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Originally published Friday, December 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Fla. congresswoman hangs up on Obama; thought call was a prank

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

The Miami Herald

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

"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 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 Chávez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, 'Oh, no, I won't be punked.' "

Obama tried convincing her he truly was the president-elect, but Ros-Lehtinen said she "wished him the best of luck and told him I was going to hang up on him."

A few minutes later, Emanuel called 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, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to persuade Ros-Lehtinen that Obama did want to talk to her.

Obama called again to congratulate her on her re-election, saying he was looking forward to working with her as the ranking Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She said they also talked about policies on Cuba and Israel.

He told her "any time 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.

Ros-Lehtinen said she feels like a "bozo" but is honored Obama called her. She said it is evidence of his effort to be bipartisan, which she said is especially important in foreign relations.

Obama's office has not commented on the mix-up.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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