By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eight Republican and Democratic senators will introduce legislation on Thursday to end restrictions on U.S. citizens' travel to Cuba, the first effort in Congress toward ending the U.S. embargo since President Barack Obama moved to normalize relations last month.
The bill would end legal restrictions on travel to the island by U.S. citizens and legal residents, according to a statement about the senators' plans.
It would also end restrictions on banking transactions related to that travel.
The Obama administration announced some loosening of restrictions on travel last month, but Congress must vote to end the laws that put them in place.
The senators backing the bill include Republicans Jeff Flake, Jerry Moran, Michael Enzi and John Boozman, as well as Democrats Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, Tom Udall and Sheldon Whitehouse.
A companion bill will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives next week by Republican Representative Mark Sanford and Democratic Representative Jim McGovern.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would work toward normalizing relations between their two countries, more than half a century after Castro's brother Fidel took power and began implementing communist rule in the island nation.
There has been vocal opposition toward the plan in the U.S. Congress, led by staunchly anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers including Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Opponents of Obama's plans have so far not announced any legislation seeking to stop them. There will be hearings on Cuba next week in both the Senate and House.
Castro set a tough tone on relations with the United States in a speech on Wednesday, warning that any U.S. interference in Cuba's internal affairs would make rapprochement between the two countries meaningless.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu)