Senate Confirms Nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

On January 23 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a straight party-line vote, 11 to 10, approved the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. [1]  On February 1 the full Senate did the same, 56 to 43, which was the largest negative vote for confirmation for this position in the Senate’s history. [2]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Committee, said the following:[3]=

  • “I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified. He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”
  • “The other absolute standard we apply to each of these nominees who come before us is to ensure they have no conflicts of interest related to their position.”
  • “The non-partisan director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently stated that Mr. Tillerson is making ‘a clean break’ from Exxon and is free of these conflicts. He has even gone so far to say that Mr. Tillerson’s ethics agreement ‘serves as a sterling model for what we would like to see from other nominees. He clearly recognizes that public service sometimes comes at a cost.’”
  • “I believe inquiries into Mr. Tillerson’s nomination have been fair and exhaustive. His hearing lasted over eight hours, and he’s responded to over 1,000 questions for the record. I’m proud of the bipartisan process, which is in keeping of the tradition of this committee that we pursued this, regarding his nomination, and I think that while our opinions and votes today may differ, that the process has been very sound.”

Senator Benjamin Cardin (Dem., RI), voting against confirming this nomination, said the following:[4]

  • “I believe Mr. Tillerson’s demonstrated business orientation and his responses to questions during the confirmation hearing could compromise his ability as Secretary of State to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years. I will therefore not be supporting his nomination with my vote in Committee or on the Senate floor.”
  • “The United States plays a unique and exceptional role in world affairs.  Our values are our interests, as I said at Mr. Tillerson’s hearing. And our leadership in supporting democracy, universal human rights, unencumbered civil society, and unabridged press and religious freedoms is indispensable if these ideas and ideals are to be real and tangible in the world.”
  • “Mr. Tillerson equivocated on these self-evident truths under direct questioning, repeatedly prioritizing narrow business interests ahead of these core national security interests.  The power of the Secretary of State to call out wrong, to name and shame, and to fight each day on behalf of the American people and freedom-seeking people the world over is an enduring symbol to the oppressed and the vulnerable that the United States has their back.”
  • “Mr. Tillerson was unwilling to characterize Russia and Syria’s atrocities as war crimes, or Philippine President Duterte’s extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations. And he was not willing to dismiss with unqualified clarity a registry for any ethnic or religious group of Americans.”
  • “I also believe Mr. Tillerson misled the Committee regarding his knowledge of ExxonMobil’s [well documented] lobbying on U.S. sanctions [against “some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as Sudan, Syria, and Iran”]. Additionally, ExxonMobil’s stance on U.S. sanctions against Russia for their illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine in 2014 was well known at the time . . . . This is why it is particularly concerning that Mr. Tillerson indicated during questioning that he was not willing to recuse himself from matters relevant to ExxonMobil for the entire duration of his term.”
  • “While I was pleased that Mr. Tillerson said that he would support the laws I have written to hold accountable human rights abusers globally and in Russia specifically, and that America should have a seat at the table when discussing climate change with the international community, merely being willing to uphold the law or being willing to participate in global diplomacy are simply the necessary prerequisites for the job, not sufficient cause for confirmation.”
  • “On Russia more broadly, I am concerned as to whether Mr. Tillerson would counsel President Trump to keep current sanctions in place. . . . He showed little interest in advancing the new Russia sanctions legislation I’ve introduced with Senator McCain and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Russia attacked us through cyber warfare and has committed even greater atrocities in Ukraine, Syria, and Eastern Europe. They must be held accountable and our bipartisan legislation is an important tool to do so.”
  • “Strangely, he was quick to caution about easing sanctions on Cuba because it would benefit a repressive regime, but seemed indifferent to doing business with Russia knowing that that business helped finance their ongoing violations of international norms.”
  • “Finally, America deserves a Secretary of State who will take advantage of every smart power tool in America’s diplomatic arsenal before recommending the use of force. I was therefore disturbed when Mr. Tillerson signaled during the hearing he would have recommended using force sooner when asked about real-world scenarios. The Secretary of State must be the consistent voice in any Administration that ensures the President has exhausted all diplomatic efforts before we put our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

Senate Debate and Vote

During the debate, supporters stressed Tillerson’s qualifications and the importance of confirming the president’s choice or this important position.

The affirmative vote of 56 was recorded by all 52 Republican senators plus three Democrats (Heitkamp (ND), Manchin (WV) and Warner (VA)) and Independent King (ME).

The negative vote of 43 was registered by  the other 42 Democrat senators and Independent Sanders (VT).

Conclusion

In the meantime, there have been at least four major developments linked to the future role of the State Department and its new Secretary.

First, a White House post, “America First Foreign Policy,” has no specific references to Cuba. But it does have this helpful general statement: In “pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”

Second, the White House has informed at least 13 career Foreign Service officers in charge of the State Department’s bureaus responsible for policy, security and other matters that they will not be retained in those positions. A Department spokesman said, “These positions are political appointments, and require the president to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments, but of limited term.” However, as Nicholas Burns, former under secretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush administration and a longtime diplomat, said, “Normally the outgoing person would stay in the job until his or her successor is confirmed. What you don’t want to have is a vacuum without senior leadership.”[5]

Third, the Trump Administration on January 27 issued an executive order banning admission into the U.S. of all refugees worldwide and all immigrants from seven states with majority-Muslim populations while simultaneously welcoming Christian immigrants from those same countries. This immediately prompted lawsuits in federal courts across the country with a federal court in Seattle on February 3 issuing a temporary restraining order against implementation of the executive order and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the next morning denying the Government’s motion to stay the lower court’s order.[6]

Fourth, in another immediate reaction to that executive order, over 900 State Department diplomats prepared and submitted a dissent cable objecting to that same executive order because of its impact on “green card holders, visa holders, visa seekers, the young, the old, and the sick.” [7]

On the periphery perhaps of the above turmoil is whether the Trump Administration will abandon or alter the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalisation of relations with Cuba. As noted in a prior post, the Administration recently stated it has commenced an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba, which in the abstract sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Previous statements by President Trump and Mr. Tillerson, however, suggest that a significant retreat is on its way, a development that would be very troubling to this blogger and other supporters of normalisation.[8]

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[1] Flegenheimer, Mike Pompeo Is Confirmed to Lead C.I.A., as Rex Tillerson Advances, N.Y. Times (Jan. 23, 2017); Schor, Senate panel approves Tillerson nomination, Politico (Jan. 23, 2017); Cama, Senate panel votes to confirm Tillerson, The Hill (Jan. 23, 2017); Demirjian & Sullivan, Tillerson approved by Senate panel as secretary of state, Wash. Post (Jan. 23, 2017).

[2] Harris, Rex Tillerson Is Confirmed as Secretary of State Amid Record Opposition, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc Press, Senate Confirms Tillerson To Be   Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Senate roll vote for Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb., 1, 2017).

[3] Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Nomination of Rex Tillerson to Be Secretary of State (Jan. 23, 2017).

[4]Cardin, Cardin Statement on Tillerson Vote (Jan. 23, 2016).

[5] Gearan, Trump administration choosing to replace several senior State Department officials, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2017); Schwartz, Facing Replacement, Top State Department Officials Resign, W.S.J. (Jan. 26, 2017).

[6] E.g., Full Executive Order Text: Trump’s Action Limiting Refugees Into the U.S., N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2017); Ländler, Appeals Court Rejects Request to Immediately Restore Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2017).

[7] Reuters, Trump’s Early Moves Spark Alarm, Resistance, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Biddle, New Memo from State Department Dissent Chanel Describes Anguish of Spurned Refugees, The Intercept (Jan. 31, 2017).

[8] These posts to dwkcommentaries.com have discussed preliminary indicators for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations: The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration (Dec. 22, 2016); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Jan. 23, 2017).

Enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) Over the Presidential Veto

As a previous post reported, from September 16, 2015, through September 9, 2016, the current Session of Congress considered and overwhelmingly adopted the Justice Against Terrorism Act (JASTA). Although neither chamber of Congress held hearings on JASTA this Session and voiced little opposition to the bill, objections to the bill were raised outside Congress, and on September 23, 2016, President Obama vetoed the bill, as was mentioned in a prior post. Thereafter Congress overrode the veto and JASTA became law, whose details were discussed in another previous post.

Now we will retreat in time and examine the president’s veto message and the congressional overriding of the veto. Another post will look at subsequent efforts to amend JASTA.

President Obama’s Veto Message

 On September 23, President Obama vetoed JASTA and returned the bill to Congress with a message stating the following reasons for the veto:[1]

  • “Enacting JASTA into law . . . would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks. As drafted, JASTA would allow private litigation against foreign governments in U.S. courts based on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad made them responsible for terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil. This legislation would permit litigation against countries that have neither been designated by the executive branch as state sponsors of terrorism nor taken direct actions in the United States to carry out an attack here. The JASTA would be detrimental to U.S. national interests more broadly, which is why I am returning it without my approval.”
  • “First, JASTA threatens to reduce the effectiveness of our response to indications that a foreign government has taken steps outside our borders to provide support for terrorism, by taking such matters out of the hands of national security and foreign policy professionals and placing them in the hands of private litigants and courts.”
  • “Any indication that a foreign government played a role in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is a matter of deep concern and merits a forceful, unified Federal Government response that considers the wide range of important and effective tools available. One of these tools is designating the foreign government in question as a state sponsor of terrorism, which carries with it a litany of repercussions, including the foreign government being stripped of its sovereign immunity before U.S. courts in certain terrorism-related cases and subjected to a range of sanctions. Given these serious consequences, state sponsor of terrorism designations are made only after national security, foreign policy, and intelligence professionals carefully review all available information to determine whether a country meets the criteria that the Congress established.”
  • “In contrast, JASTA departs from longstanding standards and practice under our Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and threatens to strip all foreign governments of immunity from judicial process in the United States based solely upon allegations by private litigants that a foreign government’s overseas conduct had some role or connection to a group or person that carried out a terrorist attack inside the United States. This would invite consequential decisions to be made based upon incomplete information and risk having different courts reaching different conclusions about the culpability of individual foreign governments and their role in terrorist activities directed against the United States — which is neither an effective nor a coordinated way for us to respond to indications that a foreign government might have been behind a terrorist attack.”
  • “Second, JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. national interests. The United States has a larger international presence, by far, than any other country, and sovereign immunity principles protect our Nation and its Armed Forces, officials, and assistance professionals, from foreign court proceedings. These principles also protect U.S. Government assets from attempted seizure by private litigants abroad. Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel.”
  • “Indeed, reciprocity plays a substantial role in foreign relations, and numerous other countries already have laws that allow for the adjustment of a foreign state’s immunities based on the treatment their governments receive in the courts of the other state. Enactment of JASTA could encourage foreign governments to act reciprocally and allow their domestic courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States or U.S. officials — including our men and women in uniform — for allegedly causing injuries overseas via U.S. support to third parties. This could lead to suits against the United States or U.S. officials for actions taken by members of an armed group that received U.S. assistance, misuse of U.S. military equipment by foreign forces, or abuses committed by police units that received U.S. training, even if the allegations at issue ultimately would be without merit. And if any of these litigants were to win judgments — based on foreign domestic laws as applied by foreign courts — they would begin to look to the assets of the U.S. Government held abroad to satisfy those judgments, with potentially serious financial consequences for the United States.”
  • “Third, JASTA threatens to create complications in our relationships with even our closest partners. If JASTA were enacted, courts could potentially consider even minimal allegations accusing U.S. allies or partners of complicity in a particular terrorist attack in the United States to be sufficient to open the door to litigation and wide-ranging discovery against a foreign country — for example, the country where an individual who later committed a terrorist act traveled from or became radicalized. A number of our allies and partners have already contacted us with serious concerns about the bill. By exposing these allies and partners to this sort of litigation in U.S. courts, JASTA threatens to limit their cooperation on key national security issues, including counterterrorism initiatives, at a crucial time when we are trying to build coalitions, not create divisions.”
  • “The 9/11 attacks were the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, and they were met with an unprecedented U.S. Government response. The United States has taken robust and wide-ranging actions to provide justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and keep Americans safe, from providing financial compensation for victims and their families to conducting worldwide counterterrorism programs to bringing criminal charges against culpable individuals. I have continued and expanded upon these efforts, both to help victims of terrorism gain justice for the loss and suffering of their loved ones and to protect the United States from future attacks. The JASTA, however, does not contribute to these goals, does not enhance the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks, and undermines core U.S. interests.”

Reactions to the Veto

Immediately after President Obama’s veto of JASTA, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress vowed to override the veto under Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution requiring a vote of at least two-thirds of each chamber of the Congress to do so. On the sidelines both major presidential candidates (Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton) said that they would have signed the bill if they were president.

These vows were made despite the prior day’s testimony before a Senate committee by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opposing the bill on the ground that it could be a problem for the U.S. if another country was “to behave reciprocally towards the U.S.” And the Republican Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, amplified the military’s concerns and urged Republicans to study the bill’s consequences while announcing his intent to opposes the override.[2]

Not surprisingly immediately after this veto, Senator John Cornyn stated, “It’s disappointing the President chose to veto legislation unanimously passed by Congress and overwhelmingly supported by the American people. Even more disappointing is the President’s refusal to listen to the families of the victims taken from us on September 11th, who should have the chance to hold those behind the deadliest terrorist attack in American history accountable. I look forward to the opportunity for Congress to override the President’s veto, provide these families with the chance to seek the justice they deserve, and send a clear message that we will not tolerate those who finance terrorism in the United States.”[3]

On September 27 President Obama sent a letter to Senators Mitch McConnell (Rep., TN), the Majority Leader, and Harry Reid (Dem. NV), Minority Leader. The President said he was “fully committed to assisting the families of the victims of terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,″ but that the consequences of an override could be “devastating” by putting military and other U.S. officials overseas at risk. The bill’s enactment, he warned, “would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.[4]

On September 28 Senators Cornyn and Shumer jointly wrote an op-ed article in USA Today urging Congress to override the veto because JASTA “would provide a legal avenue for the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to seek justice in a court of law for the terrorist attacks that took the lives of their loved ones. And it would deter foreign entities from sponsoring terrorism in the future.” The article also rejected as untrue the argument by JASTA’s opponents “that the bill will subject U.S. diplomats and other government officials to a raft of potential lawsuits in foreign courts.”[5]

On the morning of September 28, the New York Times published an editorial opposing the threatened congressional override of the veto because “the bill complicates the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia and could expose the American government, citizens and corporations to lawsuits abroad. Moreover, legal experts like Stephen Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law and Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School doubt that the legislation would actually achieve its goal.”[6]

Moreover, the Times editorial asserted that the “European Union has warned that if the bill becomes law, other countries could adopt similar legislation defining their own exemptions to sovereign immunity. Because no country is more engaged in the world than the United States — with military bases, drone operations, intelligence missions and training programs — the Obama administration fears that Americans could be subject to legal actions abroad.”

Nevertheless, later that same day (September 28) Congress overwhelmingly voted to override the presidential veto. The only vote against the override in the Senate was by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Harry Reid (Dem., NV). The vote in the House was 348 to override with only 59 opposed.[7] We will now look at the debate in both chambers.

U.S. Senate’s Overriding the Veto

In the Senate debate, Senators Richard Blumenthal (Dem., CT), John Cornyn (Rep., TX), Chuck Grassley (Rep., IA) and Chuck Schumer (Dem. NY) spoke in favor of overriding the veto and passing JASTA while Senators Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Benjamin Cardin (Dem., DE), the Committee’s Ranking Member, and Diane Feinstein (Dem., CA) offered qualified endorsements of an override. [8]

Generally these Senators argued that U.S. victims of state-sponsored acts of terrorism needed the opportunity to assert their damage claims in U.S. courts against such sponsors and that JASTA would deter such sponsored terrorism. Senator Cornyn added that this “legislation has been pending since 2009, and we have worked through a number of Members’ concerns . . . in order to modify the legislation and build the consensus we now have achieved. . . . That means [JASTA] has been negotiated and hammered out over a long period of time.”[9]

Cornyn then offered this argument for rejection of the presidential veto message:

  • JASTA would not “create complications” with some of our close partners. It “only targets foreign governments that sponsor terrorist attacks on American soil. . . . The financing of terrorism in the [U.S.] is not behavior we should tolerate from any nation, allies included.”
  • Possible foreign laws like JASTA “applied reciprocally will open no . . . floodgates” of lawsuits against the U.S. or military members by foreign governments in foreign courts.
  • “JASTA is not a sweeping legislative overhaul that dramatically alters international law. It is an extension of law that has been on the [U.S.] books since 1976. . . . [For] 40 years our law has been replete with immunity exceptions that apply to conduct committed abroad. This bill just adds another exception.”

Senator Grassley, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that this Committee unanimously supported overriding the veto of JASTA. He also said it was “highly unlikely” that passage of the bill would result in “the Saudis . . .pulling their money out of U.S. securities. . . . But even if they did, there would be plenty of buyers for those securities. But more importantly, . . . [such an argument would send the message;] if you want to influence U.S. legislation, make sure to buy up U.S. debt, and then threaten to sell that debt any time the U.S. Congress does something you don’t like. We absolutely cannot be intimidated or bend to that type of threat.”

Senator Corker commented that he had “tremendous concerns about the sovereign immunity procedures that could be set in place by other countries as a result of this vote” and that it could have adverse consequences for the U.S. “standing in the world.” He was troubled by “the concerns [of] . . . the head of our Joint Chiefs” and of the President. He also thought it would be better “to establish some type of tribunal, where experts could come in and really identify what actually happened on discretionary decisions that took place within the country of Saudi Arabia” with respect to the pending 9/11 claims.

As a result, Senator Corker prepared a bipartisan letter to the Senate sponsors of JASTA (Senators Cornyn and Schumer).[10] It expressed concern about “potential unintended consequences that may result from . . . [JASTA] for the national security and foreign policy of the United States. If other nations respond to this bill by weakening U.S. sovereign immunity protections, then the [U.S.] could face private lawsuits in foreign courts as a result of important military or intelligence activities. We would hope to work with you in a constructive manner to appropriately mitigate those unintended consequences.”

One of the signers of this letter and the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Benjamin Cardin (Dem., DE), recognized “that there are risk factors in terms of how other countries may respond to the enactment of JASTA. [11] As a nation with hundreds of thousands of troops that serve abroad, not to mention multiple foreign bases and facilities, the United States of America is a country that benefits from sovereign immunity principles that protect our country and our country’s interests, its Armed Forces, government officials, and litigation in foreign courts. Therefore, there is a concern of unintended consequences, including irresponsible applications to U.S. international activities by other countries. While I have faith and confidence in the American legal system, the same faith does not necessarily extend to the fairness of legal systems of other countries that may claim they are taking similar actions against America when they are not. So [as the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I will] follow closely how other countries respond and try to mitigate the risks of the [U.S.] abroad” and will “explore with my colleagues the possibility of whether we need or will need additional legislative action.”

Another signer of the letter, Senator Feinstein, expressed her “key concern relates to the exception to the immunity of foreign governments.”[12] “Proponents of this bill argue that the exception is narrow, that it applies only if a foreign nation, with ill intent, takes unlawful actions that cause an act of terrorism on our soil. But other nations that are strongly opposed to American actions abroad could respond by using the bill as an excuse to adopt laws that target our own government’s actions. A September 15 Washington Post editorial said it well: ‘It is not a far-fetched concern, given this country’s global use of intelligence agents, Special Operations forces and drones, all of which could be construed as state-sponsored `terrorism’ when convenient.’ Those of us on the Senate Intelligence Committee know that, if other countries respond to JASTA in this manner, it could jeopardize our government’s actions abroad. If that happens, it is likely that our government would be forced to defend against private lawsuits, which could pose a threat to our national security.” Therefore, she was interested in limiting JASTA to “the September 11 attacks” and to “those directly impacted by an attack–including individuals, their estates and property damage, rather than companies with only tangential connections.”

U.S. House of Representatives’ Overriding the Veto 

On the afternoon of September 28 the House voted to override the veto of JASTA by a vote of 348 (225 Republicans and 123 Democrats) to 77 (18 Republicans and 59 Democrats).[13]

The supporters of override were led by Representative Robert Goodlatte (Rep., VA), the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who asserted, “The changes JASTA makes to existing law are not dramatic, nor are they sweeping.. . .The President’s objections . . . have no basis under U.S. or international law.. . . Consistent with customary international law, JASTA, for terrorism cases, removes the current requirement that the entire tort occur within the United States and replaces it with a rule that only the physical injury or death must occur on U.S. soil.” Later in the debate he claimed (erroneously as explained in n.14) that his argument was supported by “Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Properties [which] would apply the territorial tort exception if the act or omission occurred in whole or in part in the territory of the state exercising jurisdiction.”[14]

Others who supported the override and who spoke during the debate were Representatives Peter King (Rep., NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (Dem., TX), Leonard Lance (Rep., NJ), David Donovan (Rep., NY), Carolyn Maloney (Dem., NY) and Jerrold Nadler (Dem. FL).

Leading the opposition to the override were Representative M. “Mac” Thornberry (Rep., TX), the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and Representative John Conyers (Dem., MI). Other opponents of override who spoke during the debate were Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (Dem., TX), David Jolly (Rep., FL), Betty McCollum (Dem., MN), Robert Scott (Dem., VA) and Earl Blumenauer (Dem., NY).

Thornberry expressed concern for the possible erosion of sovereign immunity, which is “one of the key protections that the military, diplomats, and intelligence community of the [U.S.] has around the world. Once that doctrine gets eroded, then there is less protection, and . . . the [U.S.], has more at stake in having our people protected than any other country because we have more people around the world than anyone else.” Thornberry also quoted from a letter to him from Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., General, U.S. Marine Corps. and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: `Any legislation that risks reciprocal treatment by foreign governments would increase the vulnerability of U.S. Service members to foreign legal action while acting in an official capacity.” This letter and a letter urging defeat of the override from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter were inserted into the House record.

Conyers supported the President’s reasons for his veto. “First, the President stated that [the bill] could undermine the effectiveness of our Nation’s national security and counterterrorism efforts. For instance, other nations may become more reluctant to share sensitive intelligence in light of the greater risk that such information may be revealed in litigation.   Moreover, the President raised the concern that this legislation would effectively allow non-expert private litigants and courts, rather than national security and foreign policy experts, to determine key foreign and national security policy questions like which states are sponsors of terrorism.   Second, the President’s assertion that enactment of[the bill]may lead to retaliation by other countries against the [U.S.] given the breadth of our interests and the expansive reach of our global activities.   So while it seems likely at this juncture that [the bill] will be enacted over the President’s veto, I remain hopeful that we can continue to work toward the enactment of subsequent legislation to address the President’s concerns.”

Conyers also cited others who called for sustaining the President’s veto: Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General under George W. Bush; Stephen Hadley, the former National Security Adviser for that President; Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; and Thomas Pickering, the former [U.S.] Ambassador to the United Nations.

Representative Scott said, “JASTA abrogates a core principle in international law–foreign sovereign immunity. There are already several exceptions to this immunity recognized by our Nation and others, but JASTA goes much further than any present exception or recognized practice of any national law…. One fundamental indication of fairness of legislation is not how it would work to our benefit, but what we would think if it were used against us. If the [U.S.] decides to allow our citizens to haul foreign nations into American courts, what would we think of other nations enacting legislation allowing their citizens to do the same thing to us? Obviously, we would not want to put our diplomats, military, and private companies at that risk.”

Scott also pointed out that “JASTA does not make clear how the evidence would be gathered to help build a credible case against a foreign nation. Would the plaintiffs be able to subpoena foreign officials? Or would the U.S. Department of State officials have to testify? Would . . . [the U.S.] be required to expose sensitive materials in order to help American citizens prove their case? Again, how would we feel about foreign judges and juries deciding whether or not the [U.S.] sponsored terrorism? There are also questions about how the judgment under JASTA would be enforced. The legislation does not address how a court would enforce the judgment. Could foreign assets be attached? How would this process work if other countries enacted similar legislation? Would U.S. assets all over the world be subject to attachment to satisfy the foreign jury verdicts?”

Jolly emphasized that “the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA Director, and the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee [Representative Thornberry] have all issued statements against this legislation.”

White House Reaction to the Overriding of the Veto

On the same day as this Senate vote and before the House voted on the same bill later that day, White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said, “I would venture to say that this is the single-most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983. You had at least one prominent Republican senator quoted today saying that . . . the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were not quite sure what the bill actually did.  And to have members of the United States Senate only recently informed of the negative impact of this bill on our service members and our diplomats is, in itself, embarrassing.  For those senators then to move forward in overriding the President’s veto that would prevent those negative consequences is an abdication of their basic responsibilities as elected representatives of the American people.”[15]

Furthermore, said the Press Secretary, “these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today.  You’ve got to give some credit to Harry Reid.  He showed some courage.  The same can’t be said for the other 96 members of the Senate who voted today.”

The same day President Obama on CNN said that a few lawmakers who backed the bill weren’t aware of its potential impact and that he wished Congress “had done what’s hard.” CIA Director John Brennan said he was concerned about how Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, would interpret the bill. He said the Saudis provide significant amounts of information to the U.S. to help foil extremist plots. “It would be an absolute shame if this legislation, in any way, influenced the Saudi willingness to continue to be among our best counterterrorism partners,” Brennan said.[16]

On September 29, after the House had voted and JASTA became law, Press Secretary Earnest added, “I think what we’ve seen in the United States Congress is a pretty classic case of rapid-onset buyer’s remorse.  Within minutes of casting their vote to put that bill into law, you had members of the United States Senate — some 28 of them — write a letter expressing deep concern about the potential impact of the bill they just passed.  The suggestion on the part of some members of the Senate was that they didn’t know what they were voting for, that they didn’t understand the negative consequences of the bill. That’s a hard suggestion to take seriously when you had letters from President Bush’s attorney general and national security advisor warning about the consequences of the bill.  You had attorneys from our closest allies in Europe expressing their concerns about the impact of the bill.  You had a letter from some of America’s business leaders, including Chief Executive of GE, Jeffrey Immelt, warning about the potential economic consequences of the bill.  You had letters from the Director of the CIA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief all warning about the potential impact of the bill.”[17]

Conclusion

As indicated above, certain Senators indicated their intent to pursue amendments to JASTA to remedy what they see as problems with the statute. This will be the subject of future posts.

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[1] White House, Veto Message from the President—S.2040 (Sept. 23, 2016) Afterwards Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, discussed whether there was congressional opposition to overriding the veto and criticism of the bill from Saudi Arabia and “a lot of other countries, including the European Union. White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/26/16; White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/27/16.

[2] Assoc. Press, Lawmakers Vow to Override Obama’s Veto of Sept. 11 bill, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2016).

[3] Cornyn, Cornyn Statement on President’s Veto of JASTA (Sept. 23, 2016).

[4] Demirjian & Ellperin, Congress overrides Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill, Wash, Post (Sept, 28, 2016).

[5] Cornyn, Cornyn Op-Ed: give 9/11 Families a Legal Avenue (Sept. 28, 2016).

[6] Editorial, The Risks of Sueing the Saudis for 9/11, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2016)

[7] Steinhauer, Mazzetti & Davis, Congress Votes to Override Obama Veto on 9/11 Victims Bill, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2016); Eilpirin & Demirjian, Congress thwarts Obama on bill allowing 9/11 lawsuits against Saudi Arabia, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2016).

[8] Cong. Rec. S6166-73 (Sept. 28, 2016).

[9] The prior post about the initial passage of JASTA started with the 2015 introduction of the bill and did not attempt to cover earlier versions of the bill or the process referenced by Senator Cornyn. Comments about this earlier process would be much appreciated.

[10] This bipartisan letter was signed by 15 Democrat Senators (Bennet, Cardin, Carper, Coons, Feinstein, Heitkamp, Hirono, McCaskill, Merkley, Nelson, Reed, Schatz, Shaheen, Udall and Warner), 12 Republican Senators (Alexander, Coats, Corker, Cotton, Flake, Graham, McCain, Risch, Roberts, Rounds, Sullivan and Thune) and Independent Senator King.

[11] Cardin, Cardin Statement on JASTA Veto Vote (Sept. 28, 2016).

[12] Feinstein, Feinstein Statement on Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Sept. 28, 2016).

[13] Cong. Record H6023-32 (Sept. 28, 2016).

[14] The United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Property is certainly relevant to the issue of international law on the subject. Representative Thornberry, however, failed to quote the entirety of Article 12 of this treaty and thereby reached an erroneous conclusion that it supports JASTA. That Article states, “Unless otherwise agreed between the States concerned, a State cannot invoke immunity from jurisdiction before a court of another State which is otherwise competent in a proceeding which relates to pecuniary compensation for death or injury to the person, or damage to or loss of tangible property, caused by an act or omission which is alleged to be attributable to the State, if the act or omission occurred in whole or in part in the territory of that other State and if the author of the act or omission was present in that territory at the time of the act or omission.” The portion in bold was not quoted by Thornberry.  Moreover, this treaty is not yet in force because its Article 30 requires 30 states to become parties thereto, and to date only 21 states have done so, and the U.S. has neither signed nor ratified this treaty.

[15] White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Fort Lee, Virginia 9/28/16.

[16] Assoc. Press, Congress Rebukes Obama, Overrides Veto of 9/11 Legislation, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2016); Reuters, Congress Rejects Obama Veto, Saudi Sept. 11 Bill Becomes Law, N.Y. Times (Sept, 28, 2016).

[17] White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Secretary of Education King (Sept. 29, 2016).

 

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.

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[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).

Cuba Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with the United States

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss Cuba’s announcement and reactions.[1] A prior post did the same for the U.S. announcement and reactions.

The Cuban government’s announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations stated the following:

  • “The President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20, 2015.”
  • “By formalizing this step, Cuba and the United States ratified the intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States in full exercise of its sovereignty, invariably committed to the ideals of independence and social justice, and in solidarity with the just causes of the world, and reaffirming each of the principles for which our people have shed their blood and ran all risks, led by the historic leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.”
  • “With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the first phase concludes of what will be a long and complex process towards the normalization of bilateral ties, as part of which a set of issues will have to be resolved arising from past policies, still in force, which affect the Cuban people and nation.”
  • “There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained. It is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”
  • “To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms and harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
  • “In recalling the outstanding issues to be resolved between the two countries, the Cuban Government recognizes the decisions adopted thus far by President Obama, to exclude Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism, to urge the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade and to begin to take steps to modify the application of aspects of this policy in exercise of his executive powers.”
  • “As part of the process towards the normalization of relations, in turn, the foundations of ties that have not existed between our countries in all their history will need to be constructed, in particular, since the military intervention of the United States 117 years ago, in the independence war that Cuba fought for nearly three decades against Spanish colonialism.”
  • “These relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law.”
  • “The Government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to maintain a respectful dialogue with the Government of the United States and develop relations of civilized coexistence, based on respect for the differences between the two governments and cooperation on issues of mutual benefit.”
  • “Cuba will continue immersed in the process of updating its economic and social model, to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the development of the country and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution.”
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken

That same day (July 1) Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the Head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, delivered to Interim Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the U.S. State Department a letter from Raúl Castro to President Obama, confirming that “the Republic of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States of America and open permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries, on July 20, 2015.” That letter went on to say the following:

  • “Cuba makes this decision, motivated by the mutual intention to develop relations of respect and cooperation between both peoples and governments.”
  • “Cuba likewise draws inspiration from the principles and objectives established in the United Nations Charter and international law, namely, sovereign equality; the settlement of disputes by peaceful means; abstention from acts or threat of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any States, non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, the promotion of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and that of the people’s right to self-determination, and cooperation in solving international problems and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
  • “The above stated principles are in accordance with the spirit and norms established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, to which both the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America are parties, and will govern diplomatic and consular relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.”

Cuba also confirmed that on July 1 Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, had delivered to the Cuban Foreign Ministry a July 1 letter from President Obama to President Castro that was quoted in the prior post about the U.S. announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations.

Cuban Reaction

According to a U.S. reporter for the New York Times, Cubans in the streets of Havana welcomed the news about the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Roberto, a parking attendant who minds cars near the U.S. Interests Section on the Malecon, said, ““This will benefit the country. Maybe, I don’t know, it will eventually benefit me.”

Regina Coyula, a blogger who for several years worked for Cuban state security, commented, “People realize that the Americans aren’t going to solve their problems, and nor is the government” of Cuba. The reaction to the December 17th announcement of rapprochement was “like a firework display. Everyone watched them. Everyone thought they were beautiful. And then they went back to their lives.”

Coyula added that with American money being spent in private restaurants and homes and on car services, those Cubans who are doing well will do even better. “The difference between those Cubas is only going to grow.”

“We’ve been waiting all our lives for this, and it’s very welcome,” said Carmen Álvarez, 76, who was walking with friends near the Interests Section. “We’re waiting with our arms and our minds wide open.”

Yosvany Coca Montes de Oca, 38, who began listing his one-bedroom apartment in Havana with Airbnb, the online house-sharing service, in April, said, “Things are going really well.” He used to get four or five Americans staying at his house every month. For the past two months, he has had more than 15 and has been showered with reservations. But Mr. Coca acknowledged that he was part of a privileged economic circle that was feeling the immediate benefit of new American interest in Cuba. Many Cubans, he said, felt little change. “For ordinary people, it doesn’t have a direct impact. People are mainly concerned with getting by day to day.”

More generally, the U.S. reporter concluded,“The euphoria that prompted Cubans to toot their horns and wave flags [on December 17th] . . . has given way to a tempered hope that an influx of Americans, and the eventual end of the trade embargo, will help pry open the economy and the political system.”

Similar positive comments from people on the street in Havana were captured by Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party.

Other Reactions

Cuba’s Granma newspaper reported positive reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations from China, Brazil, the European Union and the United Nations.

Conclusion

The Cuban announcement reiterated some of the issues that Cuba has raised before and after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and that have been addressed in prior posts to this blog.

Foremost for Cuba is ending the U.S. embargo or blockade of Cuba. President Obama agrees that this should happen and again yesterday called on Congress to adopt legislation doing just that. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Jerry Moran and Angus King have introduced bills to that end, and in the House Charles Rangel, Bobby Rush and Jose Serano have authored similar bills. Now the relevant congressional committees need to hold hearings and report the bills to the floors of the respective chambers for voting them up or down.[2]

Related to ending the embargo or blockage is Cuba’s repeated allegation that it is illegal under international law and has damaged Cuba, allegedly $1.1 trillion as of last October. It is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with these assertions and pay Cuba that sum of money. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim, along with others by Cuba and the U.S., be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[3]

The other significant issue for Cuba is ending the alleged U.S. illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay and returning that territory to Cuba. Again it is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with that allegation and demand. Remember that the Cuban government in 1906 leased that territory to the U.S. for use as a “coaling station” or “naval station” and that there are many problems with Cuba’s assertion that it has the right to terminate the lease. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim and others relating to Guantanamo, including unpaid rent for the last 50-plus years, also be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[4]

Cuba’s complaint about U.S. radio and television transmissions to Cuba (Radio and TV Marti), in this blogger’s opinion, is secondary. Again I see no U.S. acceptance of this complaint, and thus it too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[5]

The other secondary Cuban complaint concerns the U.S. “programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization.” This refers to the covert, secret or “discreet” programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), such as its social media program, the HIV workshop program and the hip-hop artist campaign. These programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are a stupid waste of U.S. taxpayers’ funds and should be terminated by the U.S. Any U.S. programs to promote democracy in Cuba should be joint ventures with the Cuban government.[6]

Now the more difficult work comes for the two countries’ diplomats to meet, discuss and negotiate to attempt to resolve or at least narrow these and many other issues. We wish them courage, persistence and humility in their work.

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

[1] Statement by the Revolutionary Government, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letter from Cuban President Raúl Castro to Barack Obama (July 1, 2015); Interim Minister of Foreign Relations receives letter from U.S. President to Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, Granma (July 1, 2015); Cuba and the U.S. confirm reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Granma (July 1, 2015); Burnett, Cubans Greet Latest Step in U.S. Thaw With Hope Tempered by Reality,N.Y. Times (July 1, 2015).

[2] Prior posts have discussed bills to end the embargo in the U.S. House of Representatives and similar bills by Senators Klobuchar and Moran and King.

[3] A prior post concerned the October 2014 U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of a resolution condemning the embargo and Cuba’s allegation of $1.1 trillion of damages. Arbitration of Cuba’s alleged damages claim was suggested in another post.

[4] A post examined the 1906 lease of Guantanamo Bay; another, whether Cuba had a right to terminate the lease and another. arbitration of unresolved issues about the lease.

[5] One post looked at the status of Radio and TV Marti.

[6] Prior posts have covered USAID’s social media program; the U.S. Senate’s comments on that program; USAID’s HIV workshop program and reactions thereto by the U.S. government and by others; the New York Times’ criticism of the programs; criticism of the programs by the Latin American Working Group; and this bloggers’ open letter to President Obama complaining about the programs.

Two Major U.S. Groups Urge Congress To Promote U.S. Trade and Travel with Cuba

This month two major U.S. groups have reiterated pleas to Congress to promote U.S. trade and travel with Cuba. They are the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba. Here is a report on those efforts.

U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba

On June 8, 2015, the Agricultural Coalition, an association of more than 90 U.S. agricultural companies and state and national organizations committed to normalizing exports of food and agricultural products to Cuba, sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations.[1]

The letter reiterated the Coalition’s opposition “to any effort to restrict trade and travel with the nation of Cuba—including possible amendments to appropriations bills or the State Department reauthorization bill.” Any such restriction “would be detrimental to the U.S. agricultural industry and the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.”[2]

Indeed, the letter continued, Coalition members “share a commitment to liberalizing trade between the United States and Cuba.  We support Congressional action to expand opportunities for U.S. agriculture by normalizing commercial relations with Cuba and, ultimately, ending the Cuban embargo.”

Because of existing restrictions in U.S. law about trade with Cuba, the letter further stated, the U.S. agriculture “industry is losing out on valuable opportunities to market U.S. food and agriculture products in Cuba. U.S. farmers, ranchers, and food businesses should not be losing out to other countries like Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Vietnam, and countries in the European Union.  Cuba is a logical export market for the U.S. industry.”

Engage Cuba

On June 16, 2105, Engage Cuba formally commenced its operations in Washington, D.C. as a coalition of major corporations, business associations and non-profit groups. Its members include the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Council of the Americas, the American Society of Travel Agents, Third Way, #CubaNow, the Cuba Study Group and the Center for Democracy in the Americas. It also works directly with many leading businesses, including Procter & Gamble, Cargill, Caterpillar, Choice Hotels and The Havana Group,[3]

This coalition on June 16 started an ad campaign called “Guess What?” that is being broadcast on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC. It calls for ending travel and trade bans on Cuba.[4]

The Engage Cuba press releases stated the various provisions that seek to halt reconciliation with Cuba that House Republicans had inserted into pending appropriations bills. He said they were “like the last gasps of a defeated army that’s in retreat. They are just trying to delay the inevitable. The Senate will not support those versions of the bill[s] and the White House already has said they would [veto them]. So they [have a] zero chance of becoming law.”

This theme about pending legislation was expanded in a June 16 article by Williams and two other Engage Cuba leaders (Steven Law and Luke Albee).[5] They said, “While there are plenty of big fights still to be had, bipartisan progress is clearly emerging on an unlikely issue: Cuba policy.” As “examples of seeking compromise and working across party lines,” they cited the bill to end the ban on U.S. travel (S.299) offered by Republican Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) and the recent bill to end the embargo (S.1543) offered by Republican Senator Jerry Moran (KS) and Independent Senator Angus King (ME).

Engage Cuba, they said, “reflects that same bipartisan spirit. The founder of the group (James Williams) is a public policy adviser to philanthropists with strong ties to the Obama Administration. Its top two advisers come from opposite sides of the political barricades: Steven Law runs American Crossroads and Luke Albee is a well-known Democrat who served more than two decades in Congress as Chief of Staff to Sens. Leahy and Warner (Dem.,VA).”

This article concluded with an urgent call for that bipartisan spirit and effort to combat “provisions . . . [to House of Representatives’] funding bills to try to roll Cuba policy back to a Cold War posture, even as embassies are in the process of being announced. The bills immediately drew veto threats, and it’s clear they have little chance of getting through the Senate with those measures. However, progress isn’t going to be made by fighting rear-guard actions; we need to move our policy toward Cuba in a new, positive direction.”

On January 15, Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) hosted a party at a Washington, D.C. bar to celebrate the launching of Engage Cuba. People from that coalition were joined by other senators; Roberta S. Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the U.S.’ chief negotiator in the Cuba talks; and José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, Cuba’s ambassador-in-waiting as chief of mission at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

Flake,  Rodriguez, collin and Roberts
Rodriguez, Flake, Collins and Roberts

Senator Flake had just returned from another trip to Cuba, this time with Senators Susan Collins (Rep., ME) and Pat Roberts (Rep., KS). Here is a photo ot the three of them with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Afterwards, on June 15 Flake said, “To see where we are today is really heartening. The feeling I had the last couple of visits to Cuba is that the reforms . . . that have been made are irreversible. It’s full steam ahead.”[6]

Conclusion

All supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should thank both of these organizations for their efforts to do the same while also urging their Senators and Representatives to oppose the House Republican rear-guard efforts.

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

[1] This Agricultural Coalition letter was the subject of an article in Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, Granma: U.S. agricultural coalition opposes trade and travel restrictions against Cuba. Granma (June 15, 2015) Prior posts discussed the Coalition’s January 2015 launching and its March 2015 trip to Cuba.

[2]  Pending policy bills against reconciliation and the anti-reconciliation inserts in appropriations bills have been discussed in posts on May 26 and 28 and June 2, 10, 12 and 16.

[3] Torres, Major U.S. companies support new group that will lobby to lift sanctions against Cuba, Miami Herald (June 16, 2015). A prior post discussed the organization of Engage Cuba. Engage Cuba already helped helping negotiate an agreement between the Florida-based Stonegate Bank and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to resume bank transactions for the Cuban diplomatic mission, an essential requirement for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the conversion of the Section to the Cuban Embassy. The group’s website has a useful page of Facts about public opinion on reconciliation in the U.S. and in Cuba, the potential Cuban market for U.S. products and services, statements of prominent individuals supporting reconciliation and lists of reconciliation-supportive businesses, agricultural organizations, faith-based and religious organizations, human rights, development and policy organizations, and labor, environmental and travel organizations. Another useful feature of the website is a form for individuals to send an email to their members of Congress.

[4] The TV ad itself is available online, and the ad is a subject of a press release from the group.

[5] Williams, Law & Albee, On Cuba, a bipartisan path emerges, The Hill (June 16, 2015).

[6] Calmes, New Group Enjoys Thaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations with a Party, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2015)

New Senate Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Angus King
Senator Angus King

On June 10, 2015, Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS) introduced S.1543 Cuba Trade Act of 2015 to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. With Senator Angus King (Ind., ME) as the cosponsor, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has not taken any action on S.491, the bill to end the embargo that was introduced in February by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) that was discussed in a prior post.

More specifically, S.1543 repeals restrictions on trade with Cuba under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

In addition, S.1543 has provisions whereby the federal government may not obligate or expend any funds to promote trade with or develop markets in Cuba, except for certain commodity promotion programs. These were important provisions. Moran’s office called them “taxpayer protection provisions” that observers see as ways to win over reluctant Republicans support for ending the embargo.

Senator Moran’s press release [1] said the bill “would grant the private sector the freedom to export U.S. goods and services to Cuba while protecting U.S. taxpayers from any risk or exposure associated with such trade.” Cuba, Senator Moran stated, was “a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. By lifting the embargo and opening up the market for U.S. agricultural commodities, we will not only boost the U.S. economy but also help bring about reforms in the repressive Cuban government. I am hopeful that increasing the standard of living among Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights.”[2]

Senator King added, “For far too long, the Cuban people and American businesses have suffered at the hands of an antiquated trade embargo. . . . The Cuba Trade Act would finally end our outdated embargo policy and establish a new economic relationship with Cuba that will support increased trade for American businesses and help the Cuban economy and its people to flourish.”

Moran’s press release also observed, “Nearly 150 U.S. organizations have voiced their strong support for commonsense reforms related to U.S.-Cuba relations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union.”

I hope that having a Republican author of a bill to end the embargo and this bill’s taxpayer protection provisions will enhance the chances of this Republican-controlled Senate endorsing the ending of the embargo. And then enhance the chances of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives doing the same.

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[1] Senator King issued a similar press release.

[2] In early January Senator Moran spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the early January 2015 launching of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that favors ending the embargo.