Following the release of American Alan Gross from a Cuban prison, the Obama administration said it plans to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The surprising move has garnered widespread reaction from members of Congress and other politicians.
Sen. Lindsey Graham vows to block opening of U.S. embassy in Cuba
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted the Obama administration over the announcement, calling it a "bad idea at a bad time."
He also promised to do "all in my power" to block funding for the reopening of a U.S. embassy in Cuba.
Graham, a third-term senator, is a member of the Senate Appropriations committee.
Earlier Wednesday, Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a joint statement saying Obama's moves represent "America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline."
Jeb Bush weighs in on changes to U.S.-Cuba relations
Former Florida governor and prospective presidential candidate Jeb Bush reacted to news of President Obama's plans to soften the U.S. stance on Cuba on Wednesday afternoon, calling it a "dramatic overreach" of presidential authority.
Bush, who announced Tuesday that he was "exploring" the possibility of running for president in 2016, tweeted that Obama's actions toward Cuba will undermine America and the push for democracy in Cuba.
In a statement, Bush said he is "delighted" that the Cuban government freed American contractor Alan Gross from prison, but like many other Republicans, decried the release of three Cuban prisoners by the United States.
"The beneficiaries of President Obama's ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades," Bush said in a statement posted on Facebook. "Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators."
For decades, the politics surrounding Cuba were as durable as they were predictable, as Democrats and Republicans alike condemned the Castro dictatorship and supported a U.S. embargo of the island nation.
But a subtle shift began in recent years as memories of the 1959 Cuban revolution faded and as second- and third-generation Cuban Americans grew more amenable to normalized relations — a change that helped lay the groundwork for Wednesday’s White House announcement of renewed ties.
The change is charted in opinion polls.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Cuba retains close ties to North Korea
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a prospective 2016 GOP presidential candidate, argued that Cuba will retain long standing ties with "hostile nations, notably Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela."
"They will continue their support for terrorist organizations from FARC to Hezbollah and Hamas," Cruz said in a statement.
Poll from FIU: Cubans over age 65 support embargo
Florida International University has been polling Cuban Americans in Miami since 1991. The percentage of Cuban Americans supporting the embargo has declined from 87% in 1991 to 62% in 2000 to 48% now. Cuban Americans older than 65 support the embargo. Among those younger than 65, a majority oppose it.
Also, in 2012, people who identified themselves as having Cuban ancestry made up approximately 6% of the Florida electorate.
-- David Lauter
Puerto Rico's delegate decries its lack of rights, stands with Cuban exiles
As Democratic lawmakers lined up to praise President Obama's announcement that the U.S. would soften relations with Cuba, the congressional delegate representing Puerto Rico reminded the nation about the lack of democratic rights for citizens in the U.S. territory.
Tweeting in Spanish, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said that while he respects Obama's authority, he also hopes the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba will "bring democracy and freedom."
Pierluisi, a nonvoting delegate for the 3.6 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, took the opportunity to condemn what he called the continued "lack of democratic rights" in Puerto Rico.
While Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship in 1917, those who live there do not have a voting representative in Congress, don't pay federal taxes, and can't vote in presidential elections. They are allowed to vote in primaries.
"If there is something that I condemn, it is the lack of democratic rights under our territorial status in Puerto Rico," Pierluisi said in a statement posted on Facebook. "I have always supported Cuban exiles in their claim for these rights in Cuba."
Rep. Barbara Lee, longtime advocate for better U.S.-Cuba relations, praises shift
Just hours after returning from a trip to Cuba, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) spoke to MSNBC, praising the release of Alan Gross and the thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations. Lee, who has led dozens of delegations to the country since the 1970s and met with Gross at least four times during his captivity, called it a "very, very exciting, very humbling moment" for her.
Lee says normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries will not only allow increased commerce, but also allow scientists and doctors to engage in important exchanges. "This benefits both the Cuban people and the American people," Lee told the network.
Lee also called on Congress to repeal the trade embargo with Cuba.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said the policy announced by the Obama administration Wednesday "sends a message to every rogue government and terrorist organization that this administration is willing to negotiate with them, even if it undercuts U.S. interests and values."
"This puts a price on the head of every U.S. citizen," Salmon said.
Barbara Boxer praises new U.S.-Cuba relations for rejecting 'failed policies of the past'
Calling the release of Alan Gross a "joyous moment," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the move to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations "rejects the failed policies of the past and embraces a new future" that will benefit both America's interests and the lives of Cuban citizens.
"We will have enormous economic opportunities because of this action," Boxer said in a statement.
In a briefing with reporters, Sen. Marco Rubio called the new policy 'profoundly disappointing'
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a top Cuban American and potential 2016 presidential hopeful, called the administration’s new policy “so profoundly disappointing.”
“This president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down,” said Rubio.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, a lie -- the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom. All this is going to do is give the Castro regime -- perpetuate -- greater wealth and influence for this oppressive regime, especially the military.”
Rubio criticized Obama for not extracting Democratic changes from the Castro regime in exchange for normalizing relations, saying the economic flow between the two countries will do little to loosen the government’s grip on ordinary lives.
Florida Rep. Ros-Lehtinen welcomes freedom of Gross
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Wednesday applauding the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
"We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish," the group said in a statement.
House Majority Leader calls shift on Cuba part of Obama's 'policy of accommodation'
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) continued a theme struck by several Republican lawmakers Wednesday, calling Obama's shift to soften the U.S. policy on Cuba an indication of the President's "policy of accommodation" toward enemies.
Earlier Wednesday, Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart blasted Obama, calling him the "appeaser-in-chief."
McCarthy also said Obama's announcement would be interpreted as rewarding Cuba, which he said continues to detain political dissidents and cooperates with countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea. "It is difficult to have much confidence that this new policy will result in a better life and more political freedoms for the people of Cuba. More likely it will suggest to adversaries and allies alike that the United States lacks resolve in standing up for its interests and its principles," McCarthy said in a statement.
Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis: release of Cuban spies 'legitimizes Castro regime's coercive tactics'
In a statement Wednesday morning, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said the release of American Alan Gross was "long overdue," but decried the release of three convicted Cuban spies, an act DeSantis said sends a signal that American hostages can be leveraged into policy concessions.
DeSantis also opposed what he called possible pro-Castro changes in U.S. policy, including the relaxing of sanctions on Cuba, saying it would reward a regime that continues to oppress millions.
“President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation. One spy was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 1996 tragedy in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes, killing several American citizens. My heart goes out to the American families that lost love ones on that fateful day."
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) welcomed Alan Gross home and in a statement said "opening the door with Cuba for trade, travel, and the exchange of ideas will create a force for positive change in Cuba that more than 50 years of our current policy of exclusion could not achieve."