The Democratic National Committee has come out in strong support of President Barack Obama's deal to end decades-long policy against Cuba, but its chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a strong advocate of Cuban democracy, first issued a tepid statement of her own that veered against the party's line.
Wasserman Schultz remained quiet for most of the day after Obama announced the deal on Wednesday, reports The Miami Herald
, waiting until 7:14 p.m. to issue a statement that remained cautious about the president's decision.
"Like the President, I too envision a bright future for the Cuban people where their basic human rights are respected and they can access information freely," Wasserman Schultz said. "While I have always been opposed to unearned changes in the status of our relationship with Cuba, I will continue to work with the administration, my colleagues, and community activists to support policies that benefit the Cuban people and do not further entrench the Castro regime.”
Just one minute later, though, at 7:15 p.m., the DNC press office issued a press release that ripped potential 2016 Republican candidates for their opposition to Obama's action, complaining that "before the President even announced the new policy – Republicans jumped to criticize the to-be-announced policy. This shouldn’t come as a shock to any considering their knee-jerk opposition to anything proposed by this President."
Further, the statement said, "while the President laid out a thoughtful rationale for the shift in U.S. foreign policy (changes supported by a majority of the American people), Republicans continue to embrace the Cold War-era policy that most Americans are anxious to move beyond."
The release went on to quote several polls showing that Americans want relations normalized with Cuba.
"While Republicans continue to live in the past, President Obama is looking to the future to create more opportunity for Americans and Cubans alike," the release concluded.
Wasserman Schultz has been working for years against easing the United States' trade embargo with Cuba. While still a freshman legislator, she helped found the Cuba Democracy Caucus, described as a bipartisan group of legislators working to thwart government efforts to ease the embargo, reported The Miami Herald
, noting that Cuban hardliners were thrilled when she was named as the party head.
Other Caucus members include Sens. Bob Menendez, D-NJ; Bill Nelson, D-FL; and David Vitter, R-LA; along with Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL; Eliot Engel, D-NY; Steve King, R-IA; Patrick McHenry, R-NC; Frank Pallone, D-NJ; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL; Albio Sires, D-NJ; and Christopher Smith, R-NJ.
Through the years, Wasserman Schultz has received political support from the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, which ranks at number 20 among her top 20 lifetime campaign donors, according to the watchdog site OpenSecrets.org
. The political action committee has donated $42,000 to her campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission data collected for the years between 2003-2014.
And while she has denied that the PAC's contributions have played a role in her decision to support efforts to keep the Cuban embargo in place, she acknowledged back in 2008 that she is closer to Republican sentiment on Cuba than to Democrats, who tend to favor easing restrictions for travel to the island, according to McClatchydc.com
She also in August signed a letter to Obama asking him to reaffirm his support for U.S. policy towards Cuba, according to the blog site Capitol Hill Cubans
The letter was led by New Jersey Democrat Rep. Albio Sires, ranking member of the House's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. The letter raised concerns about the Castro regime's increasing use of repression, Cuban smuggling of weapons to North Korea, the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross (who was released this week), and the nation's ties to terrorism state sponsors.
In addition to Wasserman Schultz, the letter was signed by Cuban-American House members Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, and Joe Garcia D-FL, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chair Matt Salmon, R-AZ and senior Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats, including Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, William Keating of Massachusetts, and Lois Frankel of Florida.
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