Republicans

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Longtime Florida rep to retire from Congress

Congresswoman will not seek re-election in 2018

 

Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring from Congress, Fox News learned Sunday.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a House member since 1989 and will not seek re-election next year. She is a former chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The Congresswoman explained her decision in an interview with The Miami Herald on Sunday. She called it "a personal decision based on personal considerations."

"The most difficult challenge is not to simply keep winning elections; but rather the more difficult challenge is to not let the ability to win define my seasons."

Ros-Lehtinen’s congressional district will be a battleground in 2018. Democrat Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points, and Ros-Lehtinen was able to win it by 10 percentage points.

She said she's confident that she would be re-elected if she chose to run again.

"I will not allow my season in elected office be extended beyond my personal view of its season, simply because I have a continuing ability to win. We all know, or should know, that winning isn't everything. My seasons are defined, instead, by seeking out new challenges, being there as our grandchildren grow up, interacting with and influencing public issues in new and exciting ways."

Ros-Lehtinen is considered a moderate Republican, who has not supported House Republican leadership’s recent ObamaCare overhaul plans and is not a strong supporter of President Trump.

Born in Havana, she is well-known for being a fierce critic of Cuban politics. The late Fidel Castro nicknamed her "la loba feroz" or "the big bad she-wolf."

For years, Ros-Lehtinen represented the Florida Keys, including gay-friendly Key West, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. Eventually, her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, made his way into the public spotlight. Last year, he and his parents recorded a bilingual public-service TV campaign to urge Hispanics to support transgender youth.

In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims.

"And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world," she told The Miami Herald. "I take that as a badge of honor, when they blast me and don't let me in their countries."

News of her retirement swept through Florida political circles.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used her announcement to criticize her party. "It's been clear for years that the Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's retirement announcement is testament to the fact she recognized how wide that gap had grown."

"Illeana Ros-Lehtinen is simply a force of nature,” said Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps get party members elected and re-elected to the House. “She represented her South Florida district well and she will be dearly missed in Washington. I wish her and her family the best."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., called her a "trailblazer."

"She's been a relentless advocate for human rights, and a powerful voice on the need to address the dangerous Iranian regime, defend allies like Israel, and so much more," he wrote. "Ileana's retirement is well-deserved, but I'm glad we are not losing her yet. We've got important work to do for the American people over the next year and a half, and I know Ileana will continue to play a leading role."

Ros-Lehtinen currently chairs the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this story.