Obama Heads for Congressional Showdown on Cuba Embassy

Monday, July 6, 2015
From The Hill:

Obama heads for showdown over Cuba embassy

President Obama is heading for a showdown with Congress after announcing plans to reopen the U.S. embassy in Cuba.

The administration's move is part of a months-long discussion between the two countries to normalize relations that could hand Obama a needed foreign policy win, but only if he can get lawmakers on board.

But that could be an impossible task. While the administration can reopen the embassy without Congress signing off, they’ll need lawmakers to help approve an ambassador, fund the embassy, and lift a decades-old embargo.

Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, are already plotting to block the administration’s efforts, suggesting that Obama is going easy on a dictatorial regime.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the decision to reopen the embassy the latest example of Obama’s “appeasement of dictators.”

The Arkansas Republican is planning to work with his Senate colleagues to block funding for an embassy and vote against a potential ambassador “until there is real, fundamental change that gives hope to the oppressed people of Cuba.”

He could find an ally across the aisle in Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has been a vocal critic of Obama’s policy. The Cuban-American senator said Obama’s decision “is not in our national interest.”

“An already one-sided deal that benefits the Cuban regime is becoming all the more lopsided,” he added. "The message is democracy and human rights take a back seat to a legacy initiative.”

Across the Capitol, Republican leadership also opposes Obama’s Cuba moves, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying that “relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until Cubans enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner.”

The congressional opposition is hardly new. House lawmakers agreed in a 247-176 vote last month to keep the current restrictions on Americans wanting to travel to Cuba in place, effectively blocking rules issued earlier this year to make traveling easier."

The House is also using its spending bills to try to torpedo Obama’s efforts. A bill to fund the State Department would prohibit funds from being used to build a new embassy.

The administration has requested approximately $6 million to improve its current building there and convert it to a working embassy.

Despite the congressional backlash, administration officials are adamant that it would be a mistake for lawmakers to block Obama’s efforts, and suggest they could find common ground.