Rep. Francis Rooney, May 10, 2019 at a meeting at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. (Photo: Author)
March 26, 2020 by David Silverberg.
Tomorrow the House of Representatives is expected to take up the Senate’s $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, providing some relief to people and businesses badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic and financial crash.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) is hoping to make it a quick vote, perhaps by voice, so there won’t be a record of how each member voted. While getting the job done, such a vote deprives the public of seeing their representatives’ positions.
That’s too bad for Southwest Florida.
A big question going into the vote is the presence or absence of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.). It is exactly one month since Rooney cast a vote on anything and in that time there have been some big issues before Congress—namely two bills on Coronavirus response and relief. In both cases, Rooney was missing in action.
The track of Rep. Rooney’s missed votes. (Chart: GovTrack.us)
While The Paradise Progressive reached out to his office by phone and e-mail to get an explanation, no answer has been forthcoming. He has made no statements on the state of his health. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), who represents the district adjacent to the 19th, has tested positive for Coronavirus and is in self-quarantine.
It bears noting that voting is the core, the essence, of a congressperson’s job. Everything else—introducing legislation, making public statements, weighing in on local issues, debating the issues, giving speeches, whatever—is secondary to casting votes to determine the country’s course and future.
Ever since he announced his retirement from Congress last October amidst the furor over President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Rooney has faded further and further from active participation in Congress.
In fact, Rooney is now rising to the top of the congressional list for members absent, according to Pro-Publica, an independent, non-profit investigative news organization. He has missed 28.4 percent of the votes in the 116th Congress, making him the fourth most absent member. This is a far cry from the 115th Congress of 2016 to 2018 when he only missed 10 percent of the votes and was the 33rd most absent member.
There are no explanations for these absences on any of Rooney’s media platforms. At most he has posted generic Coronavirus information on his Facebook page. The most recent posting today was a link to information on the Senate Coronavirus bill. His most recent press release was posted Feb. 7.
On March 19, Rooney issued a statement calling for Congress to permit remote voting.
“We are in a serious, global pandemic and Congress should utilize modern technology to permit remote voting,” he stated. “Votes on spending and response to the pandemic are critical and will need quick action. Remote voting is the way to effectuate social distancing and follow proper health procedures. The technology exists—Estonia has used it for years.
“This remote vote capability is even more necessary now that there are two Representatives that have tested positive for the virus. The work of Congress must continue, but it need not put people at risk unnecessarily.”
While the House of Representatives is debating alternatives to in-person voting, as of this writing votes must still be done in person.
If Rooney is no longer voting, it means that the voters of the 19th Congressional District have no say in how the country is being run or in any of the issues affecting them and Southwest Florida is not represented in Congress.
With in-person town halls now impractical due to the Coronavirus, there are no scheduled virtual town halls or any other substitute for constituent input offered by Rooney’s office.
Rooney’s absence from Congress mirrors former Rep. Curt Clawson’s absence after he announced his retirement. Clawson announced in May 2016 that he would not seek re-election and his absentee rate rose as well.
Rep. Curt Clawson’s missed votes. (Source: GovTrack.us)
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg