MIAMI – First she hung up on President-elect Barack Obama — twice. Now Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is fielding calls from angry constituents who think she did it on purpose.
The Miami congresswoman says she and the Democrat had a good laugh Wednesday after she apologized profusely for assuming his calls were a prank.
"I was just flabbergasted," Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday. "I just hung up on the most powerful man on earth — twice."
She said Obama called to congratulate her on her re-election, saying he was looking forward to working with her as the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs committee.
But she assumed it was a radio station prank. Typically, when high-ranking officials call, an aide calls in advance to verify. That was the procedure recently when Ros-Lehtinen received a call from Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"But this one was just out of the blue he's calling me. And I said, 'Boy, you're a much better impersonator than that guy on Saturday Night Live,' and he's laughing and he's thinking I'm kidding," she said.
Obama tried convincing her that he truly was the president-elect, but Ros-Lehtinen says she "wished him the best of luck and told him I was going to hang up on him."
A few minutes later, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, called the congresswoman with Obama on the line to tell her it wasn't a joke.
"I said I really do appreciate it. I love these pranks more than anybody and I'm honored that you would prank me, but I'm gonna hang up."
And she did.
It took a call from Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to persuade Ros-Lehtinen that Obama really did want to talk to her. She asked Berman to tell her an inside joke about a colleague that only they would know to make sure the phone call was legitimate.
When Obama finally called back, the congresswoman said they talked about policies on Cuba and Israel.
He told her "anytime my ego gets too pumped up, I think Michelle will remind me that you hung up not once, but twice on me," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Obama's office has not commented on the mix-up.