WASHINGTON — Promising to play ''hardball'' with ''rogue regimes'' and to press for cuts in foreign aid, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has moved rapidly to put her mark on United States foreign policy as the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Last week, the Havana-born lawmaker officially became the first Cuban-American to chair a House committee, and the foreign policy hawk signaled she'll challenge President Barack Obama, pressing for tougher sanctions on U.S. enemies, including Iran and North Korea.
''Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball,'' she said. "I pledge to do all that I can to isolate U.S. enemies while empowering and strengthening our allies, and I will not make apologies for doing either.''
The ascension of Ros-Lehtinen, 58, likely scuttles any congressional efforts to ease sanctions against Cuba, and has prompted saber-rattling from Latin America leaders like Fidel Castro.
She promised aggressive oversight of U.S. foreign policy, including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as a review of foreign aid costs.
''I know no State Department official or anyone involved in international affairs wants to hear that, but that's the sad reality of our economic state,'' she said in an interview at the Capitol. ''We're tightening our belts domestically, and we must do so internationally as well.''
For example, she is targeting aid to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Obama administration rejoined after the Bush administration shunned it. ''They either reform the way they do business or why contribute our dollars?'' she said.
As for aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Ros-Lehtinen said she's worried that international donors are getting frustrated.
''In order to help Haiti more we have to show the American taxpayer that Haiti is going to use those dollars wisely and right now they're thinking that Haiti may not be as good an investment of their tax dollars as it should be,'' she said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sidestepped a question of whether the agency is worried about potential cuts, saying: ''We look forward to engaging the new chairwoman of the committee and we think we have a strong case to make.''
Strongly pro-Israel, Ros-Lehtinen has criticized the administration for pushing Israel to make concessions and supports cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority. She favors stepped up sanctions against Iran, criticized the Obama response to North Korea as ''too weak'' and favors greater scrutiny of U.S.-Russia policies.
In a November column, Castro called Ros-Lehtinen ''la loba feroz'' — the big bad wolf — and a ''symbol of hatred of … Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia.''
Venezuela's ambassador to the United States wrote a blistering commentary in Foreign Policy magazine last week, calling Ros-Lehtinen and Fort Myers Republican Rep. Connie Mack, who will likely chair the committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee, ''throwback Latin American cold warriors, catering to their Cuban-American constituents with belligerent policies toward any neighboring government that seeks independence from U.S. influence.''
Ros-Lehtinen met the criticism with cheery nonchalance, tweeting: ''BINGO: 1st Evo Morales slams me, then Chavez calls me bandit + now Fidel says I'm loba feroz.''
Ros-Lehtinen has not been afraid to buck the GOP on issues, backing repeal of the ban on gays serving in the military, and said she will push for a nonpartisan approach to the committee.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who has served with her since 1989, said, ''if I had to pick a Republican to chair the committee, it would be Ily. …She has her strong views and she will press, but she'll also give members a chance to speak their minds and be heard.''