Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart vote for omnibus despite Cuba provision

Two senior Cuban-American lawmakers voted for the massive government-funding bill despite the removal of a provision that restricted travel to the island nation.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Appropriations Committee member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) supported the nearly trillion-dollar measure, even though they were unable to protect a provision that would limit Americans' ability to travel to Cuba and restrict the amount of money citizens can send to individuals living in Cuba.

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In the last-minute negotiations to reach an accord with the Senate and White House, leaders stripped a provision from the government-funding measure that would have reinstated travel restrictions to the communist island nation.

The Floridian lawmakers contended that the provision was removed at President Obama’s insistence, noting that he had refused to sign the funding deal if their provision was included.

“We held firm and fast and solidly on this issue but when the President of the United States says that he’s going to veto a bill based on this provision, it makes it very hard for us to insist,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The White House declined to comment.

In mid-January, the Obama administration eased regulations on traveling to Cuba, and sending remittances to Cuban citizens.

Shortly after the White House directive, Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Obama administration actions, saying they would "not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba. These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them."

After the spending bill passed 296-121 on Friday, appropriations committee member Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) conceded to The Hill that Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart “took one for the team today.”

Cuban-American Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), however, opposed the omnibus funding bill. He introduced standalone legislation to strengthen travel restrictions for those who make multiple return trips to the communist nation.

Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart suggested that voting for the omnibus would help their cause in the end-run.

Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill that the battle would have to be fought another day.

“We feel optimistic that if we don’t burn our bridges, which is important to do, there will always be another battle,” she said.

Calling the omnibus “Cuba neutral,” she explained that a provision was removed that would have made it more simple for U.S. farmers to sell their agricultural goods to Cuba.

Beyond the policy implications, the decision not to include the travel restrictions has political ramifications, Ros-Lehtinen explained, noting that she let Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) know of the Cuban-American community’s “grave disappointment” that the provision was removed.

“Cuban Americans are the most loyal Republican voters and we could easily be said to be the only solid, dependable bloc of voters for the GOP, so to get shafted by the GOP is not a good feeling and it makes it difficult for us to go back home and justify what has happened up here,” Ros-Lehtinen said.