GOP House member files bill to end U.S. embargo on Cuba
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 8:04 a.m. EDT July 28, 2015
A bill to eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will be
introduced Tuesday by an unlikely member of Congress: a Republican in
the House of Representatives.
Rep. Tom Emmer, who narrowly lost the Minnesota governor's race in 2010
before winning a House seat in 2014, is scheduled to file the "Cuba
Trade Act of 2015" that removes the long-standing restrictions on
American businesses from trading with Cuba and American citizens
from travelling there. Emmer said he decided to pursue a full repeal of
the embargo after a trip to Cuba in June, when he met with Cuban
government officials and everyday citizens.
"I understand there's a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that
goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going
to necessarily be able to understand," Emmer said. "But 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."
Ever since President Obama announced in December that he would
reestablish diplomatic relations with the one-time Cold War foe,
Congress has responded by trying to tweak the embargo, which is
established in U.S. law and can only be changed by an act of
Congress. Democrats in the Senate, with some Republican support, have
been trying to ease trade and travel to the island. Republicans in the
House have fought back, proposing a series of additional restrictions to
bolster the embargo.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been clear that his chamber will
not address the embargo until he sees significant changes in Cuba. Under
current law, the embargo cannot be removed until several changes take
place in Cuba, including a transition to a democratic government and
improvements in the country's human rights record. Since none of that
has happened, Boehner said in May that his chamber would not reexamine
the embargo until "the Cuban people enjoy freedom, and not one second
Emmer saw firsthand what a challenge he's facing as he briefed
Republican leadership and Cuban-American members of the House about his
bill over the past week. "I didn't expect everybody to be thrilled," he
said with a laugh.
But Steven Law, senior adviser to Engage Cuba, a group pushing for
normalized relations with Cuba, said most of that reaction was simply
political instinct in the face of another example of Obama using his
executive powers to fundamentally alter U.S. policy.
"A lot of Republicans started out with the reflexive view that if Obama
was behind it, there's something wrong with it," said Law. "But I think
Law is no liberal — he is the president and CEO of the American
Crossroads super PAC that supports Republican candidates and previously
worked in the administration of President George W. Bush. He said the
Cuba question can eventually cut across party lines with help from
traditionally-conservative groups pushing for more access to Cuba, from
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to libertarians.
"A lot of these members are hearing from constituents that it's a new
day and we need a new policy to respond to those changes," he said.
Groups plan to use the August congressional recess to push that
argument. Marc Hanson, senior associate for Cuba at the Washington
Office on Latin America, said they plan to rally support for Emmer's
bill through various August events.
"What's going to ultimately happen is this will start the conversation
within the Republican caucus," Hanson said.
That conversation will be a short one, according to Mauricio
Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which
has opposed Obama's opening with Cuba. Claver-Carone pointed to recent
votes conducted on the House floor on amendments to appropriations bills
that created tighter sanctions against Cuba. In one case, Republicans
won with a 120-vote majority.
"If anyone is trying to imply that somehow, within a couple of months,
61 members of the House of Representatives are going to flip, I think
they have an unpleasant surprise coming," he said.
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