Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Wednesday he will work with the new Republican majority next year to reverse the Obama administration’s actions to normalize relations with Cuba, perhaps by blocking a proposed American ambassador or embassy.
Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba in the 1950s, denounced Obama’s plan to pave the way for a restored diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba after decades of U.S. sanctions and isolation.
Obama on Wednesday said he has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to begin talks with the Cuban dictatorship to restart diplomatic relations, a move that would include opening an embassy and sending an ambassador.
But Rubio said he would stand in the way of such a move, and with a new Republican majority set to take over the Senate in 2015, he’ll have more power to block it.
Rubio said he would use his new position as the chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and global narcotics affairs to try to reverse Obama’s Cuba directive.
“We are going to have interesting discussions about how they are going to get an ambassador nominated and an embassy funded,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s pledge sets up a possible fight with the Obama administration in 2015 over whether it can even send an ambassador to Cuba. Obama’s nominees must be confirmed by 51 Senate votes, but the GOP will be in the majority, 54 to 46, which could make it impossible for Obama to round up enough Senate support.
Republicans have so far been mostly been critical of Obama’s Cuba announcement, which they say represents another blotch on the president’s poor handling of oppressive foreign governments.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the move, “another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies.”
The Castro government operates as a dictatorship, allowing the Cuban people few freedoms. Human rights organizations say thousands of Cuban dissidents have been jailed and tortured for opposing the government.
Rubio has been one of the staunchest opponents of restoring ties to Cuba, a move he said would only serve to strengthen the dictatorship without providing any new freedom to its people.
“Time and again, the Cuban government has manipulated every single concession this country has made to its advantage,” Rubio said. “The Cuban government will never allow changes on the island that threaten their grip on power.”
Obama’s announcement came after it was disclosed the president had agreed to release three convicted Cuban spies in exchange for Alan Gross, a Rockville, Md., aid worker who has been imprisoned by the Cuban government for five years.
Republicans, in announcing their opposition to Obama’s announcement on Cuba, were careful to avoid criticizing Gross’ release.
“Despite these reservations about the president’s changes in our policy toward this communist regime," Boehner said, “we all feel great joy and relief for Alan Gross and his family.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have mostly been supportive of restoring relations with Cuba, with the notable exception of outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who, like Rubio, is the son of Cuban immigrants.
“This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba's opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people,” Menendez said. “Let us all remind ourselves that an untold number of ordinary people yearning for democracy remain imprisoned by the exact same tormentors that have punished Alan Gross, and they, along with all Cubans, deserve a free and liberated Cuba."
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered tepid praise for Obama’s announcement.
“I remain concerned about human rights and political freedom inside Cuba, but I support moving forward toward a new path with Cuba,” Reid said.