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.”
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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.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has represented Miami in Congress since 1989, will not seek reelection in 2018, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.
“It’s been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” Ros-Lehtinen told the newspaper. “We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.’”
In the interview, the centrist Republican maintained that she is not leaving Congress due to disagreements with the Trump administration and the more conservative bloc of her party.
“I’ve served under all kinds of different dynamics in all these years that I’ve been in office here,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Though I don’t agree with many, if not most, positions of President Trump.”
But, she insisted to the Miami Herald that “it’s not been part of the calculation of retiring.”
The 64-year-old won reelection to Florida’s 27th congressional district in November by 10 points, her closest race in years. She spent $3.4 million to defeat Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman in that race, but told the paper that she believes she’d win again if she ran.
“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said, predicting she would have raised at least $2.5 million for her next campaign.
“It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected,” she added.
With the GOP in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress, it “gives me an opportunity to stand out more and have people realize that I’m a moderate,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald.
The Florida Republican has been an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQ community.
And she also believes that Dreamers, children brought to America illegally by their parents, should be able to stay in the United States — putting her at odds with many in her party who support President Trump’s push to deport undocumented immigrants.
Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban-American elected to Congress and the first Hispanic woman elected.
Her retirement gives Democrats the opportunity to pick up another seat as they seek to flip districts in 2018. At least one group analyzing the parties’ chances in each race changed its rating based on the news, moving the district from “likely Republican” to “leans Democrat.”
RATINGS CHANGE: FL-27 goes from Likely R all the way to Leans D now that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) is retiring
Veteran reporter Bob Woodward sent a message directed to President Trump late Saturday: “The media is not fake news.”
“The effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith,” Woodward said during remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”
Woodward said during his speech that any president and his administration is “clearly entitled to the most serious reporting efforts possible.”
“We need to understand, to listen, to dig — obviously our reporting needs to get both facts and tone right,” he said.
“The press — especially the so-called mainstream media — comes under regular attack, particularly during presidential campaigns like this one and its aftermath.”
Members of the media at times get things wrong, Woodward said.
“Like politicians and presidents, sometimes, perhaps too frequently, we make mistakes and go too far,” he said.
“When that happens, we should own up to it.”
The president has frequently referred to certain articles and networks as “fake news.” He is a strong critic of the press, often blasting reporters and accusing them of biased or dishonest coverage against him.
President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that the latest revision of his healthcare bill would guarantee coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions — a shift from language in the Republican replacement bill circulating in the House.
“We actually have a clause that guarantees,” Trump told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday morning and covered everything from healthcare to his views on North Korea to his feelings about the presidency, with the first 100 days under his belt.
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Throughout the interview on CBS, Trump underscored the progress he has made in forging relations with foreign leaders over any domestic legislative accomplishments, which have proven more difficult for the self-described deal-maker. In the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, his signature policies like repealing and replacing Obamacare, and instituting a Muslim ban, have failed or held up by other levers of government.
The popular aspect of the Affordable Care Act — which guarantees that individuals can buy healthcare insurance even if they have been sick in the past — appears at risk in the latest version of the House bill. In that version, states would have the option to opt out of the “community rating,” which prevents insurers for hiking premiums on people based on their health history and age.
But Trump insisted that was not the case.
“Preexisting is going to be in there, and we’re also going to create pools,” Trump said of the revised health care bill that is still floundering in the House after a vote was tabled on Friday due to a lack of support.
After being pressed by Dickerson multiple times on whether that was a guarantee that it would not be left up to the states, Trump finally got to the word “guarantee.”
“Preexisting conditions are in the bill,” Trump insisted. “And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, ‘pre-existing is not covered. Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”
It was not the only time in the interview that Trump harped on his favorite foil, the press, as unfair and standing in his way.
Trump, who waged a campaign against the “dishonest” media during the 2016 election, pointed again to the news outlets that cover him when asked what he had learned after 100 days on the job.
“One of the things I’ve learned is how dishonest the media is, really,” he told Dickerson — his latest in a string of interviews with the journalists he claims to hate, as he has approached the 100-day marker. “I’ve done things that are I think very good. I’ve set great foundations with foreign leaders.” He pointed to his turnabout on NAFTA — which he claimed he was set to “terminate” until he received “a very nice call” from the president of Mexico, as well as a nudge from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and changed his mind.
He also claimed that he single-handedly stopped China from manipulating its currency. “I would say that I was the one that got them to stop,” he said. “It’s not going down anymore, their currency.”
When pressed for something else he has learned, Trump admitted that changing the levers of government is difficult. “Things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you’d like them to go,” he said. “I think the rules in Congress and in particular the rules in the Senate are unbelievably archaic and slow moving.” He said the system forces you to “make deals that are not the deal you’d make. You’d make a much different kind of a deal.”
He also blasted the Democrats for acting as obstructionists, singling out Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as a “bad leader for the country,” and calling the handling of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation — one of his biggest accomplishments to date — a disgrace.
Trump — who still regularly touts his own surprise election win — also expressed respect for North Korean leader Kim Jung Un for seizing power at a young age.
“A lot of people don’t like when I say it,” Trump said, “but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father. … He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others. … Obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie.”
But he did not explain what he would do in reaction to a nuclear test from North Korea.
“If he does a nuclear test, I will not be happy,” Trump said. When pressed on whether “not happy” meant taking military action in response, Trump deferred. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, we’ll see.”
Trump, who in a moment of self-reflection told Reuters in an interview last week that the job of the presidency, “I thought it would be easier,” appeared to back track slightly on that statement. “Well, it’s a tough job, but I’ve had a lot of tough jobs,” he said. “I’ve had things that were tougher, although I’ll let you know that better at the end of eight years.”
He then hedged on whether he expected to stay in power for two terms. “Perhaps eight years. Hopefully, eight years. But I’ll let you know later on.” He also appeared to leave open the possibility of releasing his tax returns after his Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, told reporters in the briefing room last week that Trump had “no intention” of releasing his tax returns. Trump told Dickerson he had never discussed the matter with Mnuchin.
Trump also refused to say that Russia was involved with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“Knowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking,” Trump said.
“With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.” That fit with Trump’s words as a candidate, when during one of the debates against the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, he said that the hack of the Democratic National Committee could have been perpetrated by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s invitation of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, arguing the threat of North Korea is the top security concern in Asia.
In an interview with “This Week,” Priebus said the military threat posed by North Korea requires close coordination with other Asian nations, though, he said, human rights still remain a priority.
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“It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter,” Priebus told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, “but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”
The administration released a readout of a phone call Saturday between Trump and Duterte in which Trump invited Duterte to visit the White House. Duterte has been criticized for his harsh crackdown on drugs in the Philippines, which human rights groups say included extrajudicial killings by death squads. On the campaign trail, Trump praised the Philippine president.
Pushed Sunday by host Jonathan Karl on where human rights stands on Trump’s priorities, Priebus said the issue “stands very high at the top of the list.” He pointed to Trump’s retaliation against the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack earlier this month, arguing Trump has “shown his willingness to stand up for human rights.”
But Priebus called North Korea “a different level of problem.”
“The issue on the table is North Korea and there is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what’s happening in North Korea,” Priebus said.
“Now if we don’t have all of our folks together, whether they’re good folks, bad folks, people that we wish would do better in their country, doesn’t matter,” he continued. “We have got to be on the same page.”