Foreign Policy

GOP hopefuls bash Obama on Cuba moves

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President Obama’s announcement of a thaw with Cuba threw a curveball at the emerging presidential field, but by the end of the day on Wednesday GOP hopefuls were largely swinging hard.   

{mosads}The sudden news of Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba on Wednesday gave presidential hopefuls no time to calculate their responses. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) waited until late afternoon to weigh in against the move, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has not commented yet. 

A looming congressional fight over funding for an embassy in Cuba already has the potential to keep the issue in the news as the presidential race picks up. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose family fled Cuba before he was born, jumped at the news early, coming out strongly against it. He gave a range of television interviews and a press conference on Wednesday. Florida, home to a large Cuban population, is at the epicenter of the issue in the United States. 

Rubio has been a harsh critic of Obama’s foreign policy, and he linked the Cuba issue to other areas, calling the effort “just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.”

He also raised the prospect of congressional action to stop the move. “I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense,” Rubio said in a statement.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who just one day earlier announced his decision to “actively explore” a run for the presidency, also came out against the move

After commenting at an event in Florida in the morning, he then posted a longer Facebook statement in the afternoon. 

“Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators,” Bush wrote.

Like Rubio, he also linked the move to Obama’s broader foreign policy and executive actions, two central areas of Republican opposition to the president.

Bush called the move “the latest foreign policy misstep by this President, and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority.”

The announcement from the Obama administration includes moves to set up an embassy in Cuba as well as easing travel and economic restrictions. 

Paul is put in a more difficult position in reacting to the news, as he has staked out a position on foreign policy that is less hawkish than the traditional Republican viewpoint, but supporting Obama also has risks. 

“At this time our office has no comment,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said in an email.

Adding to the delicacy of the issue for Paul, his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), had previously introduced legislation to lift the embargo on Cuba.

Cruz joined the pile-on later in the afternoon, saying the Obama administration is “blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a star in the party who has left the door open to a presidential run, used to be in favor of lifting the embargo on Cuba, but made clear he had reversed course while on the campaign trail as the vice presidential nominee in 2012. 

He said then that he had since learned “just how brutal the Castro regime is, just how this president’s policy of appeasement is not working.”

Many think that Ryan will decline to run for president in favor of remaining as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he will have influence over trade policy, including with Cuba. 

The Democratic side is less in flux, as Hillary Clinton dominates the field. The former secretary of state rarely responds to the news of the day immediately, and has so far not made an exception in this case. A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

As The Washington Post notes, however, Clinton did indicate support for reconsidering the Cuba embargo in her book Hard Choices.

“Near the end of our tenure, I recommended to President Obama that he take another look at the embargo,” she wrote. “It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. After twenty years of observing and dealing with the U.S.-Cuba relationship, I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive.” 

Marlyand Gov. Martin O’Malley, positioning himself as strongly liberal, backed the move, tweeting, “Diplomacy creates opportunities. Embargoes don’t. It’s time to reset our Cuba policy & build closer ties [between] the American & Cuban people.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), likewise, voiced support. He’s been weighing a progressive challenge for the nomination, visiting early voting states. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who insists she is not running despite the urging of liberal groups, is not known for making her voice heard on foreign policy. Her office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Cuba policy has the potential to be at the forefront of the conversation for an extended period of time, as there were signs of a brewing battle in Congress. 

In addition to Rubio’s vow to block the move, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has floated a presidential run himself, called for blocking funding for opening an embassy in Cuba. 

“I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest brushed aside the threat. 

“It’s not clear to me that additional appropriations will be necessary to establish an embassy in Cuba,” Earnest said. “Principally because there is already a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba.” 

Tags Cuba Jeb Bush Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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