Yesterday, Senator Rand Paul offered support for Barack Obama’s deal with Cuba, becoming the only presumed Republican contender for the 2016 nomination to do so. Last night, Paul’s Senate colleague and likely opponent in the presidential primary Marco Rubio blasted him for it. In an appearance on Fox News Channel, Rubio told Megan Kelly that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about” on Cuba, and ripped the White House for making Ben Rhodes the point man for the negotiations:
“Like many people that have been opining, he has no idea what he’s talking about,” Rubio said Thursday night on Fox News’s “The Kelly File.”
Rubio said there are “holes” in the embargo that allow money, goods and visitors to flow in, and he pointed to the Cuban government as the problem.
“Look, Venezuela’s economy looks like Cuba’s economy now,” Rubio said. “You can’t even buy toilet paper in Caracas. And there’s no embargo on Venezuela. What Venezuela has in common with Cuba, is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies.
“And I would expect that people would understand that if they just took a moment to analyze that, they would realize that the embargo is not what’s hurting the Cuban people,” Rubio added. “It’s the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders.”
The Washington Post reports today that Rubio intends to lead Congressional opposition to this effort, and he won’t be alone. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both of Cuban descent, pledged to oppose normalizing relations with the Castro regime. Rubio will also get support from Sen. Robert Menendez, who will be the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Post’s Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe also noted Rubio’s attack on Rhodes, who is now deputy national security adviser to Obama but started off as a speechwriter:
Rubio added a veiled attack on Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser who once wrote Obama’s foreign policy speeches, noting Raúl Castro’s claim that Cuba “agreed to nothing” as part of the deal that Rhodes helped broker. “This is the kind of deal you get when you send your speechwriter to negotiate with a tyrant,” he said.
McConnell predicted a majority of Senate Republicans would side with Rubio.
“Even though I understand the argument that engagement may bring about changes, in this particular country — right next door to our country — I think the arguments of people like Menendez and Rubio are compelling,” McConnell said.
The decision to have Rhodes spearhead a diplomatic effort of this import is curious indeed. Rhodes worked as a speechwriter for Obama since 2007. He had no formal experience or training in diplomacy or international relations, and his title as an advisor explicitly acknowledges that the limit of his portfolio is in writing Obama’s remarks: Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. His college degrees were an MFA in creative writing, with baccalaureates in English and political science. As a speechwriter, Rhodes has solid qualifications. As a diplomat on possibly the most politically sensitive mission in a half-century, not so much. Rhodes’ assignment could even be considered an insult to the State Department, which should have been tasked with this assignment and might have at least gotten a better deal out of it.
Expect Rubio to get a lot of mileage out of that attack, and expect the news media — especially CBS News – to studiously ignore it.