Broad and bi-partisan support for measures to ease trade and travel restrictions on Cuba led to controversy in the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, and ended with an agreement that signals a shift in the House leadership’s attitude toward Cuba policy change.
Representative Rick Crawford (R-AK) was leading a group of Republicans and Democrats supporting an amendment to permit private credit to facilitate American agricultural exports to Cuba. Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) was leading a group of Republicans and Democrats seeking an end to the ban on unrestricted U.S. citizen travel to Cuba.
In the end, Crawford and Sanford withdrew their amendments; in return, and under pressure from supporters of the amendments, the House Republican leadership facilitated an agreement in which the Crawford bill will get a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, and Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) will work with Crawford to move a version of this bill forward.
What happened on the House floor last night may seem like an obscure procedural gambit, but beneath the surface it reflected a major shift toward a new U.S.-Cuba relationship. In exchange for pulling the amendment, Congressman Crawford received assurances from House Republican leadership will work with him to advance the substance of his bill that seeks to improve U.S. trade with Cuba. This is a new attitude on the part of the leadership, which has previously sought to block all Cuba policy change.
The Crawford amendment had won broad support, from both Republicans and Democrats, and from agriculture associations, businesses and religious and human rights groups. By permitting private financial institutions and others to offer credit for agricultural sales, it would have created conditions for U.S. agricultural imports to Cuba to grow significantly while also decreasing the cost of U.S. food imports for the country.
Support had been growing on both sides of the aisle. Hardliners in Congress who wished to maintain the embargo on Cuba were demonstrably out-of-touch with the American people. As the amendment was being considered in Congress, House Republican leadership was forced to recognize that they can no longer maintain harsh trade restrictions on Cuba without facing political costs from constituents.
This historic deal in the House comes on the heels of a major win on Cuba policy in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Where last month, a similar amendment passed the Republican-led panel with a bipartisan 22-8 vote.
Last night’s agreement sets the stage for progress in Congress towards lifting the embargo. Republican Representatives Rick Crawford, Tom Emmer, Mark Sanford, Ted Poe and many others have emerged as key leaders pushing for a new policy. They join steadfast Democratic supporters to establish a new U.S.-Cuba relationship. We expect to see continuing engagement by these Members and others in the months ahead, and growing support for legislation to end the travel ban, and the agricultural trade restrictions.
Over the past year, WOLA has been working to educate members of Congress on U.S.-Cuba policy and Cuba-related issues. We’ve known for some time that the Cuba embargo is increasingly unpopular among Republicans in Congress. Now it is clear to the public and to Republican leadership that the embargo is a relic of the past and must be ended.