President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba today, including opening an embassy in Cuba.
"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama claimed, "And instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."
Specifically, the White House took three major steps today as part of their "New Course on Cuba":
- Initiating discussions to reestablish diplomatic relations, including a U.S. embassy in Havana, and a Cuban embassy in the United States.
- A review, by the State Department, of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
- Relaxing of regulations to facilitate the flow of travel, commerce, and information between the United States and Cuba.
In conjunction with the "new direction for U.S. policy," the White House also announced the release of United States Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross who had been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. The White House insisted that Gross's release was not related to the release of three Cuban spies held by the United States. Senior Administration Officials insisted that those three Cuban spies were traded for a "U.S. intelligence asset" that had been imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years.
Asked if the White House was planning on working with Congress to remove the embargo on Cuba, Senior Administration Officials stressed that was not the focus of today's announcement.
"Again, we're not focussed today on legislative action. We are focussed on what the president can do so he's not sought to initiate any process with respect to the lifting of the embargo," a Senior Administration Official said. "We're not focused today on calling on Congress to take any particular action, we're focussed on communicating this new direction for U.S. policy."
Obama's unilateral actions on Cuba today are just the latest in a series of unilateral actions he has taken without consent of Congress. Just last month Obama announced he would grant temporary amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and he announced a deal to cut U.S. carbon emissions with China. His administration has also signaled he will not seek any input from Congress as Obama tries to broker a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Unless Republicans in Congress show they are willing to stop Obama's actions through the appropriations process, Americans can expect many many more unilateral executive actions over the nest two years.
"Senators should also make clear that they will not allow the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba to proceed until there have been changes on the island," The Heritage Foundation's Michael Gonzales advises. "And look into the possibility of using policy riders in the upcoming Department of Homeland Security appropriations debate in February and the fiscal year 2016 appropriations process to deny the president funds for setting up relations."