Obama facing opposition to opening embassy in Cuba
While Cuba and the United States reached a deal at the end of June to reopen embassies, Obama is facing opposition to the move both from his own party and Republicans.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey claimed the move is not in the U.S. national interest. On the Republican side, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arizona claimed the move to normalize relations with Cuba was "appeasement of dictators". The speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner argues that U.S.-Cuba relations should not be revised at all, let alone normalized. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would make closing the embassy his top priority if elected president.In order to normalize relations with Cuba, the White House needs Congress to agree to the move, approve an ambassador, lift the embargo on Cuba, and fund the embassy. Senator Cotton is planning, along with supporters in Senate, to try to block funding for the embassy, and also block approval of anyone nominated as ambassador. Cotton said he would continue to do so "until there is a real, fundamental change that gives hope to the oppressed people of Cuba." His Democratic ally Sen. Menendez said: “An already one-sided deal that benefits the Cuban regime is becoming all the more lopsided, The message is democracy and human rights take a back seat to a legacy initiative.”Opposition to normalization is not new as the House already passed a motion to keep current travel restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba, blocking Obama's attempt to ease the restrictions. The motion passed by a 247-176 vote. In another bill passed through the House, a bill funding the State Department at the same time prohibits the department from using the funds to build a new embassy in Cuba. The Obama administrations wants $6 million to upgrade a current building in Havana in order to turn it into a functioning embassy. A summary of the House bill said:“The bill includes a prohibition on funds for an embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President’s December announcement proposing changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy."A senior State Dept. official criticized the opposition as being counterproductive:Obama has support on the Republican side even while many Republicans are critical of his policy. Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, said that changing policy towards Cuba was long overdue. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada also praised Obama's moves as "a step in the right direction" although he said fundamental issues remained to be resolved. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, has criticized the embargo in the past, pointing out that the U.S. trades with Vietnam and China, both nominally communist nations and noted that trade is better than war. If Paul supports Obama, he will be at odds with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz who both oppose Obama's Cuba policies. Cruz said: "The word's coming out of the president's mouth simply aren't true. It makes no sense to be strengthening a profoundly anti-American enemy, a tyrant 90 miles from the U.S. shore."There are few details about the timeline for opening the new embassy. State Department adviser, Marie Harf, said:“We really just don’t have any more details about where the process goes from here. We’ve had productive conversations. There are still some issues that need to be worked out. We don’t have more details about how that will happen,” Last week the U.S. removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“It would be a shame if Congress impeded implementation of some of the very things that we think they – we all agree we want to do, such as better outreach to the Cuban people all over the island or additional..These are the kinds of things that we can do as we move forward in this relationship with a more robust embassy. And I would assume that most on the Hill agree those are a good thing to do.”White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters that he thought that there was strong support for lifting the embargo on Cuba although he had not done a "whip count."