Kendrick Meek, who accompanied President Barack Obama on his trip to Trinidad, defended the president for hobnobbing with Hugo Chavez, telling MSNBC, "it makes us look as though we are the
superpower of the world."
(Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich earlier today suggested talking to the Venezuelan president makes the U.S. look weak.)
"We have a leader that has been elected to lead this country, " Meek said. "Our leader should not be running around the room trying to avoid one person of 30-some odd leaders throughout South America."
Meek last week said he disagreed with Obama's decision to lift entirely the cap on remittances sent to Cuba, saying on MSNBC "that unlimited transmittance may very well be used to help the Castro government..."
Full transcript after the jump:
Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek, who is running for the U.S. Senate, was among the delegation that traveled with the president to the summit. Congressman Meek joins us live from Capitol Hill.
Congressman, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us
MEEK: Thank you. Glad to be on the show.
O'DONNELL: Congressman, let me ask you first about those pictures shown around the world between Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, and our president, Barack Obama. Today, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, told NBC News that it sends a poor message and that it makes America look weak. Your response?
MEEK: I don't think America looks weak. I think it makes us look as though we are the superpower of the world. We have a leader that has been elected to lead this country. Our leader should not be running around the room trying to avoid one person of 30-some odd leaders throughout South America. It has not changed U.S. policy.
Chavez had a meeting prior to the opening session, prior to our arrival there in Trinidad and Tobago, to be disruptive, to make Cuba the issue, to really attack the United States of America. The president took that weapon that he meant for another reason out of his hand to talk about the fact that -- let's talk about moving forward.
You have to remember the communications was cut off with Venezuela during the Bush administration. He feels that it's important at a summit -- because when you come together at a summit, you're supposed to hold dialogue -- to take that away from him very early on. It was a move that the president said, even in his closing press conference, did not sway his feelings towards Venezuela or Cuba. Cuba has to make some moves now by releasing political prisoners.
O'DONNELL: Well, let me talk specifically about Cuba, because you are running for the Senate in Florida. My understanding is you oppose the moves that President Obama has made, which would allow more travel and more money to flow freely to Cuba.
MEEK: No, I don't oppose the travel issue for Cuban families to be reunited with their families, to be -- to go back to what they had prior to the Bush administration. As you know, President Bush, two weeks before his re-election, changed the policy, which I thought was highly political. I held a press conference against that...
O'DONNELL: But you do -- but you do oppose the sending of money? But, you do oppose the sending of money?
MEEK: No, I -- I -- no, I think that unlimited transmittance may very well be used to help the Castro government and the 20 percent that they have cut off. The president has said that the Castro government should bring that number down. That's where the president and I part on that issue. But I do feel that he has moved down the right track in doing exactly what he would say -- that he said he would doing during the campaign.
This should not be a shock to anyone. The unlimited transmittals is something that we -- transmittances -- we have to really look at. Hopefully, the Cuban government will not take those dollars away from Cuban families, because that's where really this administration is trying to reach.
O'DONNELL: I think we're going to have to do more than hope, because Castro is not going to give up 20 percent off the top that he's been skimming. Congressman Kendrick Meek, thanks so much for joining us.
MEEK: Well, it's important. All right, Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Right, but he's not going to do it just because we tell him too, right, Congressman?
MEEK: Well, I feel -- I feel -- I feel that it's gone -- it's up to the -- Raul Castro at this point. If they're serious about change, if they're serious about adhering to the 1996 law that was passed here in Congress to release political prisoners, have free and open elections, and stop being so heavy-handed with the Cuban people. Then, we may see some dialogue to take place.
But until then, that's not going to happen and the president has been strong there on that issue.
O'DONNELL: Congressman Kendrick Meek, thank you so much for joining us.
MEEK: Thank you.