Will Cuba be the next Cancun? A bipartisan coalition of senators wants Americans to make Cuba their next vacation destination — or at least have that option.
Four Republicans and four Democrats introduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 on Thursday to lift restrictions on American travel to Cuba. The 50-year-old ban is still in place, though it has been loosened in President Obama’s effort to “normalize” U.S.-Cuba relations.
“Since 2009,” says a one-page summary provided to the Loop, “Cuban-Americans have been able to travel to Cuba without restriction. There is a bipartisan, bicameral interest in extending that right to all Americans.”
Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are the original sponsors. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) plan to introduce a companion bill in the House next week.
Leahy, Durbin and Whitehouse were among several Democrats to visit Cuba about two weeks ago to discuss Obama’s new policy with the Cuban government.
“The sponsors of the bill believe that the exchange of ideas and values via people-to-people travel can have a far greater, positive impact than the decades-old failed policy of isolation,” the summary says.
But before you start packing a beach bag and empty cigar boxes, note that the bipartisan support does not mean an easy sell on Capitol Hill.
During their joint interview Sunday on CBS News’s “60 Minutes,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both said they disagreed with Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba. McConnell said he expects a “vigorous discussion.”
Still, for those who have dreamed of strolling the streets of Old Havana, lifting the travel ban might prove an easier goal than lifting the trade embargo with Cuba. As for the latter, Boehner said it won’t be happening.
Maybe you thought the country had moved on from Watergate to focus on more important “-gates” such as Fangate, Bridgegate, Weinergate, Fajitagate (San Francisco police officers’ alleged assault of two people over a bag of suspected drugs that turned out to be steak fajitas) or, most recently, Deflategate.
But the original “-gate” popped up during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing Wednesday on Loretta Lynch, the nominee for attorney general.
Of course, the extraordinary four-decade-old scandal — which sparked the media’s penchant for suffixing every scandal with “gate” — stays with us because of its lasting political effects and lessons for the country.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) brought up Watergate as a more sophisticated variant of the committee’s “You’re not Eric Holder, are you?” questioning, asking Lynch whether she would have trusted John Mitchell to investigate Richard Nixon.
Mitchell, as in Nixon’s attorney general? Lynch asked, you know, just to clarify.
Yes, Cruz was curious if she would “trust John Mitchell to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing in the break-in at Watergate against Richard Nixon? Would you trust John Mitchell, who had run Richard Nixon’s campaign, to investigate the allegations that ultimately led to Richard Nixon resigning the presidency?”
“Well, I think that matter has been resolved,” Lynch replied.
“Indeed,” Cruz said, as the audience laughed.
Cruz pressed, asking about her “willingness to stand up to the president when the Constitution and the laws so require.”
Lynch stayed smoothly generic, saying that the attorney general’s job includes telling the president when proposed “actions do not have the appropriate legal framework and when they may not be undertaken,” adding that “it is something that I would not hesitate to do.”
Glad that’s cleared up: She’s not John Mitchell, either.
As we all know, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not one to mince words.
He was just starting a committee hearing Thursday with former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger (his right arm in a sling after fracturing his shoulder), George Shultz and Madeleine Albright when a group of Code Pink protesters stood up, moved just behind the witness table and started chanting, “Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes.”
Capitol Hill police shooed them away after a minute, but activists kept at it.
“Shut up,” McCain said, and then: “Get out of here, you low-life scum.” (Yes, there’s video: wapo.st/mccain.)
McCain, in a statement after the incident, said the protesters were “waving handcuffs within inches of” the 91-year-old Kissinger’s head, adding: “I have never witnessed this kind of physical intimidation of a witness at a Congressional hearing.”
It’s Friday morning, which means it’s time for the Loop’s weekly Congressional Research Service report — we bring ’em to you because Congress won’t.
This week we have an analysis of Obamacare’s impact on small business — an emblem of the partisan fight over the law. Here’s a snapshot of the nonpartisan take:
Early in the report, the CRS lays out how few businesses and workers will be affected by the mandate requiring employers to offer insurance or else pay a penalty. Most American businesses have fewer than 50 full-time employees and are therefore exempt. They account for 96.2 percent of businesses and 27.6 percent of all workers. Factor in businesses that already provide insurance for employees and the CRS says fewer than 1 percent could be subject to the penalty.
The CRS notes that opponents of Obamacare’s employer penalty warn that it could encourage businesses to reduce hiring to below the 50-person threshold or reduce hours so workers are considered part time. While the analysts suggest that revisions to the law might not be necessary given that these circumstances may only apply “to less than 1 percent of firms,” it provides a rundown of what some changes to the law could look like.
One they critique is the GOP desire to change the Obamacare definition of full-time work from 30 hours to 40 hours, something the House passed this month.
But the CRS says that change might actually have an adverse effect on workers because it would be easier for a company to cut someone’s hours from 40 hours to 39 to not have to comply with the mandate than from 40 hours to 29.
Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz