President Barack Obama has announced efforts to normalize relations with Cuba after an embargo of more than 50 years. But some opponents say Obama is overreaching his authority and that Congress can overrule him. Several legislative obstacles may stand in the way of normal relations with Cuba.
Hope fills the streets of Cuba’s capital as residents hear about President Obama’s plan to restore relations with Cuba. Abiel San Miguel, a restaurant owner in Havana, is excited.
"I am happy. I hope this will be the beginning of the end of illogical things, which have no reason to exist, and which have been shown to be obsolete," said San Miguel.
But there are differing opinions at a Cuban neighborhood in Florida.
"Obama is making all the concessions and what are we getting from the Castro?" asked one local.
Change could come to Cuba, but not quickly. It will take time for the State Department to review Cuba's designation as a terrorist sponsor. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said an evaluation is upcoming.
“We have to look at whether they have renounced the use of terrorism. We have to look at their ratification of international instruments against terrorism,” said Jacobson.
Next, the president can ease some financial restrictions, but constitutionally he cannot lift the trade embargo that dates back to the 1960s. Mike Gonzalez from the Heritage Foundation spoke to VOA via Skype and pointed out the Congressional prerogative.
"The embargo can only be changed and amended by Congress. Mr. Obama, the executive, has no legislative powers," said Gonzalez.
All six Cuban American members of Congress -- regardless of political affiliation -- oppose the president’s proposals.
Carl Meacham from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that disapproval also could extend to diplomatic measures, such as the president's plan to open a U.S. embassy in Cuba. Senators could also refuse to confirm the ambassador.
“The Congress funds these embassies, funds the government, so will these senators be ok with funding an embassy or will they oppose it?” asked Meacham.
Restoring a diplomatic relationship with Cuba is constitutionally the president’s right. But Congress carries the "power of the purse" and could refuse to fund anything that he proposes.