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Republicans scramble to react to President Obama's Cuban surprise



“To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy. The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba towards collapse.” – President Barack Obama in his Dec. 18 speech on Cuba and the release of prisoner Alan Gross

Like an actual holiday surprise – minus the eggnog or the chimney or the hangover – President Obama surprised the world on Dec. 17 with what might be his most important speech ever. The occasion, of course, was the lifting of sanctions against our due-south neighbor, Cuba, a complex and historic initiative that centered on the release of five-year prisoner and human-rights activist Alan Gross, but included some other exchanges as well (like the so-called Cuban Five, who were arrested in Florida for "spying" on anti-Castro operatives, going home). Key among the president's announcements was the fact that Cuba and the United States would swap embassies again, Raul Castro would stop wearing military uniforms to deliver speeches (not true!) and everyone would happily make out with a firmly pressed sandwich. Oh, and Pope Francis wanted it, so it was a bit of a divine intervention. Also, everyone gets a fancy cigar!

That's not to make light of what we witnessed in Obama's speech, which, at times, was almost conciliatory in nature. In an era when Congress won't even lightly stroke immigration reform, Obama going full Commie (kidding!) was never going to go down easy. He knows that, and made it clear that he loves the Cuban people, not the Castro family.

"Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly, as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba," he said. "But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people, and promote our values, through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach."


$298 million: Amount that Barclays had to pay the U.S. government and New York County District Attorney's Office in 2010 following violations of embargoes against Cuba


And then the Republican Party went apeshit, especially in Florida. First, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, melted down Mad Libs-style in advance of the president's speech, because, duh, the info was leaked to the Associated Press before the world could collectively gasp.

"I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people's expense," he said in a statement. "Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama's naiveté during his final two years in office."

We're all going to get kidnapped now, it seems.


$1 million: Reported minimum amount that Barclays pays former Florida Gov. (and current presidential hopeful) Jeb Bush annually for consulting fees


Foreign policy expert Gov. Rick Scott chimed in with his own unraveling narrative, because he is incredibly good at communicating.

"As long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy, I will continue to support the embargo and sanctions against them," he grandstanded. "President Obama is giving in to a tyrannical government that does not value human rights and completely disregards the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy."

Neither could quite match the quiet desperation of a certain Jeb Bush, though. Bush, who used a Christmas Facebook post to announce his inevitable 2016 presidential run last week, is paid by Barclays (the bank), which was fined nearly $300 million for being in bed with Cuba back in 2010, when, you know, we didn't deal with Cuba legally.

"Gov. Bush has long been a strong advocate for policies that will foster a free and democratic Cuba," Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told BuzzFeed News. "His record as a supporter of the embargo and on U.S. policy regarding Cuba is clear."

Well, not exactly clear. Bush is still working for Barclays for a cool million a year. Everyone's applauding Gross' release, but nobody seems to care about negotiating. Yep, sounds like politics in 2014. Happy holidays, and grab a cigar and a drink (issue). This is about to get ugly.


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