MIAMI – When President-elect Barack Obama called Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at her Miami district office Wednesday, she hung up on him.

“I thought: ‘Why would Obama want to call a little slug on the planet like me?”‘ said Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

A short time later, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s designated chief of staff, called. Ros-Lehtinen hung up on him, too.

“I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “They got Fidel Castro to go along. They’ve gotten Hugo Chavez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, ‘Oh, no, I won’t be punked.”‘

Ros-Lehtinen was in Miami when she received Obama’s first call about 1 p.m. on her cell phone from a Chicago-based number. The person on the line told Ros-Lehtinen that the president-elect would like to speak to her.

A man, who Ros-Lehtinen said sounded like Obama, got on the line and congratulated her on her re-election and said he was looking forward to working with her as the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The conversation lasted just a minute when Ros-Lehtinen cut Obama off, telling him she wasn’t falling for the hoax and that he was a better impersonator than the guy on “Saturday Night Live.”

Then Emanuel called, and she hung up on him. It finally took Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the foreign affairs committee, to convince Ros-Lehtinen that the president-elect indeed wanted to talk to her.

“I asked Howard to tell me a private joke we share about colleagues in the House to make sure it really was him,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “When he did, I realized it was the real deal.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she then told Berman: “I know this sounds very presumptuous, but please tell President-elect Obama he can call me now and I will take his call.”

Obama called back, and Ros-Lehtinen said she told him she “wasn’t playing hard to get,” but thought it was a joke like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin getting the call from someone pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“He laughed a lot, saying in Chicago they do it all the time,” Ros-Lehtinen said. ‘He said, “I don’t blame you for being skeptical.”‘

Ros-Lehtinen said she and Obama had a good conversation, which began with her congratulating him for his victory despite how hard she campaigned for Sen. John McCain.

“I told Obama I respect our wonderful democracy, especially because I have lost it in my homeland (of Cuba),” Ros-Lehtinen said.

“We talked about Cuba and Israel, my two big issues.”

She asked Obama to consult with Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires, both New Jersey Democrats, on issues about Cuba and to rely on Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state nominee, on issues about Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen also got a call Monday from Clinton. She did not hang up.

“That was a structured call,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I knew she was calling.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she now feels like a “bozo,” but is honored that Obama called her. She said it shows his effort to be bipartisan, which she said is especially important in foreign relations.


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