Two Republican senators effectively threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba on Wednesday.
"I anticipate I'll be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee" in the new Congress, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a press conference hours after the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from a Cuban prison was announced along with the administration's plans to normalize relations with Cuba, including opening an embassy there.
"I anticipate we're going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you're going to get an ambassador nominated and how you'll get an embassy funded," Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.
"I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible," Rubio said.
South Carolina Sen.r Lindsey Graham tweeted on Wednesday, "I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time."
Much of the policy changes can be achieved through executive actions, but because Congress has ultimate control over how federal funds will be spent, Obama can't begin the process of constructing a new embassy in Havana without congressional approval.
A Senate Democratic appropriations aide acknowledged the administration also can't simply repurpose funds that have already been appropriated to the State Department, explaining, "Any reprogramming must be approved by the Appropriations Committee," which, starting in January, will be controlled by Republicans.
Rubio said that opponents of the changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will look to see if all of the changes fall within the "letter of the law," though he acknowledged that many of the changes announced by the Obama administration fall "within the purview of the presidency."
Rubio said he had learned of the planned changes last night, and had received a call from Secretary of State John Kerry briefing him this morning.
"This Congress is not going to lift the embargo," Rubio said.
Rubio criticized the changes, arguing that the shift will perpetuate the Cuban dictatorship as well as the Venezuelan regime, which Cuba supports. He criticized Obama for swapping actual spies for a civilian, which he argued would set a precedent for other innocent Americans to be held hostage abroad.