Updated 3:10 p.m. | The debate over President Barack Obama's announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will face a tough test at the Senate Appropriations Committee next year.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, said Tuesday he would mount an effort to prevent the use of funds for a U.S. embassy to open in Havana.
"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," the South Carolina Republican said Wednesday on Twitter .
A fact sheet released Wednesday by the White House said the embassy in Cuba would be among the administration's priorities.
"In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana," the White House said.
Of course, U.S. ambassadors are also subject to the Senate confirmation process, meaning that even if the State Department worked around Graham on funding the embassy, there could be a fierce confirmation battle on the floor of the Senate.
Graham's Democratic counterpart at the subcommittee that funds the State Department, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, has long advocated a more open relationship with Cuba, as well as the release of humanitarian worker Alan Gross, who had been held in Cuba for about five years.
"We already have an interests section in Cuba, so that horse is out of the barn there," Leahy said, adding that Americans traveling to Cuba would be looking for an embassy in the event they need help.
"I don't think American businesses, certainly those businesses we've talked with, wouldn't like it," Leahy said. "It is beneath the United States of America."
"Six decades after the start of the U.S. embargo, Cuba remains a country where dissent is severely punished. Many brave Cubans have been imprisoned for political reasons. We all want to see a free Cuba whose citizens can choose their leaders, have unimpeded access to information, and criticize their government without fear," Leahy said in a statement earlier in the day. "But like President Obama and a majority of Americans, I have long recognized that unilateral sanctions have failed completely, and that democratic change will more likely come through a policy of normal diplomatic relations and open engagement with the Cuban people."
Leahy traveled to Cuba Wednesday morning along with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., as part of the delegation bringing Gross home.
Correction 4:15 p.m. An earlier version of this post misstated when Lindsey Graham tweeted about the embassy.
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