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Florida Congresswoman Who Hung Up on Obama to Head Foreign Affairs

She hung up on the next president, Barack Obama. Twice. She thought it was a prank.

In an expert stroke of political spin, she immediately sent out a press release explaining the apparent snub as a mix-up.

Meet Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress and the next in line to head the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The phone incident occurred in late 2008 as the president-elect reached out to potentially friendly Republicans and shortly after a radio host fooled Sarah Palin by impersonating the president of France on the phone. But it was vintage “Ily,” as she is known in Washington: frank, almost irreverent, yet imbued with an underlying seriousness and political savvy.

It also was a reminder that Ros-Lehtinen, 58, presents an increasingly rare image these days — a politician occasionally willing to work across the aisle. The legislator, who was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote, is a hawk on foreign affairs but breaks with her party on immigration, gay rights and other issues important to the people she represents — Cuban-Americans, gays, a strong Jewish community.

California Democrat Howard Berman, who will surrender the Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship in January, cautioned those who mistake Ros-Lehtinen’s enthusiasm and pleasantness for weakness.

“People greatly underestimate her skill and tenaciousness,” he said.

Under her watch, the committee is expected to push for stepped-up sanctions against North Korea and Iran, more oversight of the U.N. and a block on any dialogue with Cuba. As a strong abortion foe, Ros-Lehtinen also may try to chip away at the president’s executive order allowing foreign aid for international groups that provide information about abortion services.

“I think she is going to be very active on Latin America and oversight, making sure the administration is enforcing sanctions,” Berman said.

Ros-Lehtinen fled Cuba with her family at age 7. She taught elementary school, then started running her own school. She was in the Florida Legislature for six years before winning election to the U.S. House in 1989, her bid brokered by legendary Cuban-American political king-maker Jorge Mas Canosa. She completed her doctorate in education while serving in Congress.

The mother of two children and two stepchildren with her husband, former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, is still best known for her staunch support of the U.S embargo against the communist island.

“I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro,” she told an interviewer in a 2006 British documentary.

Ros-Lehtinen is outraged by Cuba’s membership on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council along with China and Saudi Arabia and would like U.S. contributions to the U.N. to be voluntary until the U.S. creates an office to audit U.N. activities for transparency and eliminate waste.

“The U.N. functions very well for Iran and Venezuela, and every two-bit dictator who’s envious and hates the United States,” she told The Associated Press. “But for countries that contribute a lot to the U.N., I don’t think people really feel like it’s really living up to the standards which we set for it at it’s founding.”

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and 2012 presidential hopeful, lauds Ros-Lehtinen for bringing a strong anti-communist and anti-dictator position to her analyses. “She will bring clarity,” he predicts.

Critics counter that she has too much of an “us versus them” mentality that doesn’t allow for gray areas when it comes to those who don’t always agree with the U.S.

“She looks more to converting,” said Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

“But the notion that first you convert someone and then you deal with them in the real world doesn’t seem to work,” he said. “There are lots of countries we have sharp differences with, but we accommodate those differences.”

Ros-Lehtinen is tired of groups that complain the U.S. is not doing enough abroad and is among those who have criticized Obama for publicly acknowledging the nation’s past support of friendly but undemocratic regimes.

“We have to do more with less and work in a smarter way to advance America’s interests — and that’s not advancing the world’s interest,” she said.

But she has also spoken out about human rights violations in East Timor, Tibet and Darfur and called attention to women’s rights in Afghanistan.

One place she doesn’t see the need for cuts is aid to Israel. Her support is crucial in a district that is home to one of the nation’s largest communities of Holocaust survivors. It is also personal. Ros-Lehtinen, now an Episcopalian, was raised Catholic, but her mother’s family were Jews who immigrated to Cuba from Turkey.

Although Ros-Lehtinen mostly toes the Republican line, she has bucked the party on occasion.

She’s one of only a few Republicans who voted to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays from serving openly.

Ros-Lehtinen receives strong ratings from environmental groups, and she opposes the new Arizona immigration law while supporting a federal proposal to allow qualified teen illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military to become U.S. citizens.

Her stances aren’t surprising in a district that includes parts of Miami’s Little Havana and the tourist-dependent and gay friendly Miami Beach and Florida Keys. Ros-Lehtinen’s eldest child is a gay rights activist.

It was that independence which helped prompt Obama’s call.

But Ros-Lehtinen is mindful that she represents the Foreign Affairs Committee and the broader Republican Party. She says she won’t use her position to advance personal causes.

On her office wall is a photo of Ros-Lehtinen eagerly clasping Obama’s hand.

But those who seek too much meaning in the shot should take notice. She took a similar photo with President Bill Clinton shortly after voting for his impeachment.

MEET – Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (also known as Ileana Ros; born Ileana Ros y Adato July 15, 1952) is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 18th congressional district, serving since 1989. She is a member of the Republican Party.

She is currently the most senior Republican woman in the U.S. House, and was the first Republican woman elected to the House of Representatives from Florida.

Early life, education and career

Ros-Lehtinen was born in HavanaCuba, one of two children born to Enrique Ros and his wife, Amanda Adato.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in education and her Master of Arts in educational leadership from Florida International University. She attended the University of Miami where she earned a Ph.Din higher education.[1] She was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1982 to 1986, and was then a one-term member of the Florida Senate before entering the House.

Prior to entering political life, Ros-Lehtinen was an educator and the owner/operator of a private school in Miami-Dade County.[2] Upon her election to succeed the late Congressman Claude Pepper, she became the first Cuban American and the first Hispanic woman elected to the United States Congress.

U.S. House of Representative

Congressional committee assignments

Caucus membership

Notable staff members or interns

Political positions

Ros-Lehtinen is considered conservative on foreign, economic, and other social policy. Ros-Lehtinen is a supporter of President George W. Bush‘s surge policy in Iraq, a supporter of Israel and supports continued sanctions against Cuba. She also supported the de facto government in Honduras, headed by Roberto Micheletti, that emerged after the military coup against President Manuel Zelaya. She has said of the decision to invade Iraq: “Whether or not there is a direct link to the World Trade Center does not mean that Iraq is not meritorious of shedding blood. The common link is that they hate America.”

Among Ros-Lehtinen’s other conservative views include votes against the estate tax, votes in favor of Bush’s tax cuts, for fuel efficiency standards on autos, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, support of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), votes in favor of making the Patriot Act permanent, support of the Military Commissions Act, votes against funding for stem cell research, and votes against SCHIP. She is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

Gay rights

Ros-Lehtinen sides with the Democrats on many issues of gay rights. Her district includes large LGBT populations in South Beach in Miami Beach and in the Florida Keys. She is currently the only Republican member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and is a vice-chairperson. Although she is not a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, she supports anti-hate crime laws, anti-discrimination bills, believes gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces, is a sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, voted against theFederal Marriage Amendment, and was a founding member (one of only two Republicans) and the only current Republican member of the LGBT congressional caucus.[6]

State Department Passport Controversy

Ros-Lehtinen recently pressured the State Department to accelerate its processing of passports, something that had hindered American citizens’ travel during the crucial summer travel season. Calling the delay “outrageous, incomprehensible, unconscionable” at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she is Ranking Member, Ros-Lehtinen brought the pressure of committee Republicans to bear on the State Department and spur them to action.

Darfur

Ros-Lehtinen joined Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) on a Congressional delegation to the United Nations in order to encourage international support for an end to the genocide in Darfur. In addition, when Ros-Lehtinen returned from a trip to Darfur in April 2007 where she visited Sudanese refugee camps, she strongly encouraged the United States and the international community to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.

Miami River

During her tenure in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen has been successful in championing the issue of the Miami River. In July 2007, she signed a mock check for $20.5 million, much of it federal funds in addition to state and local money, in order to resume the dredging of the Miami River.[10]

Aquarius Dive

Ros-Lehtinen participated in a scuba dive down to the underwater Aquarius Habitat, where she joined in a live underwater broadcast shown directly to 3rd through 6th graders at an Islamorada Montessori School on how to preserve coral reefs in the Florida Keys.

WRDA

Ros-Lehtinen voted for the Water Resources Development Act. This bill will provide for extensive environmental development and restoration projects. It also provides assistance for South Florida’s coral reefs and the Miami River.

Israel

Ros-Lehtinen is opposing US support to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority. She is a strong supporter of Israel.

As of 2010, she is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. After comments by State Department over Israeli settlements, she demanded that the Obama administration halt its condemnations of “an indispensable ally and friend of the United States.”

Cuba

leana Ros-Lehtinen plays a prominent role in the Cuban-American lobby, which aims to put pressure on the Cuban government and encourage political change on the island. She is a member of theCongressional Cuba Democracy Caucus. She is the daughter of Enrique Ros, a Florida-based Cuban business man and anti-Fidel Castro activist. Ros-Lehtinen also advances strongly held views on Cuba, and has lobbied against ending the United States embargo against that country. In 2004 she formed the Cuba Democracy Group aimed at curtailing U.S. agriculture exports and preventing U.S. banks from doing business with the Cuban government.

Ros-Lehtinen has defended former fugitive Velentin Hernández, convicted of murdering Luciano Nieves, a fellow Cuban exile who supported negotiations with the Cuban government, In the 1980s Ros-Lehtinen lobbied for the release and pardon of Cuban exile Orlando Bosch, who had been convicted of terrorist acts and has also been accused of involvement in the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455, which killed 73 people, helping organize an “Orlando Bosch day” to gain support for his release. Ros-Lehtinen played a prominent role in the failed attempt by relatives of Elian Gonzalez to gain custody of six-year-old from the Castro regime, describing Cuba as “that system of godless communism“. She also attempted to block Jimmy Carter‘s visit to the island in 2002.

Calls to assassinate Fidel Castro

Ros-Lehtinen stirred controversy by calling for the assassination of Cuban Leader Fidel Castro. She appears in the British documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro, saying: “I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.” After a 28-second clip began circulating on the Internet, she claimed the filmmakers spliced clips together to get the sound bite. Twenty-four hours after the controversy erupted, director Dollan Cannell sent unedited tapes of his interview with Ros-Lehtinen to reporters. The uncut version contradicted Ros-Lehtinen’s response and showed that she had twice welcomed an attempt on Castro’s life. Though she attempted to distance herself from her denial, filmmaker Cannell requested an apology, which has not been forthcoming.

2008 “Bailout”

Ros-Lehtinen voted against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 in its initial September 29, 2008 vote, which failed, but voted in favor of the revised bill in its October 3, 2008 vote, which passed.

Obama “prank” calls

Following the 2008 elections, then President-elect Barack Obama rang Ros-Lehtinen to congratulate her on her re-election. She hung up on him, believing that it was a prank call from a radio station. She did the same to Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel when he rang to confirm the original call was genuine, and only accepted the call after Congressman Howard Berman managed to speak to her.

Political campaigns

2010

See also: United States House of Representatives elections in Florida, 2010#District 18

Ros-Lehtinen is being challenged by Rolando A. Banciella.

Personal life

She married Florida State Representative Dexter Lehtinen, on June 9, 1984, while she was serving in the Florida Legislature. They have two children, Rodrigo Lehtinen (born Amanda Michelle) and Patricia Marie. She is also the step-mother to Katherine and Douglas Lehtinen.

Project Vote Smart lists Ros-Lehtinen as Episcopalian Ros-Lehtinen’s maternal grandparents were Sephardic Jews from Turkey who had been active in Cuba’s Jewish community. Her mother later converted to Catholicism.

Please donate any amount you can to help us try to recover legal costs in defending liberty and the right of free speech !