From the moment Francis Rooney expressed alarm to his House colleagues that Donald Trump might have abused presidential power in his dealings with Ukraine—and more dramatically, that an impeachment inquiry could be warranted—the Florida Republican was a marked man.
He made for a most unusual suspect. A silver-haired business tycoon, former ambassador and card-carrying member of the GOP establishment, Rooney had reliably played the role of good soldier for the party since easily winning his Naples-area congressional seat in 2016. He had kept his head down. He had dutifully gone about his business as a policymaker and a politician. He had, like so many of his fellow Republicans, muffled his trepidation over the president’s behavior, recognizing that to cross Trump was to commence the extinction of his own political career.
Venting privately about the president has become a hallowed pastime in Republican-controlled Washington, a sort of ritualistic release for those lawmakers tasked with routinely defending the indefensible, and Rooney had long indulged without consequence. Certainly, his friends noticed, the Florida congressman had grown more animated in private over the past year—railing against the improprieties detailed in the Mueller report, decrying the Trump family’s brazen attempts to enrich themselves off the presidency, wondering aloud what the president needed to do before voters would turn on him. Still, there was no real risk. To the extent GOP leaders heard echoes of Rooney’s discontent, they dismissed it as just another member blowing off steam.