U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress and political godmother to Miami Republicans, is quitting Congress after nearly four decades in office, providing Democrats a prime opportunity to pick up a seat that heavily favors them.
“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen told her hometown paper, The Miami Herald. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”
Story Continued Below
Ros-Lehtinen denied that her retirement had anything to do with her differences with President Donald Trump. She has long opposed Trump’s position on illegal immigration, didn’t support his recent Obamacare repeal effort and disagreed with his administration’s policies on transgender rights. Ros-Lehtinen has a transgender child.
In leaving Florida’s newly drawn 27th Congressional District, Ros-Lehtinen almost assured the Democrats will pick up her seat. No Republican-held House district gave Trump a lower share of the vote in 2016 than Ros-Lehtinen’s. Trump got just 39 percent of the vote in the district, while Hillary Clinton got more than 58 percent – more than 5 points better than Barack Obama in 2012, even as Florida shifted into the Republican column in 2016.
Ros-Lehtinen, an icon in Miami, beat challenger Scott Fuhrman by 10 percentage points last year. It was her closest race in decades. Fuhrman is running for the Miami-area seat again, but Ros-Lehtinen said she was sure she’d win again. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn, both Democrats, also want the seat.
Ros-Lehtinen was the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban American ever elected to Congress and, before that, the Florida state legislature. Always tough on Cuba policy, Ros Lehtinen’s blend of social moderation and fiscal conservatism allowed her to consistently win elections in Democrat-leaning seats. She succeeded longtime Congressman Claude Pepper, a Democrat. Jeb Bush managed her campaign, and now-Sen. Marco Rubio interned for her at one point.
In his first book, “An American Son,” Rubio recounted how he drank too much vodka on an airplane during the 1996 presidential campaign and vomited on an operative in front of Ros-Lehtinen.
Ros-Lehtinen made light of the story on Twitter.
“Unlike @marcorubio, you don’t have 2 throw up in front of me 2 get my attention. Just follow my tweets!,” she wrote.