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Congressional Inertia on US-Cuba Policy

Holding up an ambassadorial post is a time-honored political move in the Senate to exact political concessions from the President. Do they work? Some do, most do not. Of those that do, they are usually tied to a bundle of legislative requests that may, or may not be related to the underlying appointment.

POLITICO reports that the President’s pick for Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, is caught up in one of these hold battles, supposedly over her work on Cuba. Jacobson is a career foreign service officer and the current Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. If the response by Congressional opponents to the President’s Cuba policy is a hold strategy, possibly tied to a few appropriations riders, then the Jacobson hold is a colossal waste of time. A great deal more is warranted to stem the policy and legal adventurism that the president’s advisors have unleashed the past nine months. Watchdog groups have even questioned the legal propriety of the lobbying maneuvers.

During the course of the last few months, federal regulations have been eased not once, but twice. The embassies were re-opened in Havana and Washington, DC. Cuba was removed from the state sponsors of terror list and downgraded as a country of trafficking concern. Cuba opened a bank account in a Miami bank and they even scored a high-level trade mission led by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Meanwhile Cuba has yet to reciprocate an inch on human rights, US property claims, and may even be snubbing the administration by sending troops to Syria. With a few exceptions, the substantive response by Congressional overseers to these changes has been politically anemic.

Ironically, Jacobson reportedly had nothing to do with the President’s Cuba scheme. From what I’ve been told by many sources at Foggy Bottom, from outside her bureau, is that she wanted out of that post a long time ago. In fact the State Department was, mostly, an afterthought to the pre-planning policy shift by the President. The President’s national security team, along with a legion of high-priced lawyers and lobbyists, were the ones that paved the road to closer relations with Cuba’s hardline Communist rulers. They’ve managed to turn U.S. policy, and the law, on its head.

There is still time to move product in Congress that could inject sanity to this process. Congressional staff should be tasked with a few items including (1) review if federal lobbying and FEC laws were followed by lawyers, lobbyists, and Democratic Party donors; (2) hold oversight hearings on the pre-December 17 maneuvers that led to the policy change; (3) protect and defend U.S. taxpayers holding certified claims against the government of Cuba that are owed close to $8 billion; and (4) enact legislation, even under threat of veto, that ensures the administration will follow existing laws and regulations with respect to Cuba. Doing this, a hold strategy makes a whole lot of sense. If not, Jacobson should be dispatched to Mexico City as soon as reasonably possible.

The good news, at least for those of us that support a hardline toward Cuba until Cuba, legally and under U.S. law is a transition government, is that the other side does not have the votes to gut the sanctions in Congress. If they did, they would’ve pressed for a vote a long time ago. However, the lack of substantive legislative or oversight maneuvering from the Congress has given them wiggle room that they did not have at the start of the year. This could allow the President to press onward on yet one more regulatory change to allow for limited financing of certain exports to Cuba. I know a few lawyers that have come up with clever legal reasoning, albeit wrong, to make it so. If the administration goes down this road, a hold strategy, without more, is be too little, too late.


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