The Rooney Record, Part III: The Heretic

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi takes the House Speaker’s gavel from Republican Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy as the 116th Congress gets underway in January 2019. (Photo: C-Span)

Dec. 3, 2020 by David Silverberg

On Nov. 6, 2018 Francis Rooney cruised to an easy victory in his reelection bid.

He won 62 percent of the vote to David Holden’s 37 percent and while Holden had increased the Democratic percentage by 2 points from 2016, he didn’t come close to winning.

Republicans had a very good night that night in Florida: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-6-Fla.) would now be addressed as Governor, having squeaked out a 32,463 vote win over Tallahassee Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum. Having been plucked out of obscurity by President Donald Trump, DeSantis was entirely indebted to Trump for his success. Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to ascend to the US Senate. Florida was looking redder than ever.

But nationally, the news was not so good: Democrats had gained 41 seats in the House of Representatives, meaning that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) would reclaim the gavel as the next Speaker of the House.

Nancy Pelosi! Short of Hillary Clinton herself, there was no more menacing she-Devil in Republican demonology. To Donald Trump she was “Crazy Nancy,” “MS-13 Lover Nancy,” “Nervous Nancy,” “Nancy Antoinette.” Republicans had been condemning, flaying and cursing her throughout her 32-year congressional career.

That she also happened to be a brilliant legislative tactician, a persevering partisan, a fruitful fundraiser and perhaps the nation’s canniest politician also did not endear her to them, either.

When Francis Rooney went back to Washington after his re-election he would be in the minority, in a House where, unlike the Senate, the minority is largely powerless.

How could a vocal conservative who had voted 95 percent of the time with Donald Trump in the 115th Congress possibly function in a House run by Nancy Pelosi and what Trump viewed as her army of ranting, raving, radical Democrats?

Early moves

Rooney hit the ground running on the very first day, Jan. 3, after the oath-taking and ceremony when he introduced a bill to prevent oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico where the military conducted its exercises.

This simply continued his crusade against offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. But five days later the new reality was apparent when he signed on as a cosponsor to a different bill that accomplished the same thing—only this bill was introduced by his Democratic colleague up the coast, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.), who represented the Tampa area. Castor was also the newly-named co-chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which gave her additional heft.

Her bill, the Florida Coastal Protection Act, would make the offshore oil drilling moratorium permanent. It would be given the number House Resolution (HR) 205. It was a promising sign of bipartisan cooperation and, in fact, the two had cooperated in the previous Congress to draft an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that did the same thing. That effort was quashed by the House Republican leadership, which didn’t allow it to come to a vote.

This time they were introducing a stand-alone bill into a new Congress and they were doing it together, reaching across the aisle in deeply divisive times. It was the kind of cooperation people so often said they wanted to see. Perhaps the stars would align better than in the past.

But this promising start was overshadowed by a government shutdown triggered by Trump’s obstinate insistence on getting funding for his border wall. Despite having promised that Mexico would pay for it, he now wanted $5.7 billion American taxpayer dollars for its construction. Democrats refused. The shutdown began at midnight on Dec. 22, 2018 and despite frantic efforts to head it off, it was still underway when the new Congress convened.

As the shutdown ground on, Rooney supported Trump’s position and the wall, helping prolong the crisis by voting 100 percent in agreement with the president. He missed votes on four measures that would have ended the impasse and then voted against one that would have resolved the battle.

Ultimately, the shutdown ended on Jan. 25 after 35 days, when Trump agreed to a stopgap funding measure. It was the longest such government shutdown in American history and it did enormous damage to the United States, costing the economy $11 billion, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.

While supporting Trump on the shutdown, on Feb. 26, Rooney took a startling position.

Having lost the shutdown battle, Trump tried to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency at the southern border and getting the money for the wall that way.

Rooney voted with Democrats and 12 other Republicans to end Trump’s state of emergency.

“I voted for the resolution because I believe in the rule of law and strict adherence to our Constitution,” he stated at the time. “We are, as John Adams said, ‘A nation of laws, not men.’ The ends cannot justify the means; that is exactly what the socialists want.”

Rooney may have couched his dissent in constitutional, anti-socialist, strict immigration control terms but the fact of the dissent was unmistakable. He was opposing a Trump position on a significant issue. It was a first chink in the policy bonds between them.

Battling blooms

Rep. Francis Rooney answers media questions at his second, open meeting at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in May 2019. (Photo: Author)

Protecting Southwest Florida’s fragile environment had always been Rooney’s priority and as the new Congress dawned he had a priority within this priority: dealing with what were technically called Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

Determined not to have a repeat of 2018’s Big Bloom, Rooney began the process of pulling together all the threads that would prevent or warn of a recurrence.

Shortly after the new Congress convened and in the midst of the government shutdown, Rooney introduced legislation to make HABs major disasters so that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could intervene. He asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the health impacts of toxic algae. And he asked the Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate with state agencies to monitor fertilizer pollution that could lead to blooms.

But to really make the warning, monitoring and response to HABs effective, Rooney felt he needed to convene a grand meeting that would include all Southwest Florida’s elected executives as well as experts from relevant federal agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He managed to pull them all together and proudly announced to the press and public that they would be meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute on May 7, 2019—and then he closed the meeting to the public, saying it was “private.”

Rooney’s abrupt closure of the meeting full of public officials seemed of a piece with the Trump administration’s increasing secrecy and opacity. In Washington, Attorney General William Barr was deceptively summarizing the findings of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and the president was continuing to hide his tax returns. Bit by bit and piece by piece what had once been open and public in government was becoming dark and secluded. Now, on a local level Southwest Florida’s congressman was drawing the curtain on a matter of vital interest to residents. Rooney obliquely indicated that it was CDC officials who had insisted on secrecy in order to attend, but it didn’t make any difference.

A protestor outside Rooney’s closed HAB meeting. (Photo: Author)

Despite protests both verbal and physical and a letter from WINK-TV’s attorney charging violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law, Rooney, the experts, and local and state elected officials including DeSantis held their meeting, comparing notes on HAB warning signs, monitoring, alerts, local responses and funding.

As a sop to the press and public, Rooney held a second meeting at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples three days later where local conservation groups were allowed to vent and the press was permitted to attend. But at this meeting Rooney was the only elected official present and no decisions were made.

Despite the difficulties, the meeting and Rooney’s work did provide momentum for further progress on HABs by the agencies and jurisdictions involved.

Rooney advanced this further by introducing a bill in June to ensure that the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science could continue to monitor HABs even during a government shutdown—the kind of shutdown he had voted to prolong earlier in the year.

Funding the River of Grass

Rooney at Lake Okeechobee on March 29, 2019 thanks Trump for Everglades support. (Image: White House)

Despite praise lavished on Trump for his care and concern for Southwest Florida issues, Trump repeatedly shortchanged the state on Everglades restoration funding. In March, the budget he put out for fiscal year 2020 was no exception. Instead of requesting from Congress the $200 million that Florida was due, Trump requested a measly $63 million.

Rooney joined both Florida senators and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) in protesting the budget request, calling it “incredibly short-sighted” and saying that it was time for the administration to meet its commitments.

With Florida a crucial element of Trump’s re-election strategy, the president agreed to come to Lake Okeechobee to see the Hoover Dike for himself. He did so on March 29, which provided an opportunity for every Republican officeholder to be present in a kind of Florida mini-convention. Trump used the occasion to denounce immigrant caravans and call on the Army Corps of Engineers to build the border wall.

The Florida officeholders used the opportunity to lavishly thank the president and flatter and stroke his ego. Sen. Marco Rubio told Trump: “you have a chance, Mr. President, and your administration, to go down in history as the Everglades President — as the person who helped save and restore the Everglades.” Rooney weighed in as well: “Mr. President, I just want to thank you for this and for a lot of other things you’ve done to show when a businessperson gets involved in government, good things can happen. And you are going to save the Everglades. We’re doing as much in three years, because of you, than we’ve done in the preceding 13 years. So thank you, Mr. President.”

It took a reporter to bring Trump back to the topic of Everglades funding, asking when and how much money he would request from Congress. Responded Trump: “Soon. A lot. More than you would ever believe.”

Ultimately, in December, when Trump signed the new budget it contained $200 million for Everglades restoration. But that did not happen before Trump boasted in a tweet in May that he was “fighting” for the money.

The greening of Francis Rooney

It appeared in the first half of 2019 that Rooney was planning to run for a third term and to do so as a “green” Republican.

In addition to his work on offshore oil drilling and Everglades funding, he championed a tax to bring down carbon emissions. After the 2018 election he signed on as cosponsor to a proposal from fellow Floridian Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), which would progressively tax the carbon content of fuels. Although that bill died when the 115th Congress adjourned, he sponsored another, more business-friendly, version in the next Congress. This act was barely noted in the District but it violated the Republican anti-tax orthodoxy and brought down the wrath of the fiercely anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform.

Ultimately, 58 members signed on as co-sponsors to the legislation. Rooney was the only Republican.

Another aspect of Rooney’s environmentalism came in July when his committee assignment was changed from the Committee on Education and the Workforce to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. This put him in a much better position to affect environmental policy.

A September to remember

September 11 is, of course, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC. But Sept. 11, 2019 was a very special day for Francis Rooney.

It was on that day that he published an article in Politico magazine: “I’m a conservative Republican. Climate change is real.” In it, Rooney fully acknowledged the reality of climate change and called on his fellow Republicans to do the same.

“If we want to show America that we’re the party of the future, then it’s time for all Republicans to return to their roots as champions of our environment,” he wrote.

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of what amounted to an environmental manifesto. After nearly three years of publicly evading or downplaying questions about climate change, Rooney was fully recognizing it and doing so while Donald Trump was still dismissing it as a “Chinese hoax.” Many congressional Republicans and Southwest Floridians shared Trump’s opinion.

The very same day, HR 205, the Florida Coastal Protection Act making the offshore oil drilling moratorium permanent, passed the entire House by a vote of 248 to 180. Rooney was now listed as the legislation’s chief sponsor.

How had it passed? Rooney did his own shout-out in the statement announcing the passage: “Thanks to the support of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and Natural Resources Chairman Grijalva, the House of Representatives has done its job to protect Florida.” Pelosi, Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-5-Md.) and Raul Grijalva (D-3-Ariz.) were all Democrats, as was his chief cosponsor, Kathy Castor.

Rooney had learned to play well with others.

There was more good news in September when on Sept. 16 he was formally welcomed as a member of the Environmental Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, the key body that would deal with environmental policy. It was the perfect subcommittee assignment for further work on Southwest Florida’s environment.

Rooney was now positioned as the leading “green” Republican, he had proven that he could operate effectively in a Democratic House, he had collaborated successfully with Pelosi to the District’s benefit, he had taken a giant step toward protecting Southwest Florida’s coastline, he had begun a movement toward coping with toxic algae, he had increased Everglades appropriations, he was in a strong position in the District and his election to a third term seemed absolutely assured.

As the sun set on the month of September 2019, Rooney appeared to have attained that highest of all political ambitions—he was a winner.

What could possibly go wrong?

A ‘perfect’ phone call

On July 25, 2019 President Donald Trump had a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. They discussed military cooperation and then Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor, though… .” He wanted information damaging to former Vice President Joe Biden, his likely rival in the upcoming 2020 election.

That phone call, which Trump later characterized as “perfect,” set off a chain of events that led to the third presidential impeachment in American history.

Day after day the tension built as witnesses testified before Congress, new elements of Trump actions came to light and controversy grew.

In a polarized nation this led to even more extreme polarization. The more he was attacked and the more information emerged about his malfeasance the more Trump insisted on his near-papal infallibility and demanded absolute loyalty.

A key element of Trump’s defense was that there had never been a quid pro quo asked of Zelensky. However, on Oct. 17, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s White House chief of staff, admitted to reporters that there had indeed been a quid pro quo when Trump froze aid to Ukraine unless he got the public accusations he wanted against Biden’s son, Hunter.

An open mind is a terrible thing to have

Rep. Francis Rooney is interviewed by CNN’s Poppy Harlow. (Image: CNN)

After weeks of denying the quid pro quo, Mulvaney’s admission shocked Rooney.

Over the months since Trump’s praise for Rooney on Halloween night 2018 rifts had grown between the president and his defender.

In addition to Rooney’s first vote against Trump’s state of emergency declaration over the border wall, Rooney had voted against the president yet again on the same issue.

The House had voted against the emergency declaration. So had the Senate. Trump vetoed the bill and then the House tried to override Trump’s veto. Rooney, sticking to his original position, voted with the Democratic majority and 13 other Republicans to override. Although the override failed, Rooney had bucked the president and his Party, even while denying his vote had anything to do with Trump and everything to do with the Constitution.

Then there was a matter of foreign policy. Rooney, a former ambassador who was passionate about foreign affairs, began expressing disapproval of some of Trump’s diplomatic moves, one in particular.

On Oct. 6, following a telephone conversation between Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, the White House announced that it wouldn’t oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria, which was aimed against an autonomous Kurdish enclave there. The Kurds had fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops against the Islamic State, bravely facing the terrorist group’s cruelty and ruthlessness. Now American troops would abandon them. Trump’s decision amounted to the darkest betrayal of a close ally in United States history.

Rooney had repeatedly supported the Kurds in op-eds and statements. He now issued a statement urging Trump to reconsider. “The administration’s decision to remove our remaining troops from Syria is strategically short-sighted, erodes our credibility amongst our regional partners and fortifies Russia’s position in the conflict,” stated Rooney. Like so many statements made at that moment it was ignored and what followed was a genocidal assault against the Kurds that undid years of American effort.

So when Rooney agreed to an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow the morning of Oct. 18 after Mulvaney’s statement, he was perhaps not in as much of a mood to defend the president as he had been in the past.

“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 [the quid pro quo],” Rooney said, noting that political power was not to be used for personal gain.

Were the president’s actions grounds for impeachment? Harlow asked. “I don’t know. I want to study it [the president’s statements] more,” Rooney said. “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 made a politically dangerous comparison to Richard Nixon’s situation after Watergate. “I don’t think this is as much as Richard Nixon did,” he said of Trump’s actions. “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 said that Pelosi “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 he was also led to ask: “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?”

Harlow kept pressing Rooney to say that the president’s actions constituted impeachable offenses. Rooney very carefully resisted. He said he wanted more information and he wasn’t an authority on impeachment.

Then Harlow changed tack: “I think you are saying that you are not ruling out that this was an impeachable offense for the President,” she said.

“I don’t think you can rule anything out until you know all the facts,” responded Rooney.

Ostensibly a reasonable and obvious observation reflecting an open mind, in Trumpworld, this was Rooney’s moment of high heresy. It stabbed at the heart of Trump’s own doctrine of absolute innocence and infallibility.

In that interview and in a follow-up interview with Politico, Rooney repeated that he was open to considering the evidence being gathered for impeachment. When Mulvaney tried to walk back his statement, Rooney was scornful: “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,” he told Politico.

This was a crack in the solid Republican phalanx protecting Trump in the House and the reaction nationally was volcanic. “REPUBLICANS MUST STICK TOGETHER AND FIGHT!” Trump tweeted hysterically that day. The national political media was full of the story.

The day before, Rooney’s spokesperson had assured NBC2’s Dave Elias that Rooney fully intended to run for a third term, despite low fundraising totals.

But on the 19th, Rooney sat down with Fox News host Leland Vittert.

Rep. Francis Rooney’s interview with Leland Vittert, Oct. 19, 2019. (Image: Fox News)

“I did what I came to do and I want to be a model for term limits,” he said. He announced that he was not going to run for a third term.

Rooney said that he was “shocked” by Mulvaney’s remarks that there had been a quid pro quo and disgusted by the “rump, non-professional diplomatic channel” of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Energy Secretary Rick Perry who had been negotiating on Trump’s behalf with Ukraine outside normal channels.

Rooney said he felt “like I was a bit on an island for some time” among his Republican colleagues, with whom he disagreed on many issues. He said he didn’t really think he wanted a third term. His aim, he said, had been to get the money for the Everglades and stop offshore drilling. He said he’d gotten the Everglades projects going and increased its funding by ten times and the projects were under way. He had thought that might take three terms but now he felt it was accomplished.

When Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan welched on his commitment to stop offshore drilling, Rooney had worked with Pelosi and achieved his goal, he explained.

“I came to do what I came to do,” he said. “I believe in public service, not public life. I thought that you came and did your public service and you left.” Now, “I’m really tired of the intense partisanship and I’m ready to leave.”

Asked if he was like other Republicans who were tired of defending President Trump, he said no, “I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.”

Did his retirement announcement free him up a little bit? asked Vittert. “No,” said Rooney. “It’s just like we tell our kids and our employees: just try to do the right thing at all times.”

In absentia

Collier County protesters call for Trump’s impeachment. (Photo: Author)

Rooney may have announced his retirement but he still had a year of his term to go and coming up was one of the most momentous congressional votes in American history.

For two months after his Fox News interview, Rooney appeared to be the only Republican member of the House undecided on whether or not to send articles of impeachment to the Senate. As such he was the subject of intense speculation and suasion.

Finally, on Dec. 18 the world received its answer when Rooney joined 196 other House Republicans in voting against the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, and 197 on the second article, obstruction of Congress.

“Based on the limited evidence provided to the House of Representatives, the President’s behavior, while inappropriate, was neither criminal, nor does it rise to the level of justifying impeachment,” he announced.

The Republican votes notwithstanding, the majority of the House voted to impeach the president. The articles were sent to the Senate for trial where Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow witnesses to be called and the president was acquitted.

Although he had voted the Party line on impeachment, Rooney was still a heretic according to the Trump credo. His heretical status was confirmed in later votes as well.

In January Rooney confirmed his apostasy when he defied Trump and party discipline and voted to restrict Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran. This followed the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and an Iranian missile retaliation against US forces. In this he was joined—incredibly—by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), perhaps Trump’s most histrionic defender in Congress. Rooney explained his vote as being in keeping with Congress’ authority to declare war.

In the District public focus shifted to a raucous and wild Republican primary to succeed Rooney, with ten Republican candidates at one point vying to gain his seat.

Behold a pale horse

When the year 2020 dawned the biggest expected disruption to normal everyday life was what was sure to be a passionate and hard-fought re-election campaign. But at the beginning of December, 2019, the most disruptive and destructive event in a century had its origins in a “wet market” half a world away in Wuhan, China.

As the coronavirus, COVID-19, swept through the world and became a confirmed pandemic, Trump kept assuring the public that “like a miracle, it will disappear” and did no planning, organizing or preparation while the plague mounted and began taking lives in the United States.

There was little that Congress could do about the virus itself. But it could provide relief to hard-hit American families, bolster business and try to provide the financial resources to keep the country working.

What followed were a series of House initiatives to cope with the effects of the pandemic, marshaled by House Speaker Pelosi in the absence of leadership from the President.

Each had to be approved by the Congress. And in every one, Rooney was absent.

It was as though, having announced that he would retire at the end of the 116th Congress, Rooney had actually decided to retire immediately.

On March 3 Rooney posted some generic coronavirus information on his official House webpage and on March 19 he called for Congress to permit remote voting due to the pandemic. But from Feb. 12 to July 29—5 months and 17 days—Rooney was absent from voting as the House passed one critical COVID-related piece of legislation after another: funding to fight the disease; funding for testing, sick leave and employee protections; an economic stimulus bill; the Paycheck Protection Program; an economic relief and responder support bill; paycheck revisions; and infrastructure support among others.

Rooney did take some actions: he signed a Republican letter calling for the resignation of the head of the World Health Organization and made a variety of announcements. But he took no legislative actions.

At the end of June, Rooney’s absence and his willingness to use proxy voting, which Democrats were promoting because of the pandemic but which congressional Republicans opposed, led sophomore Republicans to vote him off the Republican Steering Committee. A little-known but powerful panel, this was the body that made committee assignments. He was replaced with a Texas congressman.

Finally, at the end of July, Rooney denied that he’d been absent from the work of Congress.

“I am working right along, every day, on issues important to Southwest Florida: Everglades appropriations, dredging in Collier County, estuary renourishment, pushing the administration to support the offshore drilling ban that I sponsored in the House, and a host of other issues,” he stated in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive.

As for all the missed coronavirus votes, he stated: “Voting on things that are preordained to pass, otherwise the Speaker would not bring them forward, has not seemed to be worth the COVID risk to me.” He had refrained from voting by proxy at the behest of the Republican leadership while they challenged the practice in court. Once the challenge was heard in court, he proceeded to participate again and cast his first, post-absence ballot on July 29.

Rooney did make headlines again in June when he told The New York Times that he might support the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, because “Trump is driving us all crazy.”

Of Biden, Rooney said: “What he’s always been is not scary. A lot of people that voted for President Trump did so because they did not like Hillary Clinton. I don’t see that happening with Joe Biden — how can you not like Joe Biden?” Still, he was not formally endorsing the Democrat because he wanted to make sure he did not veer off to the extreme left of the political spectrum.

Rooney also did not make an endorsement as nine Republicans battled and battered each other for the nomination to replace him.

That might have remained a statesmanlike position before the Aug. 18 Republican primary but after local Republicans selected state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) to be their standard bearer for Congress, Rooney still did not make an endorsement.

Donalds won his race anyway, with the dependable 62 percent Republican majority in the District.

However, as the presidential race was called for Joe Biden and Donald Trump resisted the voters’ verdict, Rooney went rogue yet again.

Republicans nationally and locally were either following Trump’s lead and alleging widespread fraud or withholding their recognition of Biden’s victory.

But Rooney, alone of local Republicans, extended congratulations to the President-Elect on Nov. 7.

“All Americans need to come together in supporting President- elect Biden,” he posted on Twitter and Facebook. “Our nation will only be successful if the new administration is. We must work together to enact bipartisan legislation and solve the problems which our country faces – that is how our system of government works. We have more that unite us than divide us, and now that the heat of battle has drawn to a close we must come together for the betterment of all our citizens.”

He followed that up with a longer, more expansive look at presidential transitions in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper on Nov. 15. Titled “Time to concede: The peaceful transition of power is an American tradition.” It again put forward his earlier conclusion:  “President Trump should concede the election immediately after all long-shot court challenges have been disposed of. The best interests of our nation and our party demand that we acknowledge the winner of this vigorous contest. The American People have made their choice. It is the American way to recognize and honor that choice.”

Rooney was predictably denounced by die-hard ever-Trumpers.

Doris Cortese (Image: NBC2)

Doris Cortese, vice-chair of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee and the “godmother” of Lee County Republican politics, was livid.

“For him to call himself a Republican and then call for our Republican president to concede, I think is beyond terrible,” she told Amy Bennett Williams of the News-Press on Nov. 17. “He has betrayed our president, he’s betrayed our party, he’s betrayed the people who trusted him and voted for him and worked for him, and he’s betraying our country by not letting our election process work itself out.”

Byron Donalds agreed: “Let’s just let the process work,” he told Williams. “When we see what the numbers look like after that’s done, then I think it’s time to start (making) those decisions and having those conversations.”

So Rooney was ending his congressional career as an outcast and heretic, about as far as possible from where he had stood on that warm October afternoon in 2016, when as a believing Trumper he praised the man as a potential savior from the twin menaces of Hillary Clinton and socialism.

Rep. Francis Rooney is interviewed by Dave Elias, NBC2 News political reporter, Oct. 30, 2020. (Image: NBC2 News)

On Oct. 30, just before the election and almost exactly two years to the day since Trump had praised him before the crowd in Hertz Arena as a “great congressman,” Rooney was interviewed by Dave Elias, NBC2’s political reporter, in what was promoted as an “exit interview.”

“How will history remember Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of the 19th District?” asked Elias.

“I hope they remember he did the things he ran to accomplish and got them done even if they never agreed with everything. I did what I thought was the right thing and I was intellectually honest about it at all times,” responded Rooney.

Would that in fact be the way Southwest Florida would remember Francis Rooney?

Tomorrow: The Legacy

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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