Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that Congress will more than likely block any nominee President Obama names for ambassador to Cuba. They also plan to retain current economic sanctions even though Obama is looking to strengthen ties with the Communist-run country.
“There are sanctions that were imposed by Congress. I think the administration will have a hard time getting those removed. This is a policy that there is substantial opposition to in Congress,” McConnell said.
The current opposition from the Senate comes on the heels of Obama’s announcement last December that he would use his executive powers to create a relationship between the two countries. To foster this relationship Obama has worked to establish diplomatic relations, ease travel restrictions, increase the limit on remittances to Cuban nationals from U.S. Cuban immigrants, and expand trade in goods and services.
However, the ultimate power to normalize trade and travel lies with the Republican controlled Congress. Many of them worry that there is nothing to be gained from thawing relations, in fact, they worry it will only help embolden communist leaders in Cuba. They also worry they may end up alienating Cuban Americans in Florida who support the Republican party and are anti-Cuban government.
Obama was able to work with some Senate Republicans like Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) who supported his plan. In March Obama noted that the new strategy seems to be working as the Cuban government is already discussing ways to rework the economy.
McConnell however has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s foreign policy from Cuban relations to attempts to engage in nuclear talks with Iran.
“This president has been involved in … talking to a lot of countries: talk, talk, talk. And Cuba is a good example. He thinks that simply by engaging with them we get a positive result, I don’t see any indication that Cubans are going to change their behavior,” McConnell said.
Human rights advocates have long been critical of Cuba’s abuses of its citizens. They point to arbitrary imprisonment of political opponents, and a tight grip on their economy that hurts the free-market. These examples are reasons for the continued efforts of Republicans to slow or stop Cuban relations.