Congress stands firm on Cuba embargo as Americans soften

WASHINGTON -- Congress slapped the trade embargo on Cuba in 1960, and only Congress can lift it. Thursday, some members said they will try to keep that from happening.

"This is the kind of deal you get when you send your speech writer to negotiate with a tyrant," said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, in criticism of President Obama's new Cuba policy.

Congress concerned with Obama's move on Cuba

Rubio took his opposition to Miami Thursday where he was joined by a group of Cuban Americans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida).

"The Cuban people are no more free today than they were before Obama's terrible deal!" Ros-Lehtinen said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) panned the move too.

"Any normalization in my view should have been gauged to progress on human rights and other issues, and I haven't seen that," said McCain.

But fellow Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky told a local radio station he thought it was a "good idea."

"You know, the 50-year embargo with Cuba just hasn't worked," said Paul. "I mean, if the goal is regime change it sure doesn't seem to be working."

His comments reflect a softening in American attitudes toward Cuba.

In October, 56 percent told the New York times they favored reestablishing diplomatic relations, compared to just 40 percent in 1998.

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Still, the Republican leaders in both the House and Senate -- who control the agenda -- side with Rubio. He opposes lifting the trade embargo and wants to block confirmation of whomever the president nominates as U.S. Ambassador.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest called that hypocritical.

"It seems odd that Senator Rubio would be reluctant and in fact actively seeking to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba, when earlier this year he voted to confirm the ambassador to China that the president nominated," said Earnest.

Congress has made only two major changes to Cuba policy since the year 2000, but they were both aimed at easing restrictions. One law allowed the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. The other made it easier to travel to Cuba for family or business reasons.

  • Nancy Cordes
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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.