The White House on Thursday took a direct shot at Sen. Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American and Florida Republican who has emerged as the most vocal critic of the administration’s move this week to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.
A clearly prepared White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at Thursday’s daily briefing that Mr. Rubio’s own past statements on diplomatic relationships with other dictatorial regimes conflicted with his harsh remarks on re-opening ties with Havana.
“It occurs to me that it seems odd Sen. 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,” Mr. Earnest told reporters.
He then read a quote from Mr. Rubio during confirmation hearings earlier this year for former Sen. Max Baucus, now the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, which also has come under heavy fire for its human-rights record.
“I think you’ll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration, that our embassy should be viewed as an ally of those within Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freely,” Mr. Rubio said at the hearing, according to a transcript posted on the senator’s website.
Mr. Earnest argued Mr. Rubio should embrace a similar principle toward Cuba — that an American presence on the island will only help those battling for greater human rights protections and political freedoms.
Following the announcement Wednesday that the U.S. would end its 50-year policy of isolation toward the communist island, Mr. Rubio held a press conference and blasted the president for opening travel and business ties with Cuba in light of the nation’s dismal human-rights record.
Mr. Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also hinted he may look to block funding for an American embassy in Havana and could hold up the appointment of an ambassador.
Mr. Obama’s stealth Cuba overture “will significantly set back the hopes of freedom and democracy for the Cuban people,” Mr. Rubio said Wednesday.
“It is disgraceful for a president who claims to treasure human rights and human freedom. This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.”