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House Republicans face some backlash over vote to impeach, sounding a warning to senators

Republicans divided in post-Trump era
Republicans divided in post-Trump era 06:18

In his first phone town hall since voting to impeach former President Trump, a voter told South Carolina Congressman Tom Rice his decision was "inexcusable."

"Next time around, I don't think you're going to get elected," said his Myrtle Beach constituent, from the district Rice has represented since 2013. "I'm not happy with you. And I certainly won't vote for you again. So if you can figure out some way to redeem yourself, I'm all ears."

But the next caller, an 80-year-old woman, commended Rice for the "tremendous courage" he showed by voting for impeachment. 

"If you want a Congressman that is going to bow down to bullies… that'll go along with the crowd, 'Oh, everybody else on this side voted this way, so I better vote that way so people back home don't question me — if that's the guy you want, then I'm not your guy," Rice said.

"But if you want somebody who's gonna stand up for what's right, and protect our Constitution like I took an oath to do, then I am your guy."

For Rice and the nine other House Republicans who voted for impeachment, Mr. Trump's rally speech before the attack at the Capitol and his long silence as rioters breached the building was reason enough to join Democrats in impeaching the president a second time. 

But their decision was met with an immediate backlash from many constituents, local parties and their Republican colleagues. 

Six out of the eight county Republican chairs in Dan Newhouse's Washington district have called for his resignation (Newhouse said in a statement he will not resign). 

Three of the Republicans who voted for impeachment are already facing primary challenges. In Wyoming, three candidates filed to challenge Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican. In his campaign announcement, state Senator Anthony Bouchard said Cheney's impeachment vote shows "just how out of touch she is with Wyoming."

In the Capitol, Cheney, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, is facing calls to step down as caucus chair. She'll face the same pressure at home when Florida Congressman and Trump ally Matt Gaetz travels to Wyoming on Thursday.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, angered by the infighting, told Republicans during a conference call on Wednesday to "cut this crap out."

Former House Speaker John Boehner will be hosting a virtual fundraiser for Cheney in February, according to an invitation obtained by CBS News. 

A poll released by Mr. Trump's pollster on Wednesday found a sizable majority of Wyoming Republicans hold an unfavorable view of Cheney and disapprove of her impeachment vote.

But Natrona County Republican Chair Joseph McGinley said he's seen mixed reactions to her from the state's second-most populous county, and said there's a general trust in her and a "silent majority" of Republicans backing her.

The state Republican party was more critical of Cheney's decision, calling her vote a "true travesty for Wyoming." "The consensus is clear that those who are reaching out to the Party vehemently disagree with Representative Cheney's decision and actions," the Wyoming GOP said in a statement. 

Natrona County State Committeeman Peter Nicolaysen shot back at state party leadership in an email and cast doubt on the clarity of "the consensus."  

"Perhaps we are merely hearing from the loudest Republicans? Time will tell, I suppose," he wrote.

In Michigan's 3rd District, Tom Norton wasted no time launching a primary campaign against Republican Peter Meijer after his impeachment vote. And he's hiring a former Trump campaign staffer in Michigan to temporarily run his campaign. 

"Republicans in the district feel their trust was violated," Norton said. "When you impeach somebody and violate their due process, that's a huge problem." Norton ran against Meijer in the 2020 Republican primary and finished third with 16% of the vote. 

Meijer is a freshman who filled the seat of Libertarian Congressman Justin Amash, who cast his own vote to impeach Mr. Trump in 2019. Meijer was one of two GOP freshmen to vote for impeachment. 

"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 the day of his vote.

Ohio Congressman Anthony Gonzalez is also fairly new to Congress, entering his second term. 

Gonzalez said he voted for impeachment because Mr. Trump had helped "organize and incite a mob," and it was "the full scope of events leading up to January 6th including the President's lack of response," that compelled him to back impeachment.

Doug Deeken, Republican Party chair in Wayne County, thinks Gonzalez got "suckered" into participating in a "rushed" impeachment trial. But he also said potential challengers would "be stupid" to declare before redistricting. 

Portage County GOP Chair Amanda Suffecool said she's heard from donors who are shutting down funds to Gonzalez for now, though she noted it's still early. 

South Carolina Republican Party Chair Drew McKissick couldn't count how many donors have shut off Rice, but he suspects it's going to be an issue for him. 

"The base of the party, they are very upset. I think that will express itself in 2022," he said. 

However, Myrtle Beach resident Rick Scott, a consistent Rice donor, said he's proud of his congressman for his decision. He'll continue to back Rice and hasn't heard any fellow donors say they'll abandon ship. 

"I felt like [his vote] might cause him some grief but he did the only thing that a decent person could do," he said. "My wife tells me that Facebook is full of people that don't support it. But there's a reason that I'm not on Facebook."

Chris Ekstrom, chairman of the Courageous Conservatives PAC, says he hopes to raise $5 to 10 million to go after Republicans who backed impeachment. His top targets include Cheney, Gonzalez and Rice.

"I'm going to send Liz Cheney a Valentine's Day card because she is going to be the greatest fundraiser for primarying sitting Republicans in Congress that we've ever had," Ekstrom said.  

In competitive districts, GOP donor Dan Eberhart said some donors may step in to back the Republican candidate they believe has a better chance of winning in November. 

The 2022 House maps haven't been drawn yet, but three of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment represent districts Mr. Trump won by less than five points. Two represent districts President Biden won. 

"Taking back the House is a big focus amongst what the donors I'm talking to are talking about," Eberhart said. "I think the donor class will eventually be upset with primary challengers that make winning in the general more complicated."

The backlash against House Republicans who supported impeachment showed senators facing reelection in 2022 what's in store for them if they vote to convict Mr. Trump. Forty-five GOP senators backed a motion by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to declare the impending trial unconstitutional. The only Republican up for reelection who didn't join them was Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Tuesday's vote makes it highly unlikely that 17 Republican senators would vote to convict the former president. South Dakota Senator John Thune, the number two-ranking Senate Republican who is up for re-election in 2022, told reporters the vote doesn't "bind anybody once the trial starts" but said that it's "indicative of where a lot of people's heads are." 

Democrats have been floating a measure to censure Mr. Trump, though it's not clear whether that will pick up any more support from Republican senators up for reelection.  

"The specter of a Trump-brand Republican to challenge anyone up in 2022 is very high," Eberhart said. "Seeing a Trump rally for a challenger to an incumbent that bucked Trump is a pretty powerful incentive to keep people in line."

Republican National Committee members have been debating how to address whether Mr. Trump played a role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Demetra DeMonte, a RNC committeewoman from Illinois, proposed a resolution last week that called the House impeachment "illegal" and urged every Senate Republican to "oppose this unconstitutional sham impeachment trial, motivated by a radical and reckless Democrat majority." 

But Bill Palatucci, a RNC committeeman from New Jersey, opposed the resolution because it did not "recognize former President Trump's direct role inciting the insurrection." He argued that the RNC could help the country heal by condemning Mr. Trump's role. 

McDaniel released a statement on Wednesday that didn't refer to the impeachment as illegal, but it did call the Senate trial "unconstitutional."

"I join the vast majority of Senate Republicans in opposing it," she added. 

Rebecca Kaplan contributed reporting.

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