Politics & Government

GOP congresswoman moves to distance herself from Bush

WASHINGTON — With President Bush's popularity hovering in the 30s, one of Florida's most conservative members of Congress has decided that a little breathing room might be a good thing.

Facing what could be her first significant reelection challenge in two decades, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, shot out two press releases Tuesday intended to distance herself from the president.

One was entitled "list of domestic initiatives where Ros-Lehtinen has broken with the current administration.'' The other was headlined "list of foreign policy initiatives where Ros-Lehtinen has broken with the current administration.''

Her office said it was interested in debunking any perception that the generally reliably Republican is a "rubber stamp'' for President Bush.

"For the past seven years, Ileana has been mistakenly classified for partisan purposes as a rubber stamp for Bush while she has actually been an independent voice for her district,'' said campaign coordinator Keith Fernandez. "Ileana has deep roots to her district and understands the needs of her constituents. She has never come down with Beltway fever.''

Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected to the solidly Republican seat in 1989 and is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, has been a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq. But she broke with the party to urge the Pentagon to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. And her e-mails tick off six pages of differences on foreign policy, including a recent op-ed in the Washington Times, co-authored with Michigan Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra in which they took the administration to task for its stance on North Korea.

She and fellow Miami Republicans Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart also voted last month to override Bush's veto of a farm bill the president derided as "massive and bloated.''

She also noted she was one of 11 Republicans to vote in favor of a housing bill the administration has threatened to veto.

A spokeswoman for Annette Taddeo, Ros-Lehtinen's Democratic challenger, said Ros-Lehtinen had voted "85 percent of the time for her boss, George Bush.

"Her decision to release the 15 percent of the bills where she did not vote with George Bush is a clear indication of the fact she understands she is disconnected with the needs of the people of the district,'' said spokeswoman Anastasia Apa.

The releases came as a Democratic survey of 1,600 voters in 45 Republican congressional districts — though not Ros-Lehtinen's — showed Bush with an approval rating of 33 percent.

The poll, conducted for Democracy Corps, a nonprofit political organization, put the average approval rating for incumbent Republicans at 38 percent and gave the edge to Democrats in November. The districts surveyed in Florida included Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's Hialeah-area seat, as well as three other Florida districts that Democrats are targeting.