Engage Cuba Coalition Mulls Chances for Travel Ban Vote


By: Doug Palmer

Advocates of lifting the embargo on Cuba said they are gearing up for votes this summer on two shorter-term goals: lifting the travel ban and allowing credit for U.S. agricultural sales. Both measures cleared the Senate last year as part of the appropriations process but died in conference with the House.

"We obviously have the votes to do it in the Senate," James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said in a meeting with POLITICO editors and reporters. "We've gained votes since last year when we did this. The question will be does it survive at the end of the day?" That's harder to predict because of the strong opposition of Cuban-American lawmakers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart to any opening to the communist-run island, he said.

A successful House floor vote on either measure would make it difficult for leaders to kill the legislation in conference. But that has to be weighed against the possibility of failure and delaying the bigger prize of lifting the embargo. "We're working diligently to get our whip count [in the House] to see if that's what we want to do," Williams said. "We haven't decided yet. We have a couple of months before we get there. But right now, we feel pretty good."

Williams estimated 50 to 60 senators would vote for lifting the travel ban and allowing credit for agricultural sales. "In the House, we feel like we have the majority, but you never know until it's on the floor," he said.