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    Opponents formulate a strategy to derail Obama’s new Cuba policy

    Opponents formulate a strategy to derail Obama’s new Cuba policy
    BY PAUL KANETHE WASHINGTON POST
    12/22/2014 1:00 AM 12/22/2014 6:00 AM

    WASHINGTON
    Opponents of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic opening toward Cuba
    began plotting for the long road ahead to block the administration’s new
    policy, focusing on areas where congressional consent is necessary.

    The most likely targets are funding for new diplomatic operations in
    Havana, as well as the requirement for Senate confirmation of the
    ambassador, and while the issue has divided Republicans, key
    conservatives with long anti-Castro records occupy powerful positions in
    Congress and could thwart Obama’s overtures toward Cuban President Raúl
    Castro.

    The GOP leaders are throwing their weight behind the efforts of Sen.
    Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

    “I don’t think conditions have changed much, I haven’t seen much
    evidence that anything’s changed,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky
    Republican and the incoming majority leader, said in an interview on
    Thursday, suggesting that the regime’s human rights abuses had led him
    to support his Florida Republican colleagues. “They understand this
    issue pretty thoroughly. I’m at least persuaded that Marco’s right about
    this.”

    Their staffs have begun scouring pertinent laws related to determine if
    there are ways to impede the new financial avenues to commerce with the
    island nation. In particular, GOP aides are focusing on portions of the
    1996 law that tightened the embargo against Cuba, whether the
    president’s decision to allow U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba would
    violate sections of the law, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act.

    Derailing Obama’s initiatives will not be easy, and it could take many
    months, if not years, to play out as the new Congress takes up the
    annual funding bills for federal agencies and other oversight actions.

    “In my mind, we intend to use everything at our disposal to address this
    in the most positive way possible,” Rubio said on Thursday at a packed
    news conference in the Miami office of Ros-Lehtinen, promising to “look
    at all of our options.”

    Just four years into his Senate tenure, Rubio is already the
    third-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and expects
    to chair a subcommittee overseeing Western Hemisphere issues. He will be
    able to hold hearings and call witnesses to try to shape the issue,
    possibly as he mounts a campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential
    nomination.

    However, in a sign of the lack of ideological conformity, Sen. Rand
    Paul, a Kentucky Republican and a member both of the full committee and
    Rubio’s subcommittee, said on Thursday that the Cold War-era policy
    toward Cuba “just hasn’t worked” and normalizing relations is “probably
    a good idea.”

    That divide could turn any potential confirmation hearings for a new
    ambassador into a brutal fight.

    Rubio is joined in his strident opposition by Sen. Robert Menendez, a
    New Jersey Democrat and Cuban American who is the outgoing chairman and
    who expressed outrage at Obama’s move.

    Their views would be countered by Paul and Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona
    Republican and conservative who flew to Havana on Wednesday to help pick
    up freed American prisoner Alan Gross.

    And the incoming chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, has
    so far been noncommittal, saying on Wednesday the committee “will be
    closely examining the implications of these major policy changes in the
    next Congress.”

    The effort to block funding for the new policy will fall to Diaz-Balart,
    a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. He repeatedly
    denounced Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former secretary of
    state Hillary Rodham Clinton for negotiating the prisoner exchange
    despite public pronouncements that they would never exchange Gross’s
    freedom in exchange for the return of three Cuban spies.

    “Yesterday they did exactly what they claimed they would never do,”
    Diaz-Balart said on Thursday at the Miami news conference with Rubio and
    Ros-Lehtinen. “It shows a deep level of cynicism.”

    As a senior member of the subcommittee that funds the State Department,
    Diaz-Balart will have a hand in approving diplomatic budgets. House
    Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and McConnell are
    increasingly preaching to their rank-and-file Republicans that these
    annual spending bills are where they can advance conservative goals by
    attaching provisions that reduce or eliminate funds for projects, or for
    attaching policy riders that specifically forbid federal agencies from
    taking actions.

    Just this week, a sweeping spending bill passed Congress that included a
    controversial provision to alter banking laws on risky trades, serving
    as the sort of example for what Diaz-Balart could try to do on Cuba
    policy as those bills head through Congress next summer. Diaz-Balart has
    a key ally in the Senate — Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a South Carolina
    Republican and staunch opponent of the new policy who will lead the
    subcommittee approving the State Department’s budget.

    Still, Obama could veto those individual spending bills if they include
    Cuba restrictions he finds objectionable, which would set up a showdown
    over whether Republicans are willing to shut down portions of the
    government over the diplomatic openings to Cuba. There are some
    suggestions that existing property in Havana — known as the U.S.
    Interests Section — could be converted into a temporary embassy without
    requiring new funding.

    Ros-Lehtinen, a 26-year veteran of Congress who once chaired the House
    Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as the political godmother of the
    anti-Castro movement on Capitol Hill.

    On Thursday, she hosted Rubio and Diaz-Balart alongside family members
    of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed in 1996 when Cuban jets shot
    down their aircraft in the waters off the island.

    In Spanish, she said that Obama’s moves “destroy the dreams of millions
    of Cubans who’ve waited for half a century for their liberty. Obama
    insulted the Cuban American community that wants freedom and democracy
    for Cuba.”

    Rubio added a veiled attack on Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security
    adviser who once wrote Obama’s foreign policy speeches, noting Raúl
    Castro’s claim that Cuba “agreed to nothing” as part of the deal that
    Rhodes helped broker. “This is the kind of deal you get when you send
    your speechwriter to negotiate with a tyrant,” he said.

    McConnell predicted a majority of Senate Republicans would side with Rubio.

    “Even though I understand the argument that engagement may bring about
    changes, in this particular country — right next door to our country — I
    think the arguments of people like Menendez and Rubio are compelling,”
    McConnell said.

    Obama stunned McConnell when he called him on Tuesday night to inform
    him of the move: “It was such a surprise, we haven’t talked about this
    issue in quite a while. . . . To be perfectly candid with you, I hadn’t
    thought about Cuba policy in quite a while, there just hasn’t been
    anything on the agenda lately.”

    Source: Opponents formulate a strategy to derail Obama’s new Cuba policy
    | The Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article4778862.html