Obama official 'regrets' lawmakers weren't consulted on Cuba

Former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told a congressional panel Wednesday that he "regrets" not consulting lawmakers more during the White House negotiations last year to normalize relations with Cuba.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Youth climate activists get Miami Beach to declare climate emergency MORE (R-Fla.) pressed Blinken, who is now the deputy secretary of State, on comments he made in November asserting that White House would consult Congress when changing its Cuba policy.


“Anything that might be done on Cuba will have to be consistent with the law,” Blinken said at his confirmation hearing in November. “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress, he added.

On Dec. 17, the White House announced it was relaxing trade and travel rules with Cuba after a deal was struck to release dozens of political prisoners as well as two Americans held captive in Cuba.

"I regret that I did not live up to the standard I set during that hearing and in the remarks you just quoted," Blinken said Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "I think that I could have done a better job in engaging with you and in consulting with you in advance, and I regret that."

Blinken said the White House reached out to "a number" of members of Congress about the Cuba talks but declined to offer names when pressed by Rubio.
"I assure you that I was not consulted," the committee's ranking member Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPaul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (D-N.J.) interjected, noting the "difference between notification and consultation."

Lawmakers have also sparred with the White House over its threat to veto new sanctions on Iran. Wednesday's hearing focused on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, which Rubio compared to the Cuba deal.

"We're, as a new Congress, being asked to sit tight because we're going to be fully consulted," Rubio said of the White House's moves on Iran. "It sounds like the only people who are going to be fully consulted are the people who agree with the administration, and if you don't agree with the administration, you'll only be notified."

Rubio told The Weekly Standard last month that Blinken was "dishonest" and "clearly evasive" when he repeatedly dodged questions about a potential change in U.S.-Cuba policy. He added Wednesday that the administration's definition and use of "consultation" was "problematic."

A staunch critic of the administration's moves to normalize relations with the communist government, Rubio assailed the terms of the White House's deal with Cuba, which promised to release 53 political prisoners, American captive Alan Gross and another U.S. operative.

Fourteen of the 53 political prisoners had already been released by Dec. 17, including one released almost a full year beforehand, Rubio said. Four had fully completed their prison sentences, and another five had been rearrested, Rubio said.

Cuba has made 200 new political arrests since the White House announcement last month, Rubio said.