Lawmakers to go to Cuba with Obama, who mulls more trade moves
WASHINGTON | BY PATRICIA ZENGERLE AND MATT SPETALNICK
President Barack Obama will be accompanied on his historic visit to Cuba
this month by up to 20 members of Congress, and is also considering
further measures to ease travel and trade restrictions around the time
of the visit, U.S. sources said on Monday.
Details were being worked out, but congressional sources told Reuters
the White House hoped the delegation would include Republicans as well
as Obama’s fellow Democrats, to underscore bipartisan support for his
moves toward normal relations with the Communist-ruled country.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has been one of his
party’s leading proponents of easing the embargo restrictions, said
there was “a good chance” he would join the trip. A spokesman for Flake
later confirmed he would be going.
Congressional aides and sources outside the government who were
consulted on the matter said timing was still uncertain, but the
administration could roll out more changes to travel, trade and banking
rules before or during the March 21-22 visit.
“They will unveil a regulations package as it gets closer to the trip,
further easing of travel, and further commerce and trade (changes),”
said one person familiar with the discussions.
Obama’s aides are considering regulatory changes to make it easier for
individual Americans to visit Cuba as long as they qualify for 12
authorized “people-to-people” categories of travel, the sources said.
Until now, most have been allowed to visit Cuba only on group tours or
to see family on the island.
The White House is also weighing possible revisions and clarifications
of how the dollar can be used in trade with Cuba, a person familiar with
the discussions said.
The White House said on Feb. 18 that Obama would visit Havana on March
21 and 22 in another step toward ending decades of animosity between the
former Cold War foes. It will be the first visit to Cuba by a sitting
U.S. president since 1928.
News of Obama’s trip prompted sharp criticism from some members of the
Republican-controlled Congress, where there is strong opposition to
normalizing relations with Havana, mostly from Republican lawmakers.
Some Republicans want more normal relations with Cuba, as do most
Democrats. But the issue is complicated on Capitol Hill because two
senators vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz
and Marco Rubio, both Cuban-Americans, strongly oppose Obama’s policy shift.
Obama said the trip would help accelerate changes in Cuba since he and
President Raul Castro announced moves to restore ties in late 2014.
Administration officials hope it will give Washington more leverage to
make progress on opening business opportunities for U.S. companies.
Opponents say Obama has demanded too little from Havana, particularly in
the area of human rights, to end the embargo imposed in 1960. The
administration believes that moves to loosen the embargo would help meet
its goal of benefiting the Cuban people.
Obama has used his executive powers to ease some trade and travel
restrictions since announcing his new Cuba policy 15 months ago. Some
major U.S. airlines have begun asking regulators to approve routes to Cuba.
So many lawmakers are expected to make the trip that the White House is
arranging a separate aircraft to transport them, congressional aides said.
“As the president has done on past trips, he has invited a group of
senators and House members to join him on his upcoming trip to Cuba.
Further details on the members’ travel will be available closer to the
departure date,” a White House official said on condition of anonymity.
Analysts said establishing U.S.-Cuban business relationships would make
it difficult for the next U.S. president to roll back Obama’s policy
changes after he leaves office next January, if a Republican opponent of
the policy wins the election.
Businessman Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, told the
Daily Caller in an interview published in September that he supported
the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba.
But the embargo cannot be lifted without Congress’ approval and
Republicans say that will not happen while Obama is president.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by James Dalgleish, Dan
Grebler and Peter Cooney)
Source: Lawmakers to go to Cuba with Obama, who mulls more trade moves |