Five-term U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, announced Monday he will not seek re-election this year — a decision his brother believes was partly influenced by the June shooting at a practice of the Republican congressional baseball team.
“I’m shocked,” said Peter Feaman, Florida’s Republican National Committeeman and a Boynton Beach resident. “I’m dismayed and I’m disappointed, because we need voices like his in the U.S. Congress.”
But one of Rooney’s brothers said he wasn’t entirely surprised.
“I knew he was struggling with the decision,” said Pat Rooney Jr., who manages the family-owned Palm Beach Kennel Club and served six years in the Florida House. “I think Tom tried to do what he wanted to do and felt like 10 years was enough time to devote.”
Pat Rooney said his brother has talked about family and priorities in the wake of the June 2017 shooting of GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana on a baseball practice field that Tom Rooney had left just four minutes earlier.
“I think that really resonated with him,” Pat Rooney said. “That’s become part of our reality now.”
Tom Rooney, who was raised in Palm Beach Gardens, was elected to a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional district in 2008 but moved to a Central Florida seat after the 2012 redistricting. He was considered a safe bet for re-election this year. The 47-year-old Rooney is a deputy whip in the GOP House leadership and has been mentioned in the past as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate.
“After what will be 10 years in the United States Congress representing the good people of Florida’s Heartland, it’s time to ‘hang em up’ as my old football coach used to say,” Rooney said in a statement. “I will not be running for re-election to Congress in 2018. I want to thank my constituents for allowing me the opportunity to serve them in Washington.”
Rooney thanked a variety of staffers and House colleagues without elaborating on his reasons for deciding not to run.
“Most of all, I would like to thank my family, especially my Mom and Dad, my wife Tara, and my sons Tommy, Sean Patrick, and Seamus. You have sacrificed so much so I could follow my dreams. Now it’s time for me to better support yours,” Rooney said.
“I look forward to serving Florida again in the future in a different capacity. Keep the faith. Slainte! Rooney out,” his text message concluded.
Feaman praised Rooney’s military service, religious values and “common sense” as valuable qualities not easy to replace in Congress.
An attorney who served in the U.S. Army JAG Corps and taught criminal and constitutional law at West Point, Rooney was first elected in 2008 to a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast district. He unseated Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney after Mahoney admitted to “multiple” extramarital affairs and a $121,903 lawsuit settlement to a former mistress whom he had put on his congressional and campaign payrolls.
Rooney comes from a family that owns the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and has produced a U.S. ambassador to Ireland as well as legislators who have pursued public roles in addition to private careers.
Tom Rooney has cited concerns about his family before in weighing political options, such as a possible run for U.S. Senate in 2016 when Marco Rubio was making a bid for the White House.
“While I feel like I could mount a successful statewide campaign, the toll I believe the process would take on my family is something I cannot put them through,” Rooney said in a statement at the time. “There is no greater responsibility I have than the upbringing of my three young sons. Therefore, I will not seek the Republican nomination for Senate in 2016.”
Pat Rooney said Monday that the idea of serving a limited time always had a certain appeal to his brother.
“That’s the way our Founding Fathers envisioned it,” he said.