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Marco Rubio lifts hold on State Department nominee

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he'll lift his hold on the nomination of Roberta Jacobson as assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, a job that includes overseeing U.S. relations with Cuba. His change of heart comes "following months of negotiations with the administration in the hopes of cracking down on abuses of the people-to-people Cuba travel policy," his office said.

"This policy has been abused by some people who are more interested in profiting from tourism than in a meaningful effort to bring about democratic change in Cuba," Rubio said in a statement. "In doing so, they have also undermined our entire Cuba policy by providing hard currency to a cruel regime that oppresses its people."

Under the rules of the Senate, a single senator has the ability to block votes on nominees or legislation by placing a so-called "hold" on it. 

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Rubio said he still has concerns about the entire program, but that as a condition for lifting his nomination hold, he asked the administration to enforce its own regulations and stop what he called "the more egregious abuses." 

The State Department agreed to make changes that will require applicants to demonstrate how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities, Rubio said.

Rubio previously described the Obama administration's policy towards Latin America as one that's been "defined by appeasement, weakness and the alienation of our allies."

Jacobson during her confirmation hearing defended the Obama administration’s policies toward the communist island nation, including policies that allow Cuban-Americans to send more money there.

Jacobson, who appeared in November before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her confirmation hearing, also told senators that the administration would do whatever it could through diplomatic channels to secure the unconditional release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years.

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