A new beginning in US-Cuba relations still depends on Congress
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When Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal GOP senators press State Department for Hunter Biden, Burisma records MORE raises the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14, he will officially mark the end of an era of failed foreign policy. Kerry's official actions this Friday will be historic not only for ending the more than half a century of isolation. It will also open up the next battlefront in the continued quest for normalization: Capitol Hill. With three bills pending — two to end the trade embargo, and one that permanently lifts the travel ban — attention in this country will focus on whether a small minority of legislators continue to block the modernization, both economic and political, of an island nation of 9 million people.

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President Obama could go only so far in terms of his executive actions to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relationship. In early January of this year, he was able to ease the travel ban for Americans who wanted to visit, allowing trips to take place under 12 broad categories. This created a boom for tour operators as visitors from this country to Cuba have more than tripled, even if the number of hotels and the capacity to host people has been strained. It has been a boon for Airbnb, the Internet booking service that tapped the existing entrepreneurial vein of many Cubans seeking to earn dollars as hosts.

The Freedom to Travel Act of 2015, the work of Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (D-Vt.), and supported by both Democrats like Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Pentagon watchdog declines to investigate hold on Ukraine aid Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (Ill.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallBureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts 'very dumb' decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill MORE (N.M.), and Republicans such as John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal MORE (Ark.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates MORE (Kan.) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits MORE (Wyo.), echo the important national interest in having American citizens travel, unimpeded by rules about a trip's intended purpose. Action is pending on this bill, but we are now in summer recess.

Lifting the 54-year-old embargo remains the other unfinished business. One bill, the Freedom to Export Act, introduced in February by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal MORE (D-Minn.), with wide bipartisan co-sponsors like Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Cash surge puts more Senate races in play Poll shows Sen. Gary Peters with slim lead over GOP rival in Michigan MORE (D-Mich.), Enzi, Flake, Leahy and Durbin, would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. Klobuchar noted that "fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores. There are many issues in our relationship with Cuba that must be addressed, but this legislation to lift the embargo will begin to open up new opportunities for American companies, boost job creation and exports, and help improve the quality of life for the Cuban people." The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba is also endorsing this effort.

A second bill, the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, introduced last month in the House by Republican Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerGeorge Papadopoulos launches campaign to run for Katie Hill's congressional seat Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement Walden retirement adds to GOP election woes MORE of Minnesota, with bipartisan support from Democrat Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Trump: 'I'm very much into climate' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE of Florida, is also pending. As Emmer told USA Today when he introduced his legislation, "I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn't about the Cuban government — it's about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life." A new Pew Research Center poll done in July showed that 72 percent of Americans favored an end to the embargo, up from 66 percent in January. In spite of public support for this next step, we will continue to see resistance to opening the door to economic exchanges by members who are still mired in the past and refuse to accept the wisdom of their own citizens about the foolishness of such trade restrictions.

Congress will also be called upon when Obama nominates an ambassador to Cuba. Any name put forward will also require the approval of the Senate, a body with some naysayers who are more than likely to block anyone put up by the administration. Having an ambassador would be further demonstration of our commitment to rebuilding trust and our mature relationship with a neighbor.

Full relations with any country depends on our ability to trade and develop commercial relationships that go beyond the people-to-people engagements that still form the core of exchange. But in the meantime, a very Cuban form of capitalism is already thriving as entrepreneurs have built many businesses that cater to tourists and locals alike. For example, Cubans see the latest movies and TV series taken off the Internet and sold to people by vendors who go door to door with USB sticks that clients can use to download. No pay per view, but pay for the service. Foodie tourists can partake of the wonderful culinary talent of restaurateurs in the renowned paladares, which serve as gastronomic laboratories showing off the bounties of tropical products — even if getting some of the basic goods requires creating your own local supply chain and having friends head to Miami or Cancun to do a quick run to Costco for supplies!

In Cuba, where the leadership still remains uncertain about how their socialist revolution will end, continued inaction to end the embargo only reinforces the regime's propaganda that all of Cuba's troubles arise from it. Ending the embargo would not only accelerate the change taking place amidst Cuba's entrepreneurial society, but would create more unease for Havana's leadership. Greater commerce, more access to the Internet and greater employment are the best ways to promote peaceful changes among a society of young, vibrant Cubans who dream of entry into the connected world of the 21st century. And moreover, who dream of the freedom that we so often take for granted.

But in this season of political uncertainty, where one of the main opponents of the Obama policy, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (R-Fla.), is himself a presidential contender, progress on Capitol Hill will be stymied by the onslaught of anti-Cuba campaign sound bites rather than actions that represent the will of the American people to move beyond a sad episode of our Cold War past.

Forman is a senior adviser at the Stimson Center and a scholar-in-residence at the School of International Service at American University in Washington.