A Republican U.S. House member known for holding the most pro-LGBT views in her caucus has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his bid for president.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who also serves as chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, announced her support for Romney in a statement on Tuesday that also criticized President Obama.
“The policies of the past three years have put America’s standing in the world at risk,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It is time we had a president who understands that our country must lead. Mitt Romney believes that America is an exceptional nation and has a strategy to restore our country’s greatness.”
On the Romney economic plan, which, among other things, would cut the corporate income tax to 25 percent, Ros-Lehtinen said, “The Romney jobs plan will create jobs and opportunity for all especially in South Florida where we are passionate in the pursuit of the American dream.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s endorsement of Romney is noteworthy to the LGBT community because she’s among the most pro-LGBT Republicans in Congress. In September, she became the first Republican to co-sponsor legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — much to the consternation of social conservatives.
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She’s also an original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Domestic Partnership & Benefits Obligations Act. Last year, she was among five Republicans to vote for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in May even before the Pentagon report was published.
Ros-Lehtinen endorsed Romney along with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and his brother former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who also represented a district in Florida before he retired early this year. All three were also designated as Romney’s foreign policy advisers and made part of his Latin American Working Group.
The three Floridians are Cuban-Americans and come from a state with a large population of people of Cuban descent. The endorsement could be a boost to Romney in winning a state primary that is seen as critical for securing the Republican nomination.
In a statement, Romney thanked Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers for supporting his campaign.
“I am proud to be working with Ileana, Mario, and Lincoln,” Romney said. “They’re conservative leaders who will help me articulate my vision to make America more prosperous at home and respected throughout the world.”
Romney, seen as the establishment candidate among GOP presidential hopefuls, has distinguished himself among other Republicans pursuing the White House for saying he’s open to the idea of LGBT rights.
Last week, he told the Nashua Telegraph, “I favor gay rights,” and said he doesn’t “believe in discriminating in employment or opportunity for gay individuals.” Still, Romney said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage.
His comments recall a letter his signed as a U.S. Senate candidate in 1994 pledging to co-sponsor ENDA and to be a better advocate on LGBT rights than the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
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But in August, he was among the presidential candidates who signed a pledge to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to defend DOMA in court.
Also last week, the Romney campaign distributed a flier in Iowa emphasizing his social conservative values — including his opposition to same-sex marriage.
“As governor, Mitt Romney fought against gay marriage in Massachusetts,” the mailer reads. “He supports a federal amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s endorsement of Romney inspired mixed reactions among LGBT groups — largely depending on the political affiliation of the organizations.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said Ros-Lehtinen’s endorsement doesn’t reflect the views of his organization, although he’s pleased Romney welcomed her support.
“Log Cabin Republicans does not issue endorsements until the RNC convention, but we are pleased to see Gov. Romney welcomed the endorsement of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strong conservative advocate for the gay community,” Cooper said.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he isn’t surprised that a Republican lawmaker — pro-LGBT or otherwise — would back a pro-LGBT candidate.
“Her endorsement of a Republican presidential candidate was not a surprise,” Sainz said. “Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has proven that you can totally square being a Republican and wholeheartedly support LGBT issues.”
But Jerame Davis, interim executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, took a dig at the multiple positions that Romney has held on LGBT issues in response to the Ros-Lehtinen endorsement.
“It’s hard to say what Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s endorsement of Mitt Romney says about her relationship with the LGBT community,” Davis said. “Which Mitt Romney did she endorse? Was it the Mitt Romney who just last week signed the National Organization for Marriage’s draconian anti-equality pledge? Or was it the Mitt Romney who claimed in 1994 that he’d be a better advocate for LGBT equality than the late Sen. Ted Kennedy?”
Davis concluded, “So many choices — I’m sure she picked the one that was closest to her own views.”