On Saturday, just one day after he refused to rule out supporting an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, GOP Rep. Francis Rooney announced that he would not seek a third term in Florida’s safely red 19th Congressional District.
Rooney was the subject of retirement speculation after he barely raised any money over the last six months. While the congressman’s office insisted Thursday that he was running again and “in it to win it,” Rooney himself acknowledged the next day that he hadn’t decided what he’d do in 2020.
Rooney also didn’t close the door on supporting an impeachment inquiry on Friday following acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s admission that the administration had withheld military aid to Ukraine to try and pressure it into launching an investigation to help Trump. Rooney said, “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 also responded to Mulvaney’s walk-back by declaring, “The only thing I could assume is he meant what he had to say, that there was a quid pro quo on this stuff. . . . It’s not an Etch A Sketch.” The congressman also didn’t seem concerned that he was jeopardizing his re-election chances, adding, “I didn’t take this job to keep it.” He continued, “I took this job to do the right thing at all times — the right thing. And if that means I got to go find, go back to my other job, that’s okay, too. I like building buildings and drilling oil wells.”
Rooney’s southwestern Florida seat, which includes Naples and Fort Myers, backed Trump 60-38, and the GOP should have no trouble holding it without an incumbent. In fact, this will be the fourth time in just 8 years that this district will host an open seat race. Back in 2012, four-term Rep. Connie Mack IV left to unsuccessfully run for the Senate, and conservative radio host Trey Radel was elected to succeed him. In October of the following year, though, Radel was arrested by an undercover officer in D.C. after he attempted to buy cocaine, and he resigned months later under pressure from party leaders.
Self-funding businessman Curt Clawson won the 2014 special election to succeed Radel, but he announced just two years later that he would retire to spend time with his newly widowed father. Rooney, who had served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to the Vatican and was himself a wealthy businessman, quickly entered the 2016 primary and secured the support of then-Gov. Rick Scott. Rooney dumped close to $4 million of his own money into his bid and massively outspent his opponents, and he beat former congressional aide Chauncey Goss (the son of Mack’s predecessor Porter Goss), by a wide 53-30 margin.
Rooney is the second two-term House Republican who is retiring this cycle after spending millions of their own money to get elected in the first place. Michigan’s Paul Mitchell spent over $7 million in personal funds between his failed 2014 bid and his successful 2016 run, but he announced in July that he was done with Congress. Altogether, Rooney is the 18th House Republican who is exiting the chamber so far, while just six Democrats are calling it quits.
It may be a while before the race for this once-again open seat takes shape. Florida’s candidate filing deadline isn’t until the start of May, and the primary will take place in late August.
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