CNN’s Poppy Harlow interviews Rep. Francis Rooney yesterday.
604 days (1 year, 7 months, 27 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has faced constituents in an open, public town hall forum.
Oct. 19, 2019 by David Silverberg
The national political spotlight shifted to Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) yesterday, Oct. 18, as he broke ranks with the near-solid unanimity of his House Republican colleagues and stated that President Donald Trump may have committed impeachable offenses. Rooney said he would be open to voting for impeachment if warranted—although he’s not yet convinced it’s warranted.
Rooney made his remarks following revelations by Mick Mulvaney, White House chief of staff, that Trump did indeed press Ukraine’s president for a political quid pro quo in exchange for US military assistance.
In a 10:20 am interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Rooney stated:
“Whatever might have been gray and unclear before is certainly clear right now, that the actions were related to getting someone in the Ukraine to do these things. As you put on there, Senator Murkowski said it perfectly: ‘We’re not to use political power and prestige for political gain.’” (The reference is to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had stated, “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative.”).
(The full Rooney interview can be seen at “GOP lawmaker on quid pro quo: It’s serious and troubling.”)
Rooney, who has served as a US ambassador, was careful to say that he wanted more information before deciding that impeachment was warranted.
“I don’t know. I want to study it more,” he stated. “I want to hear the next set of testimony next week from a couple more ambassadors. But it’s certainly very, very serious and troubling.”
Rooney also drew a telling parallel to Watergate, which President Richard Nixon had denounced as a witch hunt.
“I don’t think this is as much as Richard Nixon did,” Rooney said. “But I’m very mindful of the fact that back during Watergate everybody said it’s a witch hunt to get Nixon. Turns out it wasn’t a witch hunt but it was absolutely correct.”
He also acknowledged that House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) “had a point” when she told Trump in a meeting that “with you all roads lead to Putin.”
“I was skeptical of it, like most Republicans,” he noted of Pelosi’s remarks. “But I have to say this business about the Ukraine server, which no one heard about until it was mentioned recently, tells me what—are we trying to exculpate Russia, who all our trained intelligence officials have consistently corroborated that Russia was behind the election meddling, not the Ukraine?”
Rooney’s openness and independence from the Trump line generated headlines in the political media.
“I didn’t take this job to keep it’: GOP Rep. Rooney hints he’s open to impeachment,” said a headline in the Washington Post. “GOP Rep. Rooney Won’t Rule Out Impeachment: It’s ‘Certainly Clear’ There Was Quid Pro Quo,” stated The Daily Beast.
Rooney further broke Republican-White House ranks when, as Politico put it: “First Republican calls for Rick Perry to answer House subpoena.” Rooney had called on the Energy Secretary to comply with the House impeachment investigation.
“Everybody that can bring any information to the table ought to testify, so that some huge mistake is not inadvertently made,” Rooney told Politico. “I’d like to see any evidence that needs to be adduced brought up and made available to people.”
Rooney’s remarks and his low fundraising totals for the past quarter have fueled speculation that he may not run again in 2020. However, his office denied this to NBC2 reporter Dave Elias in a report broadcast Thursday, Oct. 17: “Despite low fundraising, Congressman Rooney will run for office again.”
As of this writing, a query on this topic to Rooney’s office by The Paradise Progressive has not received a response.
Under normal circumstances, Rooney’s careful, cautious expression of openness to the evidence and independent thought might not be extraordinary—but these are no ordinary times.
By simply, carefully expressing a willingness to consider the evidence and where it might lead, Rooney broke the largely solid Republican phalanx protecting the President.
But Trump is demanding what’s nearly impossible in a free, independently thinking society. He wants absolute, mindless loyalty to whatever he’s spouting at the moment, which, like the Ministry of Truth in the novel 1984, can suddenly and unexpectedly shift to its polar opposite.
After the President’s emphatic insistence that there was no quid pro quo, the White House completely altered its stance and Mulvaney said that even if there was a quid pro quo, it was no big deal. Then the White House reversed direction again and denied Mulvaney’s original statement.
All that was clearly more than Rooney could swallow.
“The president has said many times there wasn’t a quid pro quo . . . and now Mick Mulvaney goes up and says, ‘Yeah, it was all part of the whole plan,’” Rooney complained to a reporter according to Politico.
Asked by a reporter if he didn’t buy the White House walk-back on Mulvaney’s remarks, Rooney replied, “What is a walk-back? I mean, I tell you what, I’ve drilled some oil wells I’d like to walk back — dry holes.”
Several factors make Rooney’s heretical receptivity to impeachment even more significant.
- First, prior to his 2016 election and all through his first term in the House, Rooney was a staunch and outspoken Trumpie, going so far in 2017 as to call for a political purge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to fill it with Trump loyalists. When Trump came to Fort Myers on Halloween, 2018, he praised Rooney’s active defense of him. “He’s brutal,” Trump said of Rooney. “He gets the job done.” For such a past loyalist and self-described conservative to now admit doubts is truly seismic.
- Second, pro and anti-Trump partisans are intensely scrutinizing Republican House members for any sign of change in their positions. “REPUBLICANS MUST STICK TOGETHER AND FIGHT!” the president hysterically tweeted late yesterday. For Rooney to even admit that the evidence may lead to impeachment when the President insists on a near-Papal infallibility and unquestioning loyalty is major heresy indeed. In the media, writers are using the metaphor of a dam to describe the Republican position. Rooney may be the first crack.
- Third, in a Florida Republican congressional delegation whose attitudes are marked by the extreme Trumpism of Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), Rooney’s doubts shake the very redness of the Sunshine State. With Florida an absolute must-win for Trump in 2020, if there are defections in Republican ranks, which is based on a razor-thin majority anyway, the state could go blue in 2020, ensuring a Republican presidential defeat.
Late last night, Rooney attempted to clarify his position using the current political lingua franca, a tweet: “I am in favor of finding out all of the factual information available in this process that is already underway. I did not endorse an impeachment inquiry,” he tweeted.
But at a time when the concept of “factual information” itself is in dispute, even the idea of pursuing truth makes Rooney a revolutionary.
Liberty lives in light
©2019 by David Silverberg