A new beginning in US-Cuba relations still depends on Congress
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When Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryJohn Kirby to reprise role as Pentagon press secretary under Biden AFL-CIO calls on Biden to appoint racial equity czar Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure 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 FlakeCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Arizona county's Republican committee debates censuring Cindy McCain MORE (R-Ariz.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPompeo's flurry of foreign policy moves hampers Biden start Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Congress unveils .3 trillion government spending and virus relief package MORE (D-Vt.), and supported by both Democrats like Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer says Democrats will probe extremist groups after Capitol attack Trump's legacy is discord and division Schumer calls for 25th Amendment to be invoked after Capitol riots MORE (Ill.) and Tom UdallTom UdallSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes We can achieve our democratic ideals now by passing the For the People Act Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities MORE (N.M.), and Republicans such as John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair MORE (Ark.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) Moran'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Electoral College fight splits GOP as opposition grows to election challenge Hillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation MORE (Kan.) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes With Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds Wyoming mask mandate backed by GOP lawmakers goes into effect 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 KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots MORE (D-Minn.), with wide bipartisan co-sponsors like Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCoronavirus relief deal hinges on talks over Fed lending powers OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government scientists predicted border wall construction could harm wildlife refuge | Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities | Trump officials wrongly awarded Alaska grant in bid to open Tongass Trump officials wrongly awarded Alaska grant in bid to open Tongass forest to logging: watchdog 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 EmmerGOP at crossroads after Capitol siege Wave of companies cut off donations — much of it to GOP California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success MORE of Minnesota, with bipartisan support from Democrat Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Countries roll out 2030 Paris Accord goals amid US absence | Biden eyes new EPA picks as Nichols reportedly falls from favor | Kerry faces big job on climate, US credibility Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Progress toward managing rising seas 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 RubioConfirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? 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.