Roll Call: Senate Moves to Kill Ban on Cuba Travel

On October 23, by a vote of 36 to 59, the Senate failed to table (kill) an amendment to the Departments of Transportation and Treasury, and independent agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 2989) that prohibits the enforcement of the ban on travel to Cuba. The amendment was strongly opposed by President Bush.

By failing to table, the Senate effectively kept alive the amendment that would stop enforcement of the Cuba travel ban, which has been in effect since John F. Kennedy was President. The ban and other economic sanctions were enacted to punish the Communist regime of the murderous Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, one of the worst human-rights abusers in the world. These economic measures are strongly supported by the Cuban exile community in the United States and strongly opposed by Communist sympathizers.

However, many non-leftists, including libertarians, American farmers looking for new foreign markets for their crops and members of Congress who want these farmers’ votes, argue that the sanctions have had little effect.

The amendment, proposed by Senators Larry Craig (R.-Idaho) and Byron Dorgan (D.-NED.) would use Congress’ power of the purse to withhold funds from being used to administer or enforce the travel ban.

Supporters of the amendment included farm-state senators, libertarian-leaning conservatives, and Castro-sympathizing liberals. They argued that the Department of Homeland Security is wasting intelligence and investigative resources that should be tracking terrorists are instead chasing “innocent” Americans who go to Cuba.

The ban impinges the rights of Americans to travel freely, said Dorgan. He cited 70-year-old Joan Slote’s experience with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) when she returned from a bike trip in Cuba to visit her son as he was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Shortly thereafter, she received a $7,636 fine from OFAC for travelling to Cuba. “She didn’t know it was illegal for an American to travel in Cuba,” Dorgan claimed, derisively accusing OFAC of persecuting old ladies.

Dorgan also cited the story of a man who was fined $20,000 for taking his dead father’s ashes to scatter in Cuba. The deceased had been “a Pentecostal minister in pre-revolutionary Cuba,” whose last wish was to be buried on the grounds of his former church.

Others claimed that the travel ban was simply useless. “Cuba poses about as much threat to the United States as a flea does to a buffalo,” chuckled Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.).

But other senators, agreeing with President Bush, opposed lifting the ban, citing the grave human rights abuses that the Castro regime engages in on a regular basis. Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.) said that the Senate should not ignore Castro’s kangaroo court system, which recently sentenced 75 dissidents and journalists to “a cumulative total of 1,454 years. Their crime was being independent journalists, economists, or democracy advocates.”

After the amendment easily survived the tabling motion, it was added to the overall bill by voice vote. However, it is not expected to become law because it will likely be purged from the appropriations bill when it reaches the House-Senate conference committee, and the White House has talked about a veto of the entire bill if it contains the provision.

A “yes” vote to table (kill) the amendment was, in effect, a vote upholding the ban on travel to Cuba. A “no” vote was, in effect, a vote to change American policy toward Cuba by allowing travel to the Caribbean island nation.

FOR THE MOTION TO TABLE: 36 AGAINST THE MOTION TO TABLE: 59
REPUBLICANS FOR (30):
Alexander
Allen
Bunning
Chablis
Cochran
Coleman
Cornyn
Dole
Domenici
Ensign
Fitzgerald
Frist
Graham (S.C.)
Grassley
Gregg
Hatch
Kyl
Lott
Lugar
McCain
McConnell
Murkowski
Nickles
Santorum
Sessions
Shelby
Smith
Snowe
Stevens
Thomas

DEMOCRATS FOR (6):
Corzine
Graham (Fla.)
Lautenberg
Lieberman
Nelson
Reid (Nev.)

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (19):
Allard
Bennett
Brownback
Campbell
Chafee
Collins
Craig
Crapo
DeWine
Enzi
Hagel
Hutchison
Inhofe
Roberts
Specter
Sununu
Talent
Voinovich
Warner

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (39):
Akaka
Baucus
Bayh
Biden
Bingaman
Breaux
Byrd
Cantwell
Carper
Clinton
Conrad
Daschle
Dayton
Dodd
Dorgan
Durbin
Feingold
Feinstein
Harkin
Hollings
Inouye
Johnson
Kennedy
Kohl
Landrieu
Leahy
Levin
Lincoln
Mikulski
Miller
Murray
Nelson (Neb.)
Pryor
Reed (R.I.)
Rockefeller
Sarbanes
Schumer
Stabenow
Wyden

INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1):
Jeffords

NOT VOTING: 5

REPUBLICANS (2): DEMOCRATS (3):
Bond
Burns
Boxer
Edwards
Kerry


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