Florida House Republicans eager to rebuke Obama on new Cuba policy

A rebuke to President Barack Obama for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba received the support Thursday of a committee in the conservative Florida House of Representatives.

The legislation, which expresses “profound disagreement” with the president’s decision and opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate or diplomatic office anywhere in Florida, is largely symbolic. If approved by the full House and Senate, it would formally petition Congress to act but not require it to do so.

The House action comes following recent action by the board of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, which unanimously approved a motion in favor of reestablishing a Cuban consulate in the Tampa/Hillsborough County area once the United States and Cuba complete the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations, perhaps as early as next month. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate in Miami.

Miami-Dade County Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Nuñez are sponsoring the House bill, HM 727, with a companion, SM 866, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores.

A separate, softer measure filed by Miami Democratic Rep. José Javier Rodríguez,HM 745, would also oppose a consulate but only go as far as urge Obama to limit U.S. engagement with the Cuban government to strengthening civil society in Cuba. That legislation has yet to get a hearing.

On Thursday, the first time the GOP bill was heard, Republicans who legislate state policy on the House Local & Federal Affairs committee eagerly weighed in on federal foreign policy. The bill passed 9-4 along party lines.

“For 55 years, we have had essentially one-man rule” in Cuba, said Rep. Neil Combee of Auburndale, in Central Florida. “It’s outrageous. It makes me sick. It breaks my heart.”

“If we do not stop the president or let him know that it’s not the right path, that dictatorship will grow and get more powerful,” opined Rep. Jimmie Smith of Inverness, also in Central Florida.

“I’m sorry, this is not a business deal,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, the committee chairman. “This is the heart of freedom. And we have exiled families who lost everything, including family members, and out of respect to them and out of respect for our founding fathers, we simply cannot allow the president to trash the constitution without response.”

A single committee member, Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat and former Broward County mayor, spoke against.

“We can look back and see 56 years of a policy that has not yielded the results that we hoped it would,” she said, citing a poll suggest most people back closer Cuba ties.

Nuñez, the sponsor who was presenting the legislation, responded: “I don’t legislate by polls.”

“I come here to do what I think is right, and what is right is on the side of freedom,” she said.

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