Senators seek end to Cuba travel ban

Two senators seeking to end the 46-year-old ban on U.S. travel to Cuba are finding it difficult to get their measure to the Senate floor.

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have revived a bill they first introduced in March to lift the ban that was initially imposed by the Kennedy administration in February 1963.

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The bill has attracted 32 co-sponsors, including Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

But Dorgan, a member of Democratic leadership as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, said he doesn’t know how to get the bill onto the Senate floor.

Quizzed about his strategy on Thursday, Dorgan said he is searching for a committee that can pass the legislation — or somehow take it straight to the floor.

“We have not yet found a way,” Dorgan said in a recent floor speech. “When we do, I guarantee we will have sufficient votes on the floor of the Senate to offer the American people the freedom they should have had in the last 50 or 60 years, and that is freedom to travel. In this case ... freedom has been taken from them and it is outrageous.”

Lifting the travel ban is opposed by most Republicans, and many centrist Democrats expressed unease with the idea. At the same time, they acknowledge the present Cuban policy has been ineffective.

“On the one hand, you don’t want to in some ways go easy on a regime that continues to be dictatorial and very brutal to their people,” said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). “On the other hand, we’ve pursued this policy for 50 years, and it hasn’t led to the kind of change that we want for the people of Cuba.”

Foreign Relations Committee member Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) said instead of lifting the ban arbitrarily, the Senate should work with the Obama administration to develop a strategy.

“Cuba’s complicated,” Kaufman said. “The government down there still treats freedom of the press terribly; they’re terrible with regard to dissidents. I think it’s got to be part of an administration initiative to look at all the parts and figure out what to do.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the Cuban government has not done enough to end human-rights abuses.

“I’ve been for the travel ban and like the previous administrations, I’ve always said if [Fidel] Castro would take a step toward us, we’d take a step toward them, including lifting the travel ban in whole or in part,” Lieberman said. “My first reaction, not having looked at the proposal, is that I’m against it.”

Only four of the bill’s 32 co-sponsors are Republicans.

“I support the embargo against Cuba — we do not need to be opening up trade or expanding travel to a country that doesn’t respect human rights, that doesn’t respect a minority party,” said Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.). “They don’t have freedom of the press. They have political prisoners. I don’t believe in backing down to the Cubans.“

Lifting the ban could also be complicated for the Obama administration. While President Barack Obama loosened the ban in April and has tried to better the U.S.-Cuba relationship, it’s unclear whether he’d support a complete lifting of the travel ban.