After Half a Century, Cuba Is Once Again a Domestic Political Issue

Carl Hulse December 18, 2014NYT FD


Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 8.14.33 AMFidel Castro visiting Washington in 1959, shortly after seizing power but before his relations with the United States deteriorated. At the time, he denied he was a Communist, promised to protect foreigners’ property rights and said he wold hold free elections. Associated Press


Good Thursday morning from Washington, where President Obama’s Cuba announcement has upset the usual red-blue political divisions and Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, is the winner in the dispute over leadership of the Budget Committee. In Des Moines, liberals held a presidential campaign rally for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (She wasn’t there.) Plus, the administration has concluded that North Korea is centrally involved in the hacking at Sony Pictures and is discussing ways to respond.

Senate hearings over the attorney general and defense secretary appointments might now have to take a back seat to another potentially explosive showdown next year: the confirmation of the first United States ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

President Obama’s surprise announcement on Wednesday that he is restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba touched off a political storm, and the repercussions will undoubtedly be felt through 2016 and beyond.

Republicans led by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida condemned the policy reversal, threatened to block any ambassadorial nominee and said he would hold up State Department money for an embassy – probably the most direct retaliation they could take. And Mr. Rubio will have influence: He is set to be chairman of an important foreign relations subcommittee next year.

But the politics over Cuba don’t always play out in a predictable manner. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who will be the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, was also incensed at the president’s decision, but Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a veteran Republican on the panel, was enthusiastic about the president’s approach and said it was overdue.

There are other political twists in play. Florida politicians of both parties tend to be hard-liners when it comes to improving ties with Havana because of the power of the state’s Cuban-American voting bloc. But lawmakers from conservative farm states have long pushed to loosen the Cuban embargo to expand their markets.

One thing is certain: The president’s action has turned the United States’ relationship with Cuba into a top issue both in Congress and in the developing presidential race.