Bipartisan Bill To End Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives           

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

On July 28 Representatives Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 (H.R.3238) to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The bill is cosponsored by Republican Representatives Ralph Abraham (LA), Justin Amash (MI), Charles Boustany, Jr. (LA), Reid Ribble (WI) and Mark Sanford (SC).[1]

According to Emmer, “Today marks a new and exciting chapter for the U.S. – Cuba relationship. The American people overwhelmingly support lifting the Cuba embargo. Along with the Cuban people, Americans are ready for a fresh start and new opportunities for increasing trade, advancing the cause of human rights and ushering in direly needed reforms. This legislation will improve our position within the region, giving the U.S. a seat at the table and increased leverage as we support political transformations beginning to occur in Cuba. The time has come for a change in our policy towards Cuba, and I am ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on policies that are beneficial to both the American and Cuban people.”

Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Kathy Castor

Co-author Castor had a similar message. She said, “The United States and Cuba have taken historic actions this year to set our countries on a more productive path forward for citizens of both nations and turn the page on the outdated 50 year policy of isolation. This [bill is an] important step forward will advance human rights and lift the fortunes of families and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Florida straits. Lifting the embargo and reestablishing historic trade ties with Cuba will be a boost to our port and local small businesses in Tampa Bay.” Her press release added that her district is “home to a large Cuban-American population with historic ties that date back to the 1800s.”[2]

This bill is a companion to the Senate’s bill by the same name (S.1543) that was introduced by Kansas’ Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King,,[3] and both bills would fully lift the trade embargo with Cuba by granting the U.S. private sector the freedom to trade with Cuba, while protecting taxpayer interest from any risk associated with such trade.

To protect U.S. taxpayers, the bills have three features. First, they would allow all private persons, entities or organizations to spend private funds for Cuba trade promotion and market development without the use of any taxpayer dollars. Second, commodity check-off programs, which are producer funded, would be allowed to be used. Third, private credit from private institutions could be extended to Cuba, without risk to U.S. taxpayers.

The House already had three bills to end the embargo, all offered by Democratic Representatives: (i) H.R. 403: Free Trade with Cuba Act (Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) with 29 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27); (ii) H.R.274: United States-Cuba Normalization Act of 2015 (Rep. Bobby Rush (IL) with no cosponsors as of July 27); and (iii) H.R.735: Cuba Reconciliation Act (Rep. Jose Serrano (NY) with 12 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27).[4]

All of these previous House bills were assigned to the following seven House committees: Agriculture; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Oversight and Government Reform; and Ways and Means. Presumably the bill just introduced by Representatives Emmer and Castor will be similarly assigned. As of July 27, none of these committees had taken any action on the earlier bills.

Given control of the House is in the hands of the Republican Party, maybe the just-introduced bill by Republican Tom Emmer will have a more receptive consideration by these committees.

Representative Emmer in the first six months of his first term in the House serves on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees and already has voiced interest in normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as indicated by the following:

  1. His website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs”states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.”
  2. Early this year Emmer made his first trip to Cuba with a congressional delegation and said the trip had convinced him that the Cuban people are ready to do business with America. “Before the trip, you can be academic about [the issue],” he said. “Once you see the people, it’s not about leadership as much as it’s about people. They’re hungry for the next step, hungry for access to the marketplace.”[5]
  3. In early February Emmer let it be known that if certain conditions were met, he could support lifting the embargo even though he thinks President Obama could have been more open about his initial talks with Cuban officials. “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working,” he said. “And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.”[6]
  4. In late May Emmer made his second trip to the island, again with another congressional delegation, this one led by Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC). Afterwards Emmer said, “The experience for me, is to learn it, to understand it, and see how it fits with Minnesota’s economy.” He also learned “the Cuban people, they love Americans.” [7]
  5. After the July 1 announcement that the two countries would reopen embassies on July 20, Emmer stated he sees “a real opportunity for a positive, open trading partnership between these two countries. The potential benefits for Minnesota exporters are immense, and what is good for Minnesota is good for our country.”[8]

Upon introducing his bill to end the embargo, Emmer stated that he decided to do so after his second trip to Cuba. “I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand. But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”[9]

Conclusion

Now the Minnesota congressional delegation is almost unanimous in supporting U.S.-Cuba normalization and ending the U.S. embargo of the island.

Our two Democratic U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken), our five Democratic Representatives (Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz) and now our Republican Representative Emmer are on record as authors or cosponsors of bills to end the embargo.

In addition, our Republican Representative Erik Paulsen has made statements that at least do not indicate opposition to these measures. He said in early February, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” And after the announcement of the reopening of embassies, he observed, “A new [U.S.] embassy needs to focus on boosting open markets so the Cuban people can access more American goods and services.” Paulsen’s district, by the way, includes the headquarters of Cargill, the leader of the U.S. Coalition for Cuba, which is a strong advocate for ending the embargo and for normalization.[10]

The lone exception to this Minnesota consensus appears to be our other Congressman, Republican John Kline. In early February he stated he was “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.” After the announcement of the reopening of embassies, his spokesman said, “While congressman Kline supports new opportunities for American businesses and has a strong record of supporting trade and efforts to grow jobs in America, he wants all Cubans to enjoy a free democracy but is not confident this administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable,” [11]

As a Minnesota advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am proud that our congressional delegation is so supportive of ending the embargo and for normalization. I entreat Representatives Paulsen and Kline to join their colleagues in this endeavor.

=========================================================

[1] Press Release, Emmer, Castor Introduce Legislation to Lift Cuba Embargo (July 28, 2015)   Emmer’s website contains endorsements from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, National foreign Trade Council, National Farmers Union, Minnesota Farmers Union, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Turkey Federation, Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce, Council of the Americas, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Engage Cuba, Cuba Now, Washington Office of Latin America and CoBank.(See also Sherry, Rep. Tom Emmer leads Republican effort to lift Cuba embargo, StarTribune (July 28, 2015)(Democratic Representative Betty McCollum today indicatated her support for Emmer’s bill).)

[2] Castor, Press Release: U.S. Reps. Castor and Republican colleagues file bill today to end Cuba embargo (July 28, 2015)

[3] As reported in a prior post, the Moran-King bill (S.1543) was introduced on June 10 with Senator John Boozman (Rep., AK) as cosponsor and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. That committee also has the earlier bill to end the embargo– S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015—introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN). As of July 27 that bill had 21 bipartisan cosponsors, but that committee had taken no action on either bill.

[4] These bills were discussed in a prior post, which was updated in another post.

[5] Brodey, Why is Minnesota’s congressional delegation so focused on Cuba? MINNPOST (June 22, 2015).

[6] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ’Clearly that’s not working,’ MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015).

[7] Demczyk, Emmer Details Cuba Visit, KNSI Radio (June 1, 2015), This trip was discussed in a prior post.

[8] Spencer, Embassy reopening could help efforts to end Cuban trade embargo, StarTribune (July 1, 2015).

[9] Gomez, Emmer files bill to end U.S. embargo of Cuba, SC Times (July 28, 2015).

[10] Spencer (n. 8).

[11] Henry (n. 6); Spencer (n. 8).

Bills To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives

Two bills to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba have been filed in the House of Representatives, but so far nothing in the Senate. [1] This post will examine the status of those two bills and the positions on the embargo of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators and Representatives

 The Current Bills To End the Embargo

 On January 15th three Minnesota Congressmen—Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan, all Democrats—announced that they are co-sponsoring a bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (H.R. 403) that was introduced on January 16th by Representative Charles Rangel (Dem., NY).[1] Titled “To lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and for other purposes,” neither its text nor its summary is currently available on the Library of Congress’ website for pending legislation. [2]

This bill along with another bill to the same effect (H.R. 274 by Congressman Bobby Rush (Dem., IL)) have been assigned for consideration to the following seven House committees, whose membership is listed in the hyperlinked websites:

  • Agriculture, whose members include Collin Peterson (the Ranking-Member), a co-author of the Rangel bill; Tom Emmer (Rep., MN); and Rodney Davis (Rep., IL), who earlier this month spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.
  • Energy and Commerce, whose members include Bobby Rush (Dem., IL), the author of one of the bills to end the embargo, and Peter Welch (Dem., VT), who just visited Cuba with the group led by Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT).
  • Financial Services, whose members include Representative Keith Ellison, a co-author of the Rangel bill to end the embargo (Dem., MN);
  • Foreign Affairs, whose members include Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Ileana Ros-Leltinen (Rep., FL), a vocal Cuban-American opponent of reconciliation;
  • Judiciary;
  • Oversight and Government Reform, one of whose members is the previously mentioned Peter Welch (Dem., VT); and
  • Ways and Means, whose members include Erik Paulson (Rep., MN) and the previously mentioned Peter Welch.

Those interested In repealing the embargo should examine the lists of the committees’ members and deciding whether and how to contact them to urge support for the Rangel bill (H.R. 403).

Minnesota Representatives and Senators’ Positions on the Embargo

One of the co-sponsors of H.R. 403, Congressman Keith Ellison, is on the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. As co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, on December 17th (the day of the announcement of normalization between the two countries) Ellison released a statement congratulating President Obama for the normalization of our relations with Cuba. It stated, “Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart.” He repeated those sentiments on January 11th at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s celebratory concert with Cuban-American jazz pianist, Nachito Herrera.

Also on December 17th Representative Rick Nolan, another co-sponsor of H.R. 403, issued a statement lauding “President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba” and to obtain the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. This was “a monumental step forward for both nations, allowing us to resume exports and trade, create more good paying jobs in the United States and move forward in our relationships with the entire Western Hemisphere.” This was “especially good news for farmers in Minnesota and around the nation, as well as for our manufacturing and high technology industries that will soon enjoy access to new markets in a nation that hungers for U.S. products and services.”

More recently the other Minnesota co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Collin Peterson, said the current restrictions against U.S. trade with Cuba “don’t do anything but give business to our competitors.” However, he added, “The question is what are the Republicans [in the House and Senate] going to allow to happen. They could well bottle these bills up.” Peterson, as mentioned, is the Ranking-Member on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Another Minnesota Democratic Representative, Betty McCollum, also is supportive of ending the embargo. On December 17th, she congratulated President Obama “for his efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and to begin easing the trade restrictions between our countries. . . .[and] for his efforts to secure the release of USAID worker Alan Gross from prison in Cuba.” She added, “I will continue to work to end the trade embargo between our two countries as I have done since I came to Congress in 2001.  Ending the embargo and normalizing trade relations is good for Minnesota businesses and good for the people of Cuba.”

The other Minnesota Democratic Congressman, Tim Walz, has nothing about Cuba on his website, but in a December 18th interview by a Mankato, Minnesota television station he said he was cautiously optimistic about the White House’s changing policy toward Cuba. He said expanding trade is a good idea, but the U.S. needs to be cautious. “I think there needs to be accountability for what this regime has done,” he said, “and I’m glad this is Congress’ role to be involved, of looking at how this evolves, but I do think it’s an important step. As I’ve said, the status quo has been that way since before I was born, and it’s time to re–look at how we do business.”

Minnesota’s three Republican Congressmen—Erik Paulsen, John Kline and Tom Emmer—do not have any statements about Cuba on their websites

Congressman Erik Paulsen is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. In addition, on October 8, 2009, as a guest blogger on a Heritage Foundation website Paulsen made comments that could reflect his attitude on ending the embargo. He said, “There is another approach to stimulating the economy – a proven method to increase prosperity, grow our economy and create jobs: expansion of free trade. . . . We must make international markets more available to our exporters to help them grow. . . . In my own district, there are countless businesses, small and large, that benefit from free trade. . . . Unfortunately, there are consumers and markets across the globe that still cannot be accessed by American sellers because of high tariffs, quotas and other barriers to international trade. It’s time to knock down those barriers. . . . I have long advocated for increased trade and strong global relationships between the U.S. and nations abroad. I’ve visited India, China and several nations in Africa and the Middle East. In every country, free trade is essential for their own growth and prosperity, as well as the growth and vitality of the United States.”

I have not found anything by or about Congressman John Kline indicating his views on U.S. relations with Cuba, in general, or on ending the embargo, in particular. I especially solicit comments by anyone with more knowledge about his positions on these issues.

Minnesota’s newest Congressman and now in his very first Session, Tom Emmer, as mentioned is on the House Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees, each of which has jurisdiction over issues raised by H.R. 403. Moreover, his new website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs” states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.” Maybe this is a hopeful sign for his favoring ending the embargo. Emmer also is on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Minnesota’s Senators

One of Minnesota’s Senators, Amy Klobuchar, favors ending the embargo and is willing to offer a bill to do just that, but wants to wait until after the Senate confirms the President’s future nomination of an ambassador to Cuba. She said, “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. And part of that is legislation to remove the embargo. Some of this can be done by tying it to changes we want [Cuba] to make on human rights and other things. The timing is the question. We want this to be bipartisan.” In addition, as mentioned in a prior post, she was a speaker in favor of ending the embargo at the January 8th launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

A prior post about Cuba’s perspective on this week’s diplomatic meetings in Havana suggests that there will not be a formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including appointments of ambassadors, until after the U.S. repeals its embargo of the island. Therefore, Senator Klobuchar may have to abandon her strategy of postponing Senate consideration of the embargo until after the Senate confirms the nomination of an ambassador to Cuba.

Our other Senator, Democrat Al Franken, does not have anything about Cuba on his website, but he has supported legislation calling for the normalizing of relationships with Cuba and is a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

Conclusion

Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C. international trade lawyer with substantial experience in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, recently told Minnesota’s StarTribune that “a majority of members of Congress do not support the embargo, but will not do so publicly until Cuban-American legislators come out against the embargo.” Nevertheless, he opined, “There is zero possibility of the embargo being lifted [in 2015].”[3]

This, however, is only one opinion albeit from someone with extensive experience of dealing with Congress on Cuba issues. It merely accentuates the need for citizens to increase their advocacy of ending the embargo.

================================================================

[1] To determine whether any other bills to end the embargo have been introduced in this Session of Congress, just go to the THOMAS legislative service provided by the Library of Congress [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php] and enter “Cuba” in the search box; that will retrieve all introduced bills that mention “Cuba.”

[2] H.R. 403 has 14 other co-sponsors from California, New York, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

[3] Before the announcement of normalization, Muse wrote an article about the various actions the president could take regarding Cuba without prior congressional authorization.