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What to know about Republican Rep. Nancy Mace

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Among the eight Republicans who led the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week was a more moderate member of Congress - Nancy Mace of South Carolina. As Maayan Schechter with South Carolina Public Radio reports, Mace has always been unconventional.

MAAYAN SCHECHTER, BYLINE: Nancy Mace told reporters that Kevin McCarthy had broken promises to her.

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NANCY MACE: I made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker that he has not kept to help women in this country. And we have done nothing for them.

SCHECHTER: McCarthy disputes that take, and her vote may have isolated her from many in her own party. But those like former state House GOP leader Gary Simrill say she doesn't always toe the party line.

GARY SIMRILL: To paraphrase "Dirty Dancing" in a cinematic way, no one paints Nancy in a corner.

SCHECHTER: Mace wasn't in the corner last week when she fully embraced her role as the only moderate Republican to boot McCarthy. Sumrall says it was on-brand.

SIMRILL: Her views and her actions are her. They are not of a party structure. That's my view. She has a very independent streak in her viewpoint.

SCHECHTER: That independence has been part of her entire career. The 45-year-old broke barriers at The Citadel when she became the first woman cadet to graduate from the military college. She's also staked out moderate GOP positions on marijuana and abortion. She fought for sexual assault exceptions and abortion bans in the state legislature and, in a 2019 speech then, referenced being a victim of sexual assault as a teen.

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MACE: When I came forward in October of 2018, I was told I could not have been a victim of sexual assault because I was Republican.

SCHECHTER: In 2020, Mace defeated a freshman Democrat to retake a coastal South Carolina district. Two years later, she fended off a GOP challenger supported by former President Trump. People in her district, like Kevin Hennelly, who chairs the Beaufort County GOP, say they're used to her contrarian style.

KEVIN HENNELLY: She marches to her own drummer. And sometimes she goes to the right of where the party is, and sometimes she goes to the left.

SCHECHTER: For some Republican voters in her district, like Tamela Maxim, the decision to oust McCarthy was not welcome.

TAMELA MAXIM: We already have a divided Republican Party, and we don't need to send a message that we're even more divided. So I'm sorry that that happened.

SCHECHTER: Mace received criticism within the GOP for her vote, so she started fundraising with the message of being attacked by the D.C. establishment. She now backs Jim Jordan for speaker - unclear how the speaker's race will shake out. Nancy Mace is sure to position herself as a member with leverage. After all, she's shown she's not afraid to buck party leaders. For NPR News, I'm Maayan Schechter in South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maayan Schechter