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Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen On Hurricane Preparations And Recovery


Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is preparing for the storm to hit her district. She joins us now from Miami. Representative, thanks very much for being with us.

ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you so much. And, you know, related to that Haitian story, I want to thank my congressional colleague Alcee Hastings. He led a letter asking the Trump administration to renew temporary protected status - TPS - for Haitians. I was proud and honored to sign it along with my other colleagues here from South Florida, Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo. We are strongly in favor of making sure that they can remain in the United States, especially now in light of Hurricane Irma smashing the island nation one more time.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about another matter, if I might, representative. There are nearly half a million people in South Florida who've come to this country illegally. Among them are people who might lose their homes, their dwelling places. But, of course, they can't get federal aid after the storm hits. Should Congress help provide for them, too?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, we need to provide for all the communities. And we need to provide for help for everyone in our area. It doesn't matter your immigration status. I know that that's going to be discussed and debated. And I'm not too optimistic that we'll be able to get that help through. I would be in favor of that. We've got to make communities whole. While we want our people to not leave South Florida, this is their home. And I think that it's beneficial to us to - for example, in our shelters, we're not asking anyone for their immigration IDs. That would be such a hurtful measure when someone is seeking shelter. And so after - in the aftermath, they should be eligible for this kind of assistance, as well. Otherwise, it creates a problem for the community, a public health problem. So it's really not so much to help that individual as much as it is this is beneficial for the entire community.

SIMON: The House of Representatives just passed a bill to deliver, I guess, $15 billion dollars of disaster aid to communities that were affected - have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. And that, of course, was before Irma. I don't anticipate the tab will be any less for that. Are you concerned about the government out of money? Are you concerned that members of your own party might not agree to a similar amount of aid?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I think now everybody's gotten religion. Those folks from Texas who were against hurricane relief funds for the northeast when Hurricane Sandy devastated New York, New Jersey, et cetera - they were the ones who voted in favor of giving aid for Texas victims and for Louisiana, as well. So I think people need to look at this as a national issue, whether it's a hurricane in Florida, whether it's fires in Los Angeles, a tornado in the Midwest, severe winter storms in the Northeast. We're just all one nation. We should not be, oh, it's not in my neighborhood. Then I shouldn't - I don't want to pay for FEMA assistance.

They came through. When it was just Harvey relief, people voted for it. Maybe two people or three people voted against. When they added the debt ceiling, the temporary fix, that's when folks were not as pleased. And that's when you had 90 Republicans voting against that. But it was not because of the Harvey relief. So I hope that we can replenish FEMA funds after Irma is through knocking us around in Florida. And I'm very confident that we can seek that support in a bipartisan manner. We have two great senators, Bill Nelson, a Democrat, Marco Rubio, a Republican. They've come together for Houston relief. And they're going to come together for FEMA funds for Florida as a result of Irma.

SIMON: Naturally, I've saved the trickiest for last. When rebuilding occurs - we've interviewed a number of scientists that say, look, say what you will about climate change, but it is a fact that seas are getting warmer. This makes hurricanes more furious, more destructive. Beachfront property - I don't have to tell someone in South Florida - is desirable and lucrative. Should people rebuild in those areas at all?

ROS-LEHTINEN: It's very difficult for people to rebuild. We shouldn't allow buildings so close to the ocean's edge. I've had to fight for years and years ever since I've been blessed to represent the coastal communities of South Florida. I once represented all the way down to Key West. And we fight for millions of dollars of beach renourishment because we didn't plan correctly. We didn't build correctly. And, yes, I - you bring up sea level rise. That is not a tricky question. That's science. That's provable. There's no doubt about it.

And Miami Beach, a city I'm honored to represent now - they're trying innovative ways to deal with sea-level rise that impacts business, that impacts homes, that impacts lives. Some of the - what they've tried has worked. Some has not. But I think that they have a good mayor who's doing his best. All South Florida needs to get wise where we rebuild and wise when it comes to dealing with the reality of climate change.

SIMON: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents the 27th district of Florida. Thanks so much for being with us on this weekend.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. Let's all stay safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.