If there was a chance that the incoming administration would be in favor of keeping the embargo, as of this week, that chance was effectively reduced to zero.
Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich both dropped out of the GOP primary race this week, and with them went any remaining opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba among presidential candidates. Donald Trump has spoken in measured support for normalization, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders are all in favor of a full opening.
In Washington, the influence of the pro-embargo hardline will only lessen in the months ahead. Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent anti-engagement member of the Senate, is leaving office at the end of his term. Cruz will return to the Senate, but the notoriously unpopular senator’s odds of marshalling his colleagues in support of the embargo are about as good as, uh…Lucifer’s.
When it comes to current Cuba developments on the Hill, members should take note of the contrast in directions between the pro- and anti-engagement coalitions. As of last week, Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill to lift the travel ban is now cosponsored by nearly half the Senate, and Rep. Mark Sanford’s counterpart in the House has passed over 120 cosponsors. Meanwhile, the pro-embargo wing—once able to dictate foreign policy to presidential campaigns—has now been reduced to attacking Kim Kardashian for traveling to Cuba. Because demanding an investigation into Beyoncé’s completely legal Cuba trip a few years back was not a sufficiently embarrassing waste of taxpayer dollars.
That is where we are in 2016. One bipartisan coalition in Congress is working on policies that will benefit both the Cuban people and their constituents, while another dwindling one is co-opting the work of late night talk show hosts to attack private citizens for where they choose to travel. So far, the pro-embargo hardline has been able to successfully prevent any further opening to Cuba by peddling the idea that things might turn around with the next administration. We know that now to be a fantasy. For the sake of the Cuban people, it’s time Congressional leadership did as well.
The time to act is now!