As they jockey for possible presidential bids, Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are taking aim at each other on TV, Twitter and Facebook over Cuba policy.
Paul "doesn't know what he's talking about," Rubio says.
Rubio is an out-of-touch "isolationist," Paul says.
Even if the two don't run against each other, it certainly makes the GOP caucus in the U.S. Senate a potential viper pit -- especially because Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to run and incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supports Rubio's hardline on Cuba but that he also backs his fellow Kentucky senator, Paul.
It started after President Obama and Raul Castro on Wednesday jointly announced efforts to normalize relations. The decision was anathema to Rubio, whose political identity is rooted in the conservative exile politics of Miami and its support for toughening the embargo against Cuba.
But while Republican presidential candidates lined up to echo Rubio's position, Paul on Thursday sided more with Obama, noting many U.S. farmers support the idea of more Cuba trade because it's a new market for their crops.
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said in a radio interview with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship."
Paul pointed out that many younger Cuban-Americans support his point of view, which is probably true.
"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," he said.
Rubio, appearing Thursday on FOX, then blasted Paul for being ignorant. Here's the transcript, as found on Breitbart:
"He [Paul] has no idea what he’s talking about. And I’ll tell you why. Number one, the embargo on Cuba is an embargo that, quite frankly, has a bunch of holes in it. To give you an example, the United States is still one of Cuba’s largest trading partners, even now with the embargo, all sorts of commercial products and humanitarian products, like foodstuffs and other things are available in Cuba. Americans travel there all the time on what they call cultural exchanges. A bunch of Americans travel there by the way in violation of the embargo through third countries, Cuban-Americans can travel as many times as they want. They can send a lot of money back to Cuba to their relatives. What’s hurting the Cuban people is not the embargo, what’s hurting the Cuban people is the Cuban government. Look, Venezuela’s economy looks like Cuba’s economy now, you can’t even buy toilet paper in Caracas, and there’s no embargo on Venezuela. What Venezuela has in common with Cuba is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies…the embargo is not what’s hurting the Cuban people. it’s the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders."
Paul came back Friday on Twitter, and called out Rubio's handle: "The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. So
@marcorubio why not Cuba?"
Then Paul took to Facebook: "Seems to me, Senator Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”
“Senator Marco Rubio believes the embargo against Cuba has been ineffective, yet he wants to continue perpetuating failed policies,...After 50 years of conflict, why not try a new approach? The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. Why not Cuba? I am a proponent of peace through commerce, and I believe engaging Cuba can lead to positive change...Finally, let’s be clear that Senator Rubio does not speak for the majority of Cuban-Americans. A recent poll demonstrates that a large majority of Cuban-Americans actually support normalizing relations between our countries.”
Your move, Sen. Rubio....