Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced Sunday that she will retire from Congress, giving Democrats a pickup opportunity.
Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American woman and Hispanic woman elected to Congress, told the Miami Herald that there was no one thing that caused her decision.
“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, ‘I’ve got to move on,’” she said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”
Ros-Lehtinen beat Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman by 10 points in 2016. Fuhrman announced he would try to run again in 2018.
“With [Ros-Lehtinen’s] retirement announcement today, I pledge to continue my campaign to represent the community my family has called home for nearly a century, Fuhrman said. “We deserve to be represented by a strong Democrat willing to serve as a bulwark against Trump's radical right wing agenda in the House of Representatives, and I intend to be that leader.”
Florida's 27th Congressional District broke for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 20 points, her biggest margin of victory in a Republican-held district. It includes much Miami's Cuban-American community.
Meredith Kelly, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tweeted Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement was a sign many Republicans didn’t want to deal with criticism of Washington.
Larger point: This is first of many retirements of Members who dont want to deal w/ embarrassment of GOP DC. Starting earlier than expected— Meredith Kelly (@meredithk27) April 30, 2017
In a statement, the DCCC said: “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... As more vulnerable Republicans recognize the distance between their party and their districts, this retirement could well be the first of many.”
The 27th District is among the many that the DCCC is targeting in the 2018 elections.
“Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is simply a force of nature,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement. "Her tireless work ethic was only matched by her charismatic personality," he said, expressing confidence in the GOP's ability to hold the seat.
Ros-Lehtinen was first elected to the House in 1989 is a special election to succeed the later Rep. Claude Pepper. A former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ros-Lehtinen was critical of former President Barack Obama’s attempt to open relations with Cuba.
She was also critical of the United Nations' treatment of Israel and criticized Iran over its stance on Israel.
But she also supported comprehensive immigration reform and has opposed the Republican Party’s hard line on the issue. She also criticized President Donald Trump and did not vote for him.
The mother of a transgender son, Ros-Lehtinen is part of a small contingent of Republicans in Congress who were supportive of LGBT rights and was the first Republican co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.