This week, we want to tell you a story about Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s sudden about-face on President Obama’s decision to drop Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list.
It’s a little “in the weeds,” but it dramatizes how much the debate on Cuba has changed since we learned that Presidents Obama and Castro agreed to restore diplomatic relations.
We begin on January 8 of this year when Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) introduced H.R. 204, the North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Non-recognition Act of 2015, to reverse a decision taken by the Bush administration to drop North Korea from the state sponsors list.
To accomplish this result, she wrote legislation which says in part, “Notwithstanding the decision by the Secretary of State on October 11, 2008,” to remove North Korea from the list, Congress was putting them back on the list and re-imposing the sanctions because “the Government of North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism.”
When she introduced the legislation, no one questioned if Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had the authority to propose it. In fact, the Congressional Record published this definitive statement: “Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following: Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.”
If Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had the power to stick North Korea back on the terror list in January, what could possibly stop her from sticking it to President Obama in April with similar legislation once he decided to remove Cuba from the terror list?
She had ample advanced warning to write the Cuba version of this bill. It was 128 days ago that President Obama ordered a State Department review of Cuba’s terror list designation.
On April 7, when the State Department recommended that Cuba be dropped from the list, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen called out the President for “ignoring the Castro brothers continued policies in support of terrorism by providing safe haven to foreign terrorist organizations and repeated violations of international sanctions.”
Then, on April 14, when the President made his finding, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen released a statement condemning the administration for “rushing to embrace two decrepit tyrants in their twilight,” and concluded, “President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terror list is based on politics and not facts.”
It sounded to us that she was spoiling for a fight. That was until John Hudson left us gob smacked with this eye-popping breaking news report: Congress won’t block Obama from Delisting Cuba on Terror List.
Wait! Is that true? What will Rep. Ros-Lehtinen say about that?
“We can’t undo it,” she told Foreign Policy on Wednesday. “We just got the word from the parliamentarian: It’s a no-go.”
Thinking there must be some mistake, we turned to the Miami Herald, her hometown newspaper; what did she tell them?
“She changed course.” She changed course?
This is what the Herald reported: “Legally, Ros-Lehtinen said, Congress can’t prevent the White House from taking Cuba off the list because not all the statutes that govern designation of a country as a state sponsor of terrorism provide a way for Congress to block a de-listing.”
This is very hard to understand. In January, her “Reinstate North Korea as a terror state” bill had the Constitution on her side. In April, she collects 35 co-sponsors on her “remake Cuba a terror-supporting state” bill, but gets a surprise ruling from the House parliamentarian and “changes course”?
What is this new course? Cuba gets off the terror list without a fight, but she plans to file “broader legislation” that will protect U.S. national security and maintain our advocacy for human rights on the island.
What explains the Congresswoman’s about-face? Was it the parliamentarian or was it the polls? CNN reported today that 59% of Americans approve of the decision to remove Cuba from the terror list, and just 38% disapprove. Maybe it was just politics.
As Christopher Sabatini, a scholar of United States-Cuba relations at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “This was the hard-liners’ white flag. They had been planning to present a piece of legislation in the allotted 45 days to overturn the removal of Cuba from the list, but couldn’t get a majority. Rather than risk looking even more isolated, they abandoned it.”
Earlier this month, the hardliners called the decision to drop Cuba from the list a concession to the Castro dictatorship. That must make their decision to drop the legislation reinstating them a concession to reality.