Top Republican doubts Senate will confirm ambassador to Cuba
BY ALAN FRAM
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that his chamber is
unlikely to approve an American ambassador to Cuba, dishing out a quick
rebuff to President Barack Obama and his drive to normalize relations
with the U.S. neighbor and longtime Cold War foe.
The Kentucky Republican also suggested that the GOP — which controls
Congress — would fight Obama administration efforts to fully lift trade
and travel restrictions that have limited American commerce and tourism
with the communist-led island nation. McConnell said the country was led
by “a thuggish regime.”
The comments by McConnell came a day after Obama and Cuban President
Raul Castro announced that the two nations will open embassies in Havana
and Washington July 20 and resume diplomatic relations severed in 1961,
the year Obama was born.
McConnell’s remarks underscored that despite a push to ease the curbs by
U.S. business and agriculture interests and some GOP lawmakers,
Republican leaders remain sympathetic to the party’s more conservative,
anti-Castro voices. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and several
contenders for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination criticized Obama’s
moves shortly after they were announced Wednesday.
“You would think that the normalization of relations with Cuba would be
accompanied by some modification of their behavior,” McConnell said
Thursday at Commerce Lexington, the chamber of commerce for Lexington,
Kentucky. Instead, he called the country “a police state” and “a haven
for criminals” wanted in the U.S.
“I don’t see any evidence at all that they are going to change their
behavior. So I doubt if we’ll confirm an ambassador, they probably don’t
need one,” McConnell said.
He added, “Some of their restrictions on Cuba would require legislation
to lift, and we’re going to resist that.”
Though Obama has not nominated an ambassador for Cuba yet, the current
top U.S. diplomat there, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, was expected to be
considered for the post.
Labeling the moment “a choice between the future and the past,” Obama on
Wednesday revealed the latest steps in a half-year of rapid-fire
improvements in relations between two nations that lie 90 miles apart
but have spent nearly six decades separated by light years
diplomatically and economically.
Obama also asked Congress to lift the economic and travel embargoes that
the U.S. has used for decades to try forcing Cuba’s leaders toward
democracy. Obama has partly eased those restrictions on his own, but
even before McConnell’s comments Thursday, longtime opposition from many
Republicans and some Democrats had made it unlikely that lawmakers will
fully revoke the bans quickly.
When President Dwight Eisenhower broke relations in 1961 with the
communist regime of Raul’s brother, Fidel Castro, it set the tone for
decades of Cold War hostility that included failed U.S.-backed efforts
to overthrow the island nation’s leaders.
Besides McConnell and Boehner, denunciations also have come from several
2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
and Cuban-American Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz
of Texas. In a typical comment, Bush said warming relations should
“advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people” and
said the administration’s moves were “failing this test.”
Rubio and Cruz each said they would try blocking any Obama effort to win
Senate confirmation of an ambassador to Havana.
While Republicans are likely to strongly oppose large expenditures to
improve relations with Cuba, the administration may be able to use
smaller amounts to buttress its diplomatic presence there.
Obama has requested $6 million to improve the current, lower-level U.S.
outpost there. Congressional aides said that even without specific
approval from lawmakers, the State Department could well access that
money because agencies can unilaterally shift relatively small amounts
among their budget accounts.
Though it’s not yet law, the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee
approved foreign aid legislation last month barring work on a U.S.
Embassy in Cuba unless Obama certifies that Havana is meeting the terms
of a 1996 statute aimed at fostering democracy in Cuba. That includes
extraditing people wanted in the U.S. for crimes.
The Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee plans to write
its version of the aid measure next week.
The two countries’ surprise revelation last December that they would
move toward normal relations has been followed by other steps. The U.S.
has lifted some travel curbs on Americans and began permitting U.S.
companies to export telephones and computers to Cuba, and has removed
Cuba from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
Yet divisions remain.
The U.S. remains focused on Cuba’s reputed human rights violations. Cuba
wants an end to the U.S. economic embargo, the return of the U.S.
military base at Guantanamo Bay and a halt to U.S. broadcasts aimed at
Source: Top Republican doubts Senate will confirm ambassador to Cuba |
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