WASHINGTON – Before departing for Cuba with President Obama, Republican Rep. Tom Emmer — leading the Republican charge on Capitol Hill to repeal the U.S. trade embargo — said he wasn’t sure whether the trip to the communist country would help or hurt his efforts to get House Republicans on board.
On Tuesday, after Obama’s speech challenging Cuba to embrace democracy and fundamental human rights, Emmer said the trip to Cuba will only help his cause.
“Based on what I heard today, it’s going to be more of a help than anything,” Emmer said from Havana. “He called for the Cuban people to once again control their own destiny. That is a shared value. I don’t care what your party affiliation is. That is a shared American value that I think we can all agree on.”
In his third trip to the country over the past 15 months, Emmer said the changes and development are accelerating. He said he was shocked that people on the street waved at members of Congress, given its deep unpopularity in the United States.
“Someone’s actually waving and giving the thumbs-up to members of Congress?” he said. “That actually sends a stronger message that the Cuban people are counting on us. People often ask me, what are we getting for this? We are increasing our stature in the Western Hemisphere.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she hoped the two day trip would begin to thaw relations between the two countries. She is sponsoring legislation to lift the trade embargo. She was last in Cuba last year.
“You see more and more outpouring of Cuban heart, people lining up in the streets with umbrellas, really excited about the president being here,” she said from Havana. “But the measure will be the economic change and if there is progress. The things I’ve heard is there are more and more restaurants filled up, more tourists are coming. … They’re going to have to expand.”
Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan is also on the trip. He was unavailable for an interview Tuesday.
Eric Schwartz, dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, praised Emmer’s attendance on the trip — the freshman representing the Sixth Congressional District was one of only a small handful of Republicans among the 40 members of Congress traveling with Obama.
“You don’t have to be partisan to really be impressed by the willingness of a Tom Emmer to say what he thinks even if, God forbid, what he thinks happens to be in alignment with the president from the other party,” Schwartz said.
“In this incredibly partisan and polarized environment, what a breath of fresh air to hear a Republican official articulate his views without concern.”