White House efforts to avoid dealing with the Cuba issue have blown up amid protests on the island, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.
Why it matters: Joe Biden’s performance in South Florida during the 2020 election explains his wariness — he was crushed by Donald Trump. Democrats are worried they’ll hurt themselves in Florida — and more broadly in the midterms — if they mishandle the situation.
- President Obama made détente with Cuba — including a trip to the nation — a signature foreign policy.
- President Trump reversed much of that: He added sanctions, put the country back on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and adopted a hardline approach — in line with critics of Cuba’s Communist regime.
- Biden’s statement Monday morning backing the protesters was the first time he’s publicly addressed Cuba since becoming president.
Between the lines: Biden’s Cuba policy review is ongoing, giving the administration some cover for the time being.
- But the review is expected to end soon, sources familiar with the process tell Axios.
Reporters pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki for more details during her press briefing Monday.
- Psaki, who said in March that “a Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities,” was asked whether the events over the weekend change the administration’s view.
- She said Biden has “(made) clear that he doesn’t support the approach of the government of Cuba,” but was noncommittal when asked specifically where the issue ranks as a priority.
- The president later told reporters that “the U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.”
What they’re saying: Republicans and outsiders have seized on the protests to attack the administration.
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban American up for re-election next year and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has very publicly called on Biden to get more involved.
- Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador and another potential 2024 candidate, tweeted her own criticism Monday.
- Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who tweeted at Biden: “Don’t be AWOL,” and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also weighed in, as did Joy Behar of “The View.”
The bottom line: The challenge for Democrats isn’t entirely from Republicans; their own party is split on the issue.
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the son of Cuban immigrants, is against lifting sanctions on Cuba unless serious human rights progress is made.
- He reiterated his stance Monday.
- Many progressives like Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) want an immediate return to détente.
Be smart: Several progressive lawmakers have been slow to issue a formal response to the protests — or haven’t issued one at all.
- Fox News seized on the silence in a report titled: “Democratic socialists ignore Cuban protesters railing against communist dictatorship.”