In politics, there are always skeletons lurking, waiting to jump out of the closet.
For U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who is running for House Speaker amid chaos on Capitol Hill following the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, that skeleton hails from Cuba and parties with the Obamas.
Already you might be catching the drift — the Florida congressional delegation, overwhelmingly red, isn’t likely to take kindly to this particular revelation.
Way back in 2015 — admittedly a lifetime ago in political years — Emmer filed the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 that would have lifted the Cuba trade embargo, allowing businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba.
He introduced it with a Democrat from Tampa, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.
Strange bedfellows indeed. But it gets even more strange.
Emmer joined former President Barack Obama and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on a Cuba trip the next year, the first time a sitting President had visited the island nation since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, according to a press release announcing the trip.
When introducing the 2015 legislation, which then Speaker John Boehner strongly opposed without significant changes to the Cuban government, Emmer called it “a new and exciting chapter for the U.S.” He went on to say the legislation would “improve our position within the region, giving the U.S. a seat at the table and increased leverage” to support “political transformations.”
This as less than two weeks ago the Miami Herald reported Cuba was re-elected into the United Nations Human Rights Council despite criticism from advocacy groups about the nation’s practice of imprisoning peaceful protesters and dissenters.
Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the U.N. and current GOP presidential contender, called the vote “a farce,” an indication of GOP sentiments now.
And that’s not even to speak of Florida, particularly South Florida, where the memory of horrific human rights violations under a socialist dictatorship remain fresh in the minds of the vast Cuban population, many of whom fled from the Fidel Castro regime.
Emmer held onto his hope of opening relations with Cuba even as it put him at odds with a President of his own party. In 2017, he openly criticized then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, for reversing course on Obama’s efforts.
“I am extremely disappointed with President Trump’s announcement he is going to ‘roll back’ the progress made in improving our relationship with Cuba,” he said at the time. “Through today’s actions, his Administration claims that he is honoring a campaign promise and fighting for the Cuban people. Yet, by returning to the failed policy of the past 55 years, the Administration moves no closer to helping improve the human rights situation in Cuba and stands to violate the President’s number one campaign promise and constitutional responsibility— to keep the American people and our homeland safe.”
Tell refugees who rushed to the Florida Keys by the hundreds earlier this year about the progress made in Cuba the last half century.
Maybe this isn’t such an emotional and personal issue in South Bend, Indiana. But South Florida Republicans representing the largest Cuban diaspora in the country know this is an issue to constituents in Florida, the state where 64% of Cubans and Cuban Americans in the United States live.
Perhaps that is why U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart endorsed fellow Floridian Byron Donalds almost immediately after Donalds threw his name in the hat. While he didn’t say so in his endorsement, posted to X and noting that Donalds “is an honorable leader,” he has been a frequent critic of Obama-era policies normalizing relations with Cuba.
Emmer does, however, have an important endorsement for Speaker, from who would be his immediate predecessor in McCarthy. Emmer is the No. 3 House Republican currently, serving as Majority Whip. And he’s making calls to his GOP colleagues to do what he’s already tapped to do, whip some votes.
But whip though he may, with Florida’s 28 members of the House led by Díaz-Balart on the delegation, and considering all of the state’s Democrats will undoubtedly continue voting for Hakeem Jeffries, the numbers are there to tank Emmer’s bid before it even really begins.
Jacob Ogles contributed reporting.