President Obama’s announcement Wednesday to lift the decades-old embargo against Cuba is receiving scathing criticism from Washington lawmakers. One critic in particular has been more vociferous than the rest; Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is also Cuban-American.
Rubio equated the president’s embargo announcement to past presidential actions such as his executive order for amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and efforts to appease Iran.
On Thursday, the White House responded to his harsh attacks. White House press secretary Josh Earnest delivered the president’s rebuttal. Miffed that anyone would oppose the dictatorial change, Earnest said, “One of the leading proponents of this strategy of shutting off funding for the construction of this embassy and appointing an ambassador to Cuba is Senator Rubio, of course.”
Earnest’s initial pushback against Rubio came after a reporter’s inquiry into the president’s move to reopen a U.S. embassy in Cuba. American diplomatic personnel currently work out of the U.S. Interests Section housed in the former U.S. Embassy on the Malecon.
Then, without mentioning Rubio’s name, but obviously referring to him, Earnest said it was strange “some” lawmakers had shown no objection to confirming former Montana Senator Max Baucus as the new Chinese ambassador last year, even though China has been regularly cited for human rights abuses; something Rubio cited as a reason for not lifting the embargo.
Earnest hinted that Rubio had a conflict of interest, and he has a point, because China has long been under attack for its human-rights abuses, and Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that confirmed Baucus.
Earnest further said, “In thinking about this, it occurs to me that it seems odd Senator Rubio would be reluctant and, in fact, actively seeking to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba when earlier this year he voted to confirm the ambassador to China that the president nominated.”
The White House press secretary had the goods on Senator Rubio, and he read part of the confirmation hearing for Baucus’s ambassadorship to China when Rubio stated, “I think you’ll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration, that our embassy should be viewed as an ally of those within Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freely.” Earnest ended the quote with a smile and said, “We think the exact same thing can be said of the new embassy in Cuba.”
Washington ended diplomatic relations with Havana in 1961, two years after Raul’s older brother, Fidel Castro, came to power and a year after the United States began its trade embargo.
Rubio, a Cuban-American congressman, emerged as the fiercest critic of Obama’s plan to re-establish ties with Havana after more than half a century. But as of Saturday, Rubio had yet to comment on Earnest’s remarks.
The Florida senator, who is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, again slammed the idea of reopening the U.S. Embassy on Thursday, saying it was “a victory for oppressive governments the world over” and charging that it would “have real, negative consequences for the American people.”
Obama faces a very different Washington landscape in January when Republicans take over as the majority in the senate. Most of the Obama administration’s ideas of ending the embargo and renewing diplomatic relations will run directly through the new Republican majority.