Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, first Cuban American in Congress, to retire

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A report from the Associated Press.

Long-time Republican representative’s unexpected retirement will give Democrats chance to pick up Florida seat in 2018 midterm elections

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representative from Florida who was the first Cuban American elected to Congress, will retire.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, has been in office for 38 years. She told the Miami Herald: “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. We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.’”

Ros-Lehtinen was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of south-east Miami-Dade County that is heavily Democratic and which went to Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points.

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate who said she did not vote for Trump herself, was able to win her seat by 10 percentage points. On Sunday, she told the Herald: “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.”

In a piece for the paper, Ros-Lehtinen wrote that she looked forward to “interacting with and influencing public issues in new and exciting ways”. Her unexpected retirement will nonetheless give Democrats a chance to pick up a valuable south Florida seat in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the news to criticize the congresswoman’s party, saying: “It’s been clear for years that the Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who came to the US from Cuba in 1960, at the age of eight, wrote for the Herald that she was “proud of my record as a staunch supporter of human rights and democracy in my native homeland of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other corners of the world”.

“It is still astounding to me,” she wrote, “that in 1960, my beloved parents, my brother and I arrived to this amazing country that graciously offered refuge from the tyrannical regime that has ruled my native Cuba for almost six decades.

“The same country that let someone who arrived as an eight-year-old refugee who spoke no English to then became the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House and Florida Senate, and then serve in the US House of Representatives, in addition to being the first Cuban-American in Congress, and, ultimately, the first woman of any background to serve as chair of a regular standing committee of the House.”

The Florida senator and 2016 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination Marco Rubio, another Cuban American and staunch opponent of the Castro regime, was an intern in Ros-Lehtinen’s office 26 years ago. He wrote on Twitter: “Not only is [Ros-Lehtinen] a tireless advocate for freedom & human rights – she is my friend. Florida will miss her.”

He added: “She has served our community, state [and] country well. Godspeed [and] finish strong.”

Governor Rick Scott tweeted that the congresswoman fought hard for Florida families throughout her service in Washington.

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