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GOP Rep. Francis Rooney Raises Questions About Trump's Assertion On Quid Pro Quo


This week brought a set of extraordinary developments here in Washington - fallout from the president's change in policy with Syria, his negotiations with Turkey, and his administration's muddled effort to combat the impeachment inquiry unfolding on Capitol Hill. Now we're going to hear from a Republican congressman for his take on the week events, Francis Rooney. He represents a section of southwest Florida. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is one of the panels conducting the impeachment inquiry.

Welcome to the program.

FRANCIS ROONEY: Thank you for having me on.

CORNISH: I want to start with the comments yesterday from White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. You've said you were shocked by them. Which aspect, and why?

ROONEY: Well, you know, we heard this stuff about the money being withheld. And then we heard about...

CORNISH: And this is the aid to Ukraine that was...

ROONEY: Right.

CORNISH: ...Held back. And the question is...

ROONEY: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...Was it held back in order for the president to leverage...

ROONEY: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...An attempt to get an investigation.

ROONEY: Right. And then separately from the money part, we heard about all these behavioral issues involving Giuliani and other kinds of people. So I was willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt and say, well, OK, maybe they were not related. But then comes on Mick Mulvaney on the TV yesterday and says they were. So it's like he proved up the case that they've been trying to make.

CORNISH: Now he tried to walk back these comments. It sounds like you weren't convinced.

ROONEY: Well, how do you walk back? I mean, it's not like you were misinterpreted. The words were - seemed to me - very clear. And I was surprised that he did that. But I - you know, I don't know how you walk that back. I mean...

CORNISH: One thing people are wondering today - is Mulvaney's leadership style as acting chief of staff a contributing factor to how this situation is playing out? Is he becoming a problem?

ROONEY: I really couldn't comment on anything personal about that. I have great respect for Mick Mulvaney. He was instrumental in helping us get the funding for the Everglades and repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike in Florida. I think he's served...

CORNISH: But you also said you were shocked by his comments, right?

ROONEY: But I was...

CORNISH: Not just upset, you said shocked.

ROONEY: No, I was shocked.

CORNISH: So that is creating a scenario that seems like a problem for the White House. And do you think that means he should stick around?

ROONEY: I think a lot of people were shocked to hear him say that get over it and that we're going to use foreign policy for political purposes. That really is not what we're supposed to be doing.

CORNISH: It sounds like you believe him. Does that mean you don't believe the president on this point?

ROONEY: Yeah, I guess you - I don't know. I mean, Mulvaney thinks, like I say, like a bolt out of the sky - contradicting his own president, contradicting everything that had come before. I want to wait and see what everybody else says, but it's hard to comprehend the magnitude of those comments given what had gone before.

CORNISH: On that issue, you are a former diplomat - you served as ambassador to the Vatican from 2005 to 2008 - one of the things that's come up in this discussion about Ukraine is the idea of a shadow foreign policy, specifically, bringing in the president's personal attorney to help conduct business and his interests in Ukraine. Is that something that's giving you pause? Do you see it that way?

ROONEY: It's giving me great pause. I don't think it's a good idea. I think we have a great number of professional, dedicated public servants, both at Foggy Bottom and around the world and out at Langley and at DIA at Bolling Air Force Base and all around the world, that are dedicated to professional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests. And I don't think we need amateur diplomacy competing with them, or, even worse, undermining them.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, you are in one of the panels that's conducting the impeachment inquiry, so you're hearing a lot of information. You're hearing a lot of testimony. Are you hearing things that are in the direction of impeachable offenses?

ROONEY: Well, I don't know. I mean, this impeachment is kind of whatever you decide to make of it, right? I mean, I read some things today that impeachment's whatever the House of Representatives says it is. And I thought it was high crimes and misdemeanors, and that seems more of a legal thing. But...

CORNISH: Well, the legal thing is it's your decision, right? I mean...


CORNISH: ...As part of Congress, you guys will be deciding what is a high crime and misdemeanor. Are you hearing things that rise to a real detriment to the office of the presidency?

ROONEY: Well, let me put this way. I want to get all the facts and reserve judgment just a bit. But I know that during Watergate, everybody rushed to judgment and said, oh, it's a witch hunt, it's a anti-Republican, anti-Nixon deal. And what did we find out? And so I just want to get all the facts. And - but I will say this. The issue of using the power and prestige of our country to bring pressure on a foreign government to deal with political activities, not American security interest activities, is bothersome to me. And it's a big deal.

CORNISH: Congressman Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, thank you for your time.

ROONEY: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 17, 2019 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier headline and Web introduction to this story mischaracterized a statement by Rep. Francis Rooney. He did not say there was a clear quid pro quo. Instead, he said comments from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney call into question what the president has said in the past about there being no quid pro quo.