When a group of 10 House Republicans took the step on Wednesday of voting to impeach a president of their own party, most were clear-eyed about the political ramifications.
Speaking from the House floor before the vote, Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler (R-WA) put it simply: "I'm not afraid of losing my job,” she said. “But I am afraid my country will fail.”
And on Thursday, Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC)—a stalwart supporter of President Trump who was a surprising vote to impeach him—spoke to the Associated Press and acknowledged that may cost him his seat. “If it does, it does,” said Rice.
"You tell my constituents I love 'em and it's the honor of my life to do this job,” Rice continued. “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.”
That may very well end up the case for some of them. Several drew primary challengers, or possible primary challengers, within 24 hours of the passage of articles of impeachment on Wednesday.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) faces not only a possible primary but also a Capitol Hill challenge to her post as the third-ranking House Republican thanks to her vote. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), a new member, saw his 2020 primary opponent file to run again on Thursday. Rice, who represents a deep-red district that Trump carried by 18 points in November, might face the toughest path back to office. “A lot can happen in a year and a half,” said Nate Leupp, chairman of the Greenville County GOP. “But I think he needs to be planning for another line of work.”
But the environment in which the impeachment vote unfolded—and the reason it came about to begin with—weighted an already-momentous vote with deeply personal implications for lawmakers, not just political ones. Some of the members who voted on impeachment were, a week beforehand, literally running for their lives as a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, seeking to overturn the 2020 election results and harm or kill those “traitors,” of any party, who they believed were complicit in the fraud.
The right-wing outrage over the election did not die out at the Capitol on Jan. 6, nor have the conspiracies that fueled it. They have simply been joined by fresh conspiracies, like the baseless claim that antifa orchestrated the violence, as well as a surge of indignation that Trump was being punished after the election was allegedly stolen from him.
Among the clearest targets for that ire: the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Serious threats materialized almost instantaneously after Wednesday’s vote, according to some of the GOP lawmakers. Meijer told NBC News on Thursday that the threats flooded in immediately, and that his GOP colleagues have requested armed escorts, a protection typically granted only to members of party leadership.
“Many of us are altering our routines, working to get body armor, which is a reimbursable purchase that we can make," Meijer said. "It's sad we have to get to that point. But our expectation is that someone may try to kill us."
Meijer, and other members of the GOP cohort that voted to impeach, turned down interview requests from The Daily Beast, or declined to give any information about new safety threats and how they are managing them.
But a trip through official GOP pages on Facebook, where MAGA-world conspiracies have found fertile ground to spread, offers a glimpse at the perilous atmosphere these lawmakers are facing. In the hours after Wednesday’s vote, the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump saw their social media pages deluged with the kind of feedback that might accompany such a historic vote. Many of the notes were complimentary, many were not, but most critics were relatively tame—if angrily stating their vow to never vote for the person ever again.
Some messages, however, read as especially chilling in light of the extrajudicial violence attempted on Jan. 6, a day when unhinged internet rhetoric seemed to become real in terrifying fashion. “He won't last until the primary,” said one commenter on the Facebook page of the South Carolina GOP, which posted a message on Wednesday criticizing Rice for his vote. “This is an attempted insurrection. Tribunals coming.” Deeper in the comment thread, one user posted Rice’s personal cell phone number and urged others to have at it.
“Turncoat,” said one commenter on the page of Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). “How much did the democrats pay you to turn on President Trump your constituents and 70 million Americans?”
A commenter on the page of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), said, “You all will be held accountable before the people of this great Nation for breaking this oath and going AGAINST our constitution! It will not be violent, it will be in a court of law!” Gonzalez appeared on a Cleveland talk radio show on Thursday and acknowledged he knows the Trump crowd is “furious” at him. The host, Bob Frantz, commended him for appearing on the show but said he “question[s]” Gonzalez’s “commitment to liberty” because he voted to impeach Trump.
Ironically, as commenters fumed over the allegedly spineless Republicans voting out of fear of getting “cancelled” by the media, they themselves plotted to cancel the pro-impeachment Republicans. A commenter on the Facebook page of Meijer, whose family owns a chain of grocery stores around the Midwest, said: “Time to boycott Meijer stores and see your money go bye bye.”
Cheney, the most visible lawmaker to break with Trump, was a top target. On the Wyoming Republican Party’s Facebook page, Cheney was variously called a “lizard,” a “Judas,” and “Deep State Scum.” Another declared: “GUANTANAMO FOR CHENEY & PELOSI !!”
In a statement criticizing Cheney for the vote, the Wyoming Republican Party stated what was abundantly clear. “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 statement. “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.”
Across all the comments, each of the pro-impeachment Republicans were called “traitors”—an epithet that rang through the halls of Congress by insurrectionists on Jan. 6.
Many Republican lawmakers apparently anticipated this reaction as they weighed how to vote on impeachment. Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) said on MSNBC on Wednesday that he spoke to GOP colleagues the night before the vote and claimed “the majority of them are paralyzed with fear.”
“I had a lot of conversations with my Republican colleagues last night, and a couple of them broke down in tears—saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment,” said Crow. Tim Alberta of Politico later confirmed that reporting.
Many Democratic lawmakers and visible Trump critics who have been constant targets of right-wing threats found this somewhat rich. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Muslim progressive who has been personally singled out by the president, receives death threats on a near-daily basis, for example. Alluding to this, Rep. André Carson (D-IN)—one of the first Muslims elected to Congress—said on CNN on Wednesday night, "I receive death threats all the time, and so do [Rep. Rashida Tlaib] and Ilhan."
After the Capitol attack, Carson saw his name on a list of “good guys” and “bad guys” recovered by law enforcement from an Alabama man arrested for bringing explosives to the Capitol. “One of two Muslims in House of Reps,” read the note next to Carson’s name. In a statement, Carson said he was “especially disappointed” that law enforcement did not notify individuals like him who were already targeted by the people planning to terrorize the Capitol.
It is unclear what plans, if any, Capitol authorities and the U.S. Capitol Police are developing to protect lawmakers who are targets of the extreme right, both those Republicans who voted to impeach and Democrats who are especially villainized. The Capitol Police, whose chief during the Jan. 6 attack has since resigned, has not held a press briefing to discuss that day or future security measures. A spokesperson for USCP did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on what it is doing to safeguard lawmakers who are most targeted.
“We fund the Capitol Police,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who oversees funding for the force on the House Appropriations Committee, on Wednesday. “We, I think, deserve to know what the hell is going on. It’s a black box over there.”