By Molly K. Hooper - 12/16/13 06:00 AM EST
Florida Republican lawmakers say Rep. Trey Radel's (R-Fla.) time in Congress will run out soon, one way or another.
A source close to the freshman Republican told The Hill that the lawmaker, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and is getting treatment in a rehab clinic, intends to return to D.C. to finish his term in office. Any decisions regarding reelection, however, will be made next year. The Ft. Myers-area House member intends to focus on getting well in rehab before deciding if he will seek another term in Congress, the source explained.
The consensus among Florida Republicans is that Radel will either not run for reelection or lose in his 2014 primary.
According to lawmakers familiar with the situation, Radel spoke with Florida delegation chairman Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) recently.
One top source said that Radel told Buchanan that "he's going to try to work through the rehab and then figure it out." Buchanan confirmed the call occurred, but would not reveal details of the conversation.
The source told The Hill, "I think he'll try to hang in there, but he's got a lot of soul searching in his family, with constituents and I think if [former Rep. Connie Mack [R-Fla.] runs], it will be a big factor. And I don't know that [Mack’s] not in the background, working it."
Mack’s interest in running for the seat that he gave up for his failed 2012 Senate bid could mean a very difficult primary race for the recovering freshman lawmaker, who took a leave of absence to enter rehab.
Unlike previous congressmen, including John Sullivan (R-Okla.), Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who took leave to go to rehab for alcoholism, Radel had only represented his district for 11 months at the time of his conviction.
One Florida lawmaker, who privately told The Hill that Radel needs to resign, questioned how the freshman would remain relevant.
"I'm looking at what it takes on a daily basis to stay relevant with your base, and I don't see how you do it when you are not here to vote, and you have a [cocaine conviction] hanging over your head," the member said.
Radel, a former TV anchor, has missed crucial votes, including the Ryan-Murray budget deal and National Defense Authorization bill since he went on leave.
Furthermore, a handful of Radel’s GOP state delegation colleagues, who could help an embattled member, said the freshman has made little effort to build a rapport with them during his time in Washington, D.C.
Several of them noted that the first time he called to talk was the day before he appeared in court to plead guilty to possession and purchasing of cocaine.
Radel was sentenced to one year probation and a fine; he was charged with a misdemeanor.
Radel's lawyer did not comment for this article.
Lawmakers in his delegation point out that in Florida, cocaine possession is a felony offense.
Some have taken umbrage that Radel has made calls from rehab to political players, including Buchanan.
A Florida GOP lawmaker questioned how Radel was able to make calls to anybody outside his family since “addiction recovery” typically does not include “plotting out one’s political future.”
A senior member of the delegation told The Hill that Radel needs to decide for himself how to proceed, but it would be difficult for the junior lawmaker to win reelection.
"I think he's under a lot of pressure to get out, being a freshman and being involved in something like that — it's pretty tough," the lawmaker said.
Whether Radel steps down or runs for reelection, members of the delegation agree that Mack has a good shot at reclaiming his former House seat should he toss his hat into the ring.
“I don't know how [Radel] survives it, especially if Connie gets in, because I think that Connie's got a big name, could be pretty well financed,” one lawmaker noted.
Mack has been expressing interest in running for the seat, according to Florida news reports, but he has yet to reach out to his former House colleagues directly.
For their part, the members of the Florida delegation told The Hill that they want to wait until Radel is out of rehab before discussing the matter on the record.
Still, they believe that Radel is aware of the highly publicized calls for his resignation from influential Florida Republicans.
Florida’s GOP Gov. Rick Scott joined the state Republican party chair and two crucial county Republican Party chairmen in calling for Radel to step down, shortly following his Nov. 20 conviction and subsequent entrance in rehab.
Two GOP county party heads in Radel’s district stated that “he would not enjoy” their support should he run for reelection in 2014.
Buchanan indicated to a source familiar with the conversation that Radel felt the pressure of the calls for him to resign though the matter wasn’t discussed in detail over the phone.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) has been the only member of the Florida congressional delegation to call for Radel’s resignation.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, has not called for Radel to step down.