Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who was the first House Republican express openness to voting to impeach President Donald Trump, announced his retirement on Saturday.
“I thought the idea was you came and did your public service and left, you accomplish what you want to accomplish and you left," Rooney said on Fox News. "And that’s what I want to be an example to do. And I’m also tired of the intense partisanship that stops us from solving the big questions that America needs solved.”
The two-term congressman confirmed his plans shortly afterward in an interview with POLITICO.
The news came one day after Rooney, a former construction company owner and major GOP donor, told CNN he couldn't dismiss the possibility that the president committed an impeachable offense in his dealings with Ukrainian officials. "I don't think you can rule anything out unless you know all the facts," he said.
Rooney, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on outgoing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to comply with a House subpoena and cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
Rooney told reporters Friday he was still deciding whether to run for reelection, saying it would depend on “family things, business, wanting to do some different things.” But he strongly hinted that he was considering leaving.
“This is kind of a frustrating job for me. I come from a world of action, decisions, putting your money down, and seeing what happens,” said Rooney, who was a successful businessman before coming to Congress in 2017. “This is a world of a talk. It’s very difficult for me to just stand up and talk.”
Rooney, who has been sitting in on closed-door depositions connected to the House’s impeachment probe, has been one of the few Republicans to publicly express alarm over Trump’s communications with Ukraine.
The Florida Republican said Friday he was “shocked” by Mick Mulvaney’s admission of a quid pro quo, saying it would be difficult for the White House to walk back the comments and that it “very well could be” a turning point in the Ukraine saga.
“He basically said it’s a quid pro quo, which is not a good thing,” Rooney said. “The only thing I can assume is he meant what he had to say. ... It’s not an etch-a-sketch.”
Rooney also said he was “still thinking about” whether Trump’s actions amounted to an impeachable offense.
But Rooney, a former ambassador to the Holy See, added that “every time an ambassador comes and talks, we learn a lot more.”
“It’s painful to me to see this kind of amateur diplomacy riding roughshod over our State Department apparatus,” Rooney said.
Rooney’s announcement has already set off jockeying for the heavily Republican seat in southwest Florida. It’s a region packed with ambitious state-level politicians, and wealthy potential self-funders who could make a play for the seat.
Florida House Majority Leader Dane Eagle, a Republican who has represented the region in the statehouse since 2012, said he is mulling a run.
“Southwest Florida deserves consistent representation in Washington,” Eagle said. “I’m certain we will have a slew of candidates throwing their name in the ring, and at this time my wife and I are carefully considering this opportunity.”
Term-limited state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said her focus for now remains on a special legislative session that will kick off next week. She ran for the House seat in a 2014 special election, but lost in the GOP primary to former Rep. Curt Clawson.
Others who would potentially consider a bid include state Rep. Byron Donalds and former state Rep. Matt Hudson. And Chauncey Goss, the son of former congressman and ex-CIA Director Porter Goss, and who has run for the seat previously, told POLITICO he also intends to take a look. “This was pretty sudden and wasn’t on my radar at all," he said, but "I’ll be discussing this with my family and other people I respect over the next few days."
The region is home to some of the wealthiest people in the nation, which can change the political calculus. Clawson and Rooney both financed their own races, elbowing aside candidates considered more a part of Florida’s political establishment.
Rooney, for his part, insisted this week he wasn't concerned about invoking Trump's wrath with his impeachment remarks. “What’s he’s going to do to me?” he told reporters.
“I took this job to do the right thing, at all times, and if that means I gotta go back to my other job, that’s okay, too,” Rooney added. “There’s a lot of people around here who are seriously concerned about being criticized by the president.”
“I want to get the facts and do the right thing,” he said. “Because I’ll be looking at my children a lot longer than I’m looking at anybody in this building.”
Rooney has sometimes been a lone wolf in the GOP, breaking with the party on issues such as climate change. He told POLITICO he is satisfied with his accomplishments in Congress, including securing funding to restore the Everglades, and moving legislation to ban offshore drilling, which passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
"I wanted to raise the profile of southwest Florida," said Rooney, who won reelection last year by 24 points.
Rooney follows other Republican critics of Trump who've announced their retirements — such as Texas Rep. Will Hurd — or left the party, in the case of Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who became an independent. So far this cycle, 21 GOP lawmakers have decided to retire, resign or run for higher office.
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.