Losing the Senate should make life easier for Obama on Cuba
By Alvaro Fernández
If we had a ‘Most Wanted’ poster depicting Cuba’s worst enemy in the U.S. Congress it would not be Republican. The title belongs to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Menendez was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and is considered one of the more powerful members of that prestigious body. Adding to his power is his chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a position he’s held since January of 2013. Democrats have also controlled the Senate since Menendez’ election there.
I bring this up because for years now, and especially since Menendez’ rise to the Foreign Relations post, I keep hearing the same mantra from people who follow politics in this country even more closely than I do. I’ve been told over and over that it is Sen. Menendez who keeps Obama from doing what he’s wanted to do with Cuba for years now… Add to this that Menendez is a very close confidante of Senate President Harry Reid, whose record on Cuba is also terrible.
Sen. Reid loves Menendez for varied reasons, but especially because the New Jersey senator has his fingers on the millions that are donated to the Party from the New York area. Reid represents Nevada, and other than gambling interests (which are considerable, I understand), it doesn’t come close to the potential for money Menendez can raise for the Party where every bank and/or banking interest in the world is found. There’s also the matter that some of the richest families in the country live or have homes in this part of the Northeast.
So to put it less subtly, Sen. Menendez is a Democratic Party rainmaker. He produces the mother’s milk of American politics, money!
But there may be good news in the very near future for those who seek change in Cuba policy. With elections less than two weeks away, it looks like Democrats may lose control of the senate. As Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post writes, “The likelihood of a Republican Senate takeover continues to increase with all three major election models giving the GOP at least a six in ten probability of winning the six seats the party needs to win back control.”
And if Democrats lose the senate, then starting in 2015, Menendez would lose his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations committee. Making life easier, at least in the case of Cuba, for President Obama.
Democratic Party stalwarts will all disagree with me on this. They will argue that it’s more important to keep control of the senate, blah, blah, blah… I’ve heard enough lies from both Democrats and Republicans (and I’m a registered Democrat) that for 2014 I’ve become a one-trick pony, and my issue is Cuba. And although Menendez will still probably hold a minority position in the powerful committee, he will not wield the power he currently has. That, in my book, is a good thing.
It will also allow me then to turn to President Obama and ask (from afar, of course): “Mr. President, that thorn on your side your people used as an excuse on Cuba has been surgically (partly) removed. What do you plan to do now?”
Finally, for all those who will scream and holler that Democrats have lost the senate; here’s good news: it may be temporary. Political projections show that the Democrats have a very good chance of regaining the Senate right back in 2016.
So if you’ve banked on Obama’s last two years to set the table for Hillary Clinton on Cuba, a less powerful Menendez would make the president’s path that much smoother. But let us wait and see. Since 2009, the president has not shone for his bravery.
One last thought. Loss of the U.S. Senate would not be a debacle while there is a Democrat in the White House. In 2014, what’s most important for the President and his Party is the possibility of gaining seats in governors’ mansions across the land.
And there’s no more important governor’s race than the mudslinging free-for-all taking place right here in Florida.