US relations with Cuba could become a bargaining chip in the healthcare debate

President Donald Trump took a hardline on thawing US relations with Cuba during the final weeks of his campaign, likely in a move to shore up his support with some segments of the electorate.

In the two months since he took office, though, Trump’s Cuba policy — to the extent that it exists — has been far from clear, especially because of Trump’s past vacillations on the issue.

A New York Times report about wrangling on Capitol Hill over the Republican healthcare bill indicates that at least one Florida Republican sees the debate as a way to gauge Trump’s stance on Cuba.

According to The Times:

As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

Ads about the repeal of Obamacare, many of them negative, have saturated South Florida airwaves in recent weeks, according to the Miami Herald. The ads appear to be targeting Diaz-Balart (a Cuba hardliner), Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Republican representatives.

Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the repeal, and Diaz-Balart, though undecided, is leaning against it, according to the Herald. Curbelo passed the bill to repeal out of the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this month, and a spokeswoman told the Herald Curbelo was “encouraged” by changes made to it after a CBO report.

A Diaz-Balart spokeswoman told the Miami Herald that the congressman is “still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents.”

While Trump’s feelings on Cuba remain unclear, the people who ushered his administration into office are decidedly against the island nation and its isolated Communist regime.

Trump’s transition team reportedly ceded the staffing of government positions dealing with Latin America to Cuban-American legislators.

According to Chris Sabatini, a professor at Columbia and editor of Latin America Goes Global, the people appointed to those posts may push for a return to a strict embargo and a more aggressive stance toward Cuba.

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