Rubio unveils bill to halt Cuba flights

Rubio unveils bill to halt Cuba flights
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Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio Rubio The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins CBS News as contributor MORE (R-Fla.) dropped legislation on Wednesday that would halt commercial U.S. flights to Cuba until a thorough security review is conducted at all of the island nation’s 10 airports.

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The measure, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.), comes a week after commercial air service resumed between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in 50 years.

The commercial flights are a cornerstone of President’s Obama efforts to normalize relations with the former Cold War rival.

Rubio’s bill would pause those flights until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) completes an assessment of Cuba’s airport security measures and secures an agreement that allows TSA agents to inspect the country’s airports regularly.

“It’s extremely concerning that ‎airlines operating in Cuba are not allowed to hire their own workers, and airport staff are employees of the Cuban government,” Rubio said in a statement. “This increases the likelihood that someone on the inside seeking to harm the United States could gain access to sensitive flight data and controls.”

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Transportation Security, introduced companion legislation earlier this year.

Bill sponsors want to know whether the island has adequate body scanners, explosive detection systems, technology for detecting fake passports and a strong employee vetting process.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, told The Hill last week that he plans to move the measure through his committee once lawmakers return from the August recess.

“Despite continued concerns about the safety and security of Cuba's airports, the Administration rushed resuming regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba — again putting security concerns far behind the President’s legacy building effort," McCaul said in a statement.

But the bill would face an uphill battle in the Senate and almost certain veto at the White House, as the issue has long divided Congress.

Supporters of Cuban air travel brush off security concerns, arguing that charter services have been offering flights between the U.S. and Cuba for years without terrorism incidents and pointing out that Cuban airports already must comply with a set of international standards.

Critics worry that Cuban airports don’t live up to U.S. standards, and say that resuming travel to Cuba would enrich the Castro government despite its history of human rights abuse.

“I have opposed commercial flight service to Cuba because it will only empower and enrich the regime, not the Cuban people,” Rubio said.