impeachment, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, sat down with a local conservative talk radio host to explain his vote. Gonzalez told Bob Frantz that he knew listeners “are furious with me … and I know you are, too.”
“But let me tell you this,” he continued. “Every single person listening, every conservative listening right now, we have got to come together at some point. We have to, and I know we’re divided right now, but we have Joe Biden coming into office in a couple days. We have a Democratic Senate. We have a Democratic-controlled House. We are going to have to be unified and pushing back on the agenda that we know is so bad for this country.”
“You got guts for coming on the day after the vote,” Frantz said, “because you know that a lot of people are angry. You knew you’re going to get challenged here, so I do appreciate you coming on. But I will say this: I’m going to question that commitment to liberty that you just made on all those other issues, because to me the ultimate testimony to liberty is the Constitution, and yesterday you voted to deny Donald Trump his constitutional right to due process.”
Jim Renacci, chair of the Medina County Republican Party in Ohio, told BuzzFeed News he was “slammed with residents calling for Anthony Gonzalez to step down, be recalled, and/or primaried.”
Gonzalez represents the 16th District, which encompasses the area south of Cleveland and is safely Republican under the current map. He won a primary against a stalwart pro-Trump candidate to win the seat in 2018.
Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan was elected only two months ago, meaning two of his first major votes in the House were on whether to object to election results (he did not) and to impeach the president.
“It may have been an act of political suicide but it’s what I felt was necessary for the good of the country, to have accountability in this moment but also to set a path to moving forward,” Meijer told the Detroit Free Press on Thursday.
Meijer further explained his thinking to the New York Times in a podcast released Friday morning.
“To me, the breaking point was when the president’s video came out at 4:17 p.m.,” Meijer said. “We were in this committee hearing room; it had been probably 90 minutes that we were in there — nobody knew what was going on, we were very much on kind of tenterhooks, and this video comes out and it’s just kind of almost thanking the people. His tone was appreciative, supportive.”
Meijer said Trump’s actions that day were disqualifying and unfit and that he didn’t want his opinion to be swayed over concerns of a primary. The congressman added that he had already had someone call him to say there would be 1,000 or 2,000 people outside his house this weekend to protest the decision.
In an interview Thursday with MSNBC, Meijer said his colleagues were starting to purchase body armor and alter their routines to protect their families.
“Our expectation is that somebody may try to kill us,” he said.
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