Lawmakers take first step toward ending the Cuban embargo

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If you rushed to book a trip to Cuba after President Obama announced his big policy change, you probably came away disappointed: general tourism is still banned. But today, the first piece of legislation was introduced in Congress that could make your Cuban getaway a reality.


A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a bill on Thursday that would lift travel restrictions on Americans who want to go to Cuba.

The legislation faces an uphill battle to passage in the Republican-controlled Congress, but it's the first effort by lawmakers to abolish the 50-year-old embargo after Obama acted on his own to normalize relations with Cuba.

“While we must be realistic about the prospects for Congressional action to fully lift the embargo on Cuba, when a single senator can scuttle it, the American people are ready for this change and my colleagues and I are committed to getting it done," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

Obama's policy changes make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, but Congress must act to eliminate all restrictions.

It's almost certain that Congress won't do that—at least not right now.

Republican leaders have vocally criticized the president's policy changes, saying they reward the Castro brothers while securing little in return for the U.S., such as democratization and human-rights improvements in Cuba.


House Speaker John Boehner said on CBS' "60 Minutes" that Obama "made a bad decision" by agreeing to normalize relations with Cuba.

When asked if the embargo is going to stay in place, Boehner replied, “I would think so."


In the same interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also said he disagreed with Obama's decision.

At the same time, the bill shows that there is bipartisan support for ending the embargo. Business and agricultural groups are in favor of re-establishing ties with Cuba in order to expand trade. Several GOP co-sponsors, such as Arkansas Sen. John Boozman and Kansas Sen. Jerry Morgan, hail from farming states.


Under Obama's plan, Americans must fall under 12 categories in order to travel to Cuba, including family visits, humanitarian work, educational and religious activities. Tourism is not permitted.

More pieces of legislation are planned to lift other parts of the embargo, which also bans almost all trade with Cuba, according to McClatchy.


Seven Republican senators, led by Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and potential presidential candidate Rand Paul (Ky.), wrote a letter to Obama offering support for his efforts to expand trade and travel with Cuba.

"With the significance of your recent announcements related to Cuba, we look forward to Congress turning its attention toward modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy to the benefit of U.S. citizens and the Cuban people alike," the letter reads. "Congress must play an integral role in reforming our policy toward Cuba."


Cuban-American lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have slammed Obama's policy moves and voiced full support for the embargo.

Cuban President Raúl Castro, however, is trying to drive a hard bargain with the U.S. Castro said Wednesday that the U.S. must lift the embargo, return its military base at Guantanamo Bay, and pay damages before relations could be normalized, according to the Associated Press.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.