Republicans in the age to Trump are falling like dominoes, and the most recent one is big: First House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz announced his retirement, now Florida's top House Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leaving the House after 35 years.
“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,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It's time to take a new step.’”
Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman -- and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.
Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points. It was Clinton's biggest margin of any Republican-held seat in the country.
Ros-Lehtinen defeated Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 points. It was her closest reelection race in years and forced her to deplete her $3.4 million campaign account, but she said Sunday she wasn't worried about 2018.
“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,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that she would have been able to raise at least $2.5 million and win in a midterm election without a Democratic presidential candidate leading the ballot.
But she said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore.
“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I've said, “I've got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it's not about getting elected.”
But she's leaving, and when Republicans have total control to implement whatever legislation that they like with minimal Democratic interference. Again, she's only 64. She had another 10 years ahead of her easily, if not longer, during a time of near-total Republican dominance in her home state and the country. Even Ros-Lehtinen herself was a Republican beloved by Democrats in her home district, where Clinton won huge, but Ros-Lehtinen herself won by double digits.
So when a lifelong politician who's been in office since I was a child says "It's not about getting elected", especially a House Republican, it's a massive lie.
Expect more mysterious, unexplained retirements of Republicans at the top of their political power in the era of Trump.