Updated 2:44 p.m. | As congressional Republicans continue to slam the White House for overreaching on immigration and promising to veto Iran sanctions, House Democrats traveled to Cuba in celebration of another Obama administrative initiative much-derided by the GOP: the recent normalization of ties between the United States and the long-marginalized country.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and eight colleagues were in Havana Tuesday to meet with government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, local community leaders and American representatives from the U.S. Interests Section. It was the first House-led delegation to Cuba since President Barack Obama announced the new policy in December .
"This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship," Pelosi said in a statement. "[It] will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade."
In addition to Pelosi, participants in the all-Democratic delegation include three ranking members of relevant House committees: Agriculture's Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Foreign Affairs' Eliot L. Engel and Small Business's Nydia M. Velázquez, both of New York.
Along for the trip are Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who serves as co-chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and Steve Israel of New York, the recently-appointed chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. The other members of the delegation are Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Rhode Island's David Cicilline, a member of both the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. Over the weekend, Senate Democrats also made a trip to Havana to build support for legislation ending the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.
Mark Warner of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota were in Havana talking up a bill Klobuchar is sponsoring to lift the U.S. trade embargo.
"We look with hope and expectations to the meetings next week in Washington between the Cuban government and the American State Department to make progress," Warner told reporters, according to an Associated Press report.
The senators said the Obama administration and Cuban officials will hold negotiations next week in Washington aimed at loosening security on the island for U.S. diplomats. The Cuban regime also wants the U.S. to dial back support for dissidents in the communist nation.
Klobuchar's bill, which has some Republican support , would lift the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and follows earlier proposals on Capitol Hill, led by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, to ease travel restrictions.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has also urged fellow Republicans to rethink the Cuban embargo.
"Let’s hope cooler heads will ultimately prevail and we unleash a trade tsunami that washes the Castros once and for all into the sea," Paul said in an op-ed in Time.
But Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and other Republicans, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, have torched the president's Cuba initiative.
Boehner invited a couple of Cuban dissidents to the president's State of the Union address last month.
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