With Stone commutation – a rare break between Pa.’s Toomey and Trump. What happened?

Sen. Pat Toomey. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

By Davis Giangiulio

A very public spat between U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and President Donald Trump over Trump’s decision to commute the prison sentence of friend and adviser Roger Stone marked a rare, headline-grabbing break between the Pennsylvania lawmaker and the White House.

Toomey, of Lehigh County, has generally been supportive of Trump and his policies, netting him no small amount of anger back home in Pennsylvania.

For four years, until the COVID0-19 pandemic, protesters have gathered outside Toomey’s offices across Pennsylvania for weekly “Tuesday with Toomey” rallies, taking him to task, initially, for 2016 vote to elect Trump and his vote to acquit Trump in a Senate impeachment trial in February.

But a close reading of Toomey’s public statements over the last few months reveals that the Lehigh Valley lawmaker also has quietly broken with the White House on several issues.

  • In March, Toomey put out a tweet where he encouraged mask usage amongst Pennsylvanians. Using the popular hashtag #Masks4All, he said in a video masks “help slow down the rate at which [coronavirus] is transmitted,” and wrote, “my mask could help you, your mask could help me.” The tweet came even as Trump refused to wear a mask.
  • In late June, Toomey also broke from Trump on another issue. After the Trump administration announced it would limit visas to foreign workers due to coronavirus concerns, Toomey disapproved of the decision in a statement. “This will slow economic growth, drive up the costs of goods and services, and ultimately cost jobs for American workers,” he said.
  • Earlier this month, Toomey found himself at odds with the White House again after the New York Times reported that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers. Trump dismissed the story as a “hoax.” Toomey, in turn, released a statement calling for the White House to brief senators on the bounties.
  • Last weekend, Toomey found himself on the receiving end of a blistering Tweet from Trump after calling Trump’s decision to pardon longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone “a mistake.”

In a statement, Toomey’s office pushed back, saying the Lehigh Valley Republican “has long been of the view that the FBI under the leadership of [former FBI officials] James Comey and Andrew McCabe grossly abused its power.”

The weekend’s break with the White House was more public and tempestuous than Toomey’s previous disagreements over tariffs and trade, as well his vote against the U.S./Mexico/Canada trade agreement.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, of Allentown, told the Capital-Starthat he thought Trumo took this attack “more personally than a disagreement over trade policy” because of it surrounding a friend. He added calling Toomey a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only,” was “mind boggling” considering Toomey has been a Republican all his life while Trump has not.

Toomey’s criticism of the Stone commutation prompted renewed speculation that he’s prepping for a 2022 gubernatorial bid.

Toomey dismissed the speculation back in April, but did not rule out a run. He said to Sunbury, Pa.- based radio station Newsradio 1070 WKOK-AM, “2022 is a long way away … so I’ll make decisions about my own political future further down the road.”

Sam DeMarco, chair of the Allegheny County Republican Party, told CBS Pittsburgh the situation between Trump and Toomey was “much ado about nothing,” and that nobody agrees “100 percent with anybody any of the time.”

A public row with the president could hurt Toomey with the Republican base, where Trump is overwhelmingly popular. But Dent believes there was little risk taken by Toomey with his statement.

“It appears President Trump, based on recent polling numbers, may be out of office in a few months,” Dent said.

While Toomey has spoken out more frequently against White House decisions, his voting record has yet to reflect this. Toomey has voted with the president 88 percent of the time since he was sworn in, according to a database from FiveThirtyEight.com.

In a statement, a Toomey spokesman told the Capital-Star that there was no “other type of underlying reason,” for Toomey’s public comments on Stone’s commutation than him believing it was the wrong decision. The spokesman did note, however, that “when [Toomey] feels strongly about something, he does speak out.”

Davis Giangiulio a rising high school senior, is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia suburbs.