MIAMI -- Former Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala is vying to win the Democratic nomination to flip a Florida district long held by a popular Republican congresswoman, but her sights are already set on President Donald Trump.
President Bill Clinton's former Health and Human Services secretary is 77, a decade older than the retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and she's never run for elective office before. But she told The Associated Press that Trump is an "embarrassment" and Democrats must stop him "from making terrible decisions."
"I don't like his politics at all. I don't like the fact he wants to cut food stamps. Who cuts food stamps in our society? Who beats up the most vulnerable?" she said. "We need to check him and the way to check him is to elect more Democrats; to take control of at least one House, hopefully two."
Shalala sat down with the AP on Wednesday after filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run in Florida's 27th district, which covers a large swath of Miami-Dade County, including Miami Beach and Coral Gables. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 20 percentage points in the district, but Ros-Lehtinen kept the seat Republican with a 10 percentage lead.
Shalala says it will be no easy feat to replace Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring after 30 years in Congress and is well loved among Miami's Cuban-American voters.
"Like everybody in this community, I love Ileana. She is a very good friend of mine. She has done a terrific job for the community," she said. "She has fought with her own party. She has a backbone. Succeeding Ileana is not easy. But I have the experience and the same kind of backbone. No one is going to bully me."
Shalala has dealt with Trump in the past. As president of the University of Miami from 2001 to 2015, she received recommendations from Trump every time a coach position opened up, she says.
She still teaches the politics and economics of health care to about 200 students at the university, including some who are temporarily shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and some alumni of the school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were shot to death last month.
Shalala suffered a stroke in 2015 while serving as director for the Clinton Foundation, but she says she "totally recovered." She also consulted with her doctors about her candidacy, and says they told her that her health was fine.
The Miami Herald reported that a poll in late January showed her ahead in a crowded Democratic field that includes Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, former federal judge Mary Barzee Flores and four other contenders. At least two Republicans also are running.
Of Lebanese descent, Shalala says she can work with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republican Cuban-Americans who represent neighboring districts in South Florida.
"I have Cuban cousins: The Lopez Shalalas" she says. "More importantly, I can work with everyone. And I've worked with the Cuban-American legislators in Tallahassee. I've worked with the national Cuban-American legislators that are members of Congress. I know Marco Rubio. Ask about me in the Cuban community. They call me 'La Shalala.'"