Bingaman said that fact that the Castro brothers are still in power in Cuba is proof that the embargo hasn’t worked against the communist country.

“That regime has survived 50 years of sanctions,” Bingaman said. “Old age and ill health will end their rule rather than the embargo. 

“A better approach is building relationships between the people and businesses here and the people and businesses in Cuba.”

Bingaman recognized that Cuba has violated human rights, including against U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who is being held in a Cuban prison, but said a trade deal with Cuba could be similar to the one just passed with Russia.

The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, H.R. 6156, included language that places financial and traveling sanctions against human rights violators in Russia.

“This doesn’t mean we stop advocating for human rights,” Bingaman said. “We should be able to balance these goals as we did in our approach with China and based on vote today on Russia.

“The legislation we voted on today targets people who violate human rights. ... We could take a similar approach with Cuba.”

Bingaman said if Congress doesn’t act, President Obama should use his powers to “relax sanctions” against Cuba.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted S.Res. 609, which called for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross from detention in Cuba.