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Democrats Start to Take Aim at Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for 2018

March 20, 2017 - 6:00am
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

As they try to find a path to flip the U.S. House in 2018, Democrats are increasingly focused on taking down U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the current dean of the Florida delegation. 

First elected to Congress in a special election back in 1989, Ros-Lehtinen has often concentrated on international issues, becoming the first woman to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She currently chairs the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. 

Last week, Ros-Lehtinen came out against U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s, R-Wisc., effort to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health-care law. President Donald Trump has praised Ryan’s bill and members of his administration--including Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Sec. Tom Price--have lobbied Republicans on Capitol Hill to pass it. 

Ros-Lehtinen came out against the proposal on Tuesday, saying too many residents in South Florida would lose their health-care. 

“After studying the impact of this proposed legislation on my district and speaking with many of my constituents, I have decided to vote no on the bill as currently written,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The bill’s consequences for South Florida are clear: too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health-care. I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken health-care system and did not live up to its promise to the American people but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs. We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us.”

That drew fire from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

“After voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act at least sixty times without a replacement plan – including as recently as January – it’s clear that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen makes her decisions in Washington D.C. based on political calculation and self-preservation, not what is best for the people of South Florida,” said Javier Gamboa, a spokesman for the DCCC. 

In the meantime, Ros-Lehtinen is being targeted by American Bridge, a PAC which supports the Democrats. American Bridge is hitting Ros-Lehtinen in a digital ad, urging Floridians to call her and demand she back a full investigation of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. 

Ros-Lehtinen pushed back with a statement to the Miami Herald. 

"The Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian activities, which includes Russian interference in our elections, began before the current administration took office and is ongoing,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald. “As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I'm committed to helping ensure a truly bipartisan and complete investigation is conducted. It is important that, when completed, our Intelligence Committee’s Russia report become public so that the American people can fully comprehend the desperate and dangerous attempts of Russia to influence our political institutions.

“It is clear that Putin’s regime has sought to undermine our nation’s interest and I have led the push for sanctions on human rights violators by leading the effort to ensure the Sergei Magnitsky Act became law,” she added. “I’ve also called for sanctions against those who poisoned my friend, Vladimir Kara-Muza, and those who murdered Boris Nemtsov. I have also cosponsored legislation which calls for the full implementation of sanctions against those in Russia who are harmful to democracy, human rights, and our nation’s interests.”

While she has been in Congress for almost three decades, Ros-Lehtinen could be more vulnerable than ever before due to changes in the district. Last week, pundit Larry Sabato and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics released its first appraisal of 2018 House races and Ros-Lehtinen’s seat was marked as a possible battleground even as it was classified as “Likely Republican.”

Traditionally, Ros-Lehtinen has kept her seat with ease. In 2014, she won another term without any opposition in the general election. In 2012, she blew out her Democratic challenger by almost 25 percent. Only once this century did Ros-Lehtinen take less than 60 percent in a general election. Riding Barack Obama’s coattails, Annette Taddeo pulled 42 percent in 2008 but Ros-Lehtinen still pulled 58 percent. 

But, after the latest round of congressional redistricting, 2016 offered a different story. Facing Democrat Scott Fuhrman, something of a political unknown when he entered the race, Ros-Lehtinen won by a far less impressive margin. She won with 54.9 percent while Fuhrman claimed 45.1 percent, a closer margin than she has seen in decades. Trump struggled in this South Florida district back in November, taking 39 percent while Democrat Hillary Clinton pulled 58.6 percent here. All of this has given Democrats renewed hopes for picking this seat up in 2018. 

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