Congressional Republicans look to block Cuba policy changes
BY DAVID LIGHTMAN MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
12/17/2014 6:01 PM 12/17/2014 6:10 PM
The shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba triggered fierce partisan warfare
Wednesday in Congress, as some Republicans vowed to take strong steps to
block the changes.
“I am committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these
changes as possible,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a view many top
Among the possible strategies: They could refuse to end the economic
embargo of Cuba, block funding for a new embassy, or stall or defeat an
President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro agreed Wednesday to
free American aid worker Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds, while three
Cubans convicted of spying went back to their country. The United States
will now explore establishing an embassy in Cuba for the first time in
53 years, and ease travel and trade restrictions.
Leading the opposition Wednesday were lawmakers with close ties to Cuba,
notably Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants.
Obama’s action does not quite end the economic embargo against Cuba,
since that’s up to Congress, which in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act
toughened travel and economic restrictions against the island nation.
The act said the embargo cannot be lifted until Cuba becomes democratic
and its leaders do not include Raúl Castro or his brother Fidel.
Obama pledged to work with Congress.
He’s going to run head-on into a furious Rubio, who next year is
expected to be chairman of the Senate’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee,
which considers legislation dealing with Cuba policy. Senate Republican
leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who will be majority leader next
year, told the Associated Press he supports Rubio’s position.
“This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” Rubio said flatly.
Rubio is also mulling a run for the 2016 GOP nomination for the presidency.
Any negotiation will take some time, predicted Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a
senior Foreign Relations Committee member. “It’s too early to predict
what will happen,” he said.
The money dispute could begin early next year. If Obama requests funds
to build an embassy, a Republican-led Congress would need to approve the
“I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy
in Cuba,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s slated to become
chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations
The Senate also would have to confirm an ambassador nominee, and almost
any Obama pick would be subject to brutal scrutiny.
Just wait, Rubio warned Wednesday. The new policies will change nothing
“They are not going to agree to anything that destabilizes their grip on
power,” he said of the Cuban regime. “And the sooner policymakers like
the president realize that, the less these sorts of ridiculous policies
we’re going to get from them.”
Overcoming strong Republican opposition to any part of the Obama policy
could be tough, since the party will control 54 of the 100 seats in the
Senate next year. In the House of Representatives, Republican leaders
were adamant Wednesday that the president had blundered.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio protested that Obama had made
“mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and
schemes with our enemies.” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., branded Obama
Democrats were more sympathetic. “For too long our relationship has been
soured by mistrust and clouded by memories of the Cold War,” said Senate
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “Reports
that our countries will move to normalize relations are very welcome.”
Democrats had some hope they could prevail, noting it’s been a long time
since any true test vote on Cuba policy. Farm Belt Republicans often are
seen as willing to ease embargo restrictions, and next year’s Senate
will include 28 senators who have taken office since 2013. And an
October New York Times poll found 56 percent of Americans approved of
establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, while 29 percent
Among Republicans eager to improve relations is Sen. Jeff Flake of
Arizona, who was on the plane that traveled to Havana to bring Gross
home. “My sense is that most of my colleagues feel we are long past due”
for change, he said.
In a twist, he could find a top Democrat as a leading skeptic.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the outgoing Foreign Relations
Committee chairman whose parents were Cuban immigrants, was adamant
Wednesday: “Let’s be clear, this was not a `humanitarian’ act by the
Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American.”
He said Obama’s action “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban
(Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lightmandavid.)
Source: Congressional Republicans look to block Cuba policy changes |
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