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Tilting at Windmills

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March 3, 2009

MENENDEZ GETS THE CUBA DEBATE OFF TO A BAD START.... Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-N.J.) push on U.S policy towards Cuba is a reminder of how frustrating the foreign policy debate has been for far too long.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a strong supporter of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is launching a full-on battle this week to remove several provisions from the 2009 government spending bill that would open a small crack in the slammed door of relations with Havana.

Menendez fired a broadside at the Obama administration yesterday for backing a provision buried in the $410 billion spending bill, which must become law by next week in order to keep the government running. The New Jersey senator, a Cuban-American, objects to language in the bill that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year and end limits on the sale of American food and medicines in Cuba. [...]

The WaPo reports today that the senator has held up two Obama science nominees in an attempt to twist the arms of his fellow Dems.

Menendez supports a policy that hasn't worked after decades of trying. That's his right. But President Obama ran on a campaign platform that vowed to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, and managed to do quite well with Cuban-American voters. (Indeed, most Cuban Americans support lifting the counterproductive embargo.)

But Menendez isn't just making his case to continue with a failed policy, he's now blocking two White House nominees -- Obama's choices to be the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- to get the senators' attention on his Cuba-related concerns.

So, to summarize, Menendez supports Obama's nominees, but won't let the Senate vote on them until after he's done complaining about a subtle change in a foreign policy that hasn't worked after more than five decades of attempts.

Changing the U.S. policy towards Cuba is long overdue. Menendez's stunt gets the broader policy debate off to a discouraging start.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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That provision wasn't "Buried" in the bill; it's been widely reported, including lots of comments from Cuban Americans who support it and some who oppose it. We won't change these kinds of policies without some bruised feelings here and there, so I hope the administration can just suck it up and get the job done.
. . . jim strain in san diego.

Posted by: Jim Strain on March 3, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe in the States, emigre citizens have too much sway over foreign policy towards their ex-countries? Cuban-Americans hate Castro, Iranian Americans hate the Mullahs, etc., we get it—but is theirs the only view that should be relevant to other Americans?

Posted by: Firas on March 3, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Ahhh...invoke the fear of the "Commies" like the fundies do all the time.

Except when there might be a chance to make a buck of them. Like China. Remember China? They were commies too. Then the business crowd started to look at the sheer volume of potential consumers and started to salivate over the chance to make money.

So the door of diplomacy was flung open to China and we used money to corrupt the Commies. Now they are much closer to capitalism, though their record on human rights is deplorable.

Open the door to the Cubans and let our system of capitalism in and the Commies will be a fleeting thought.

PS. Don't forget how much of our current debt is owned by...the Chinese.

Posted by: bkmn on March 3, 2009 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Menendez is a hack; Gov Corzine let the state down when he appointed Menendez to the Senate--Holt or Pallone or even Andrews would have been much better Senators.

Posted by: seriously on March 3, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Expel the bozo from the dem caucus. Cut off his earmarks.

Posted by: Jason on March 3, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Menendez won't be satisfied until Cuba is returned to the control of the Mafia, as it was before the revolution.

The most powerful US lobby for crushing the Cuban revolution is not the Cuban exile community in Florida. It's organized crime. Before Castro, they owned Cuba. They want it back.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 3, 2009 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I used to live in Miami and no matter what , Cuban-Americans want to dominate the political descisions on Cuba. The older ones always go off on how they miss their homeland and would love to meve back, but I guarantee if they had the chance they would visit as tourists , and continue to enjoy their US lifestyle. They seem to think that if communism suddenly fell on the island , they could go back and "claim their stuff" they left behind in 1959. The Cubans born here - not so much. The only thing that has maintained communism is the common enemy of the US . If they dropped the embargo that country would evolve as the material goods and culture saturated the island. Have you noticed whats going on in the other commie country China since it turned capitalist

Posted by: John R on March 3, 2009 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

And this guy is a Democrat??

We need to end the embargo.

Posted by: Chris S. on March 3, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Are there that many votes to be had from Paterson?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 3, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to know if Senator Menendez is opposed to food, medicine, and family visits for all people living under dictatorships, or only people living under this particular dictatorship.
I would further like to know who else he thinks it appropriate to deprive of food, medicine, and family visits.
These are basic human decency issues on which Senator Menendez constituents have a need, and a right, to know his position.

Posted by: thebewilderness on March 3, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think this is such a bad start. Some hack politician from NJ throws a temper tantrum and holds up a couple of unrelated nominations that he actually supports.

He looks like a fool and - to the extent that he fails to get any traction with the public or the FL delegation - he confirms that it is a dying issue.

Posted by: tentakles on March 3, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

With jerks like Menendez, is it any wonder that Cuba had a revolution?

Posted by: inkadu on March 3, 2009 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Write this letter to President Obama:

We know you are busy. And, Cuba is not at the top of your list.

Changing the Cuba Travel Ban and the Embargo are complex. Frankly, we understand that you have your eye on the collapse of the economy and winding down George Bush's wars. And Congress will be needed to change these. We'll wait.

However, with no more than a minute of your time and a signature you can fulfill the promise you made in Miami before a packed house in Little Havana. George Bush created cruel and nasty new rules that affect hundreds of thousands of Cuban families in the U.S. It was done in a minute with nothing more than a presidential signature. You need only undo the damage--with a presidential signature. No need to think about it; you've already made the decision and announced it. You did it over a year ago when you said:

When I am elected president, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island....

A promise is a promise....

Jim Bouman

Posted by: jim Bouman on March 3, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

If the Obama Administration wants Sen. Menendez to get in line, I suggest that they do a "fishing expedition" through Hudson County, NJ (where Menendez has been the de facto political boss for the past decade or so). Hudson County is as notoriously corrupt and crony-ridden as Cook County, IL (which Obama and Emmanuel are so familiar with), so they'll be sure to find SOMETHING to hold over Menendez's head if there's a need to do so.

And I'm saying this as a lifelong NJer who VOTED for Menendez (for both the House and Senate).

Posted by: Eisbär on March 3, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

The weird thing is that the travel ban is pretty easy to get around. You can get a flight from Mexico and bribe the Cuban Immigration officials to not stamp your passport. It's not like this is really a big deal. I have a friend who goes to Cuba every year. You'll have a harder time getting into Saudi Arabia, and they are supposed to be our friends.

Posted by: fostert on March 3, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

And while I'm not supporting Sen. Menendez on this issue, he is a pretty solid and reliable Democrat on practically every other issue. He's doing this because he himself is the son of Cuban refugees, and his old congressional district in NJ is Union City, which is one of the most heavily Cuban districts in the country.

His pigheadedness about Cuba notwithstanding, Sen. Menendez is no Lieberman.

Posted by: Eisbär on March 3, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why not just pull a political end-run on Menendez? The WH (Yo, Rahm---I'm lookin' at you, pal!) could go to the GOP and mention the benefits of Big Agri and Big Pharma getting a foot in the door with Havana. Is it nice? No. Is it ethical? Maybe, maybe not. But you know what they say: All's fair in Love, War, and Throwing Menendez Under the Bus....

Posted by: Steve W. on March 3, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Fostert wrote: The weird thing is that the travel ban is pretty easy to get around.

True mostly, but if the Bush DOJ got wind they would nail you to the wall. I had a friend who went to Cuba on a tour through Canada. He ended up having to pay a $10,000 fine.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on March 3, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

So why is a fascist like Menendez allowed to get away with this crap?

As the missile crisis fades further and further into history, America's mean-spirited, vengeful attitude towards Cuba becomes a greater and greater disgrace.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on March 3, 2009 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, nincompoop and nw Obama and yet Cuba remains the same. Talk about a failed policy.

Posted by: William Jensen on March 3, 2009 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Why, oh why, does the Senate leadership continue to honor these holds? This is hardly the first time that a perfectly illegitimate use has been made of this tactic. It is wholly undemocratic and should simply be abandoned for all - full stop!

Posted by: Bett on March 4, 2009 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK



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