Keating Veers Right On Cuba

You probably know that freshman Congressman Bill Keating voted yes on the debt-ceiling bill yesterday -- joining Steve Lynch and Niki Tsongas from the Massachusetts delegation, in a disappointment to Bay State liberals.

But here's an even more surprising vote: Keating voted yes on an amendment to restore Bush-era restrictions on travel to Cuba.

This is a stunner -- "We were shocked, to put it mildly," says Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group in Washington -- because his predecessor, Bill Delahunt, was the House's leading voice on easing such restrictions. Almost anybody who ever talked with Delahunt can attest to that being one of his most passionately-pursued issues. Delahunt believed strongly that opening Cuba up to American travel was not only the right thing to do, to allow people to visit their loved ones, but also the best way to bring down Castro's regime.

Conservatives, including conservative Cuban-Americans in Florida who were key to George W. Bush's election, disagree, and want to punish Castro by restricting all travel so that American money doesn't get spent there. Bush enforced very strict rules on travel to Cuba; Barack Obama has dramatically opened travel since taking office.

A week-and-a-half ago, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs -- now led by Florida Cuban-American Ros Lehtinen -- was marking up the Foreign Affairs Authorization Bill, which funds the State Department. Another Florida Cuban-American Republican, David Rivera, introduced an amendment that would essentially roll back all of Obama's changes -- not only for family travel, but also for education and cultural-exchange, according to Anderson.

The amendment passed, with all the Republicans and 13 of 19 Democrats on the committee voting in favor. That included Keating, the only Massachusetts congressman on that committee. It also included freshman Democrat David Ciccilline of Rhode Island -- another shock, Anderson says.

It's mostly a symbolic vote -- Anderson says that this bill never gets passed, and won't this year. (State Department funding authorization typically just gets rolled over from the previous year, to avoid inevitable controversies in what the Department does or should do.)

However, Anderson and others fear that the bipartisan vote will embolden a similar effort taking place on the Appropriations Committee, where Mario Diaz-Balart (yes, another Florida Cuban-American Republican) has been pushing for an travel-restriction amendment to the Financial Services Appropriation Bill. That authorization probably will be passed, on its own or rolled together in an omnibus package, before the start of the fiscal year on October 1st. (Financial Services includes the Treasury, which enforces sanctions like travel restrictions.)

Diaz-Balart's version is considered less onerous, but is still a big step in the wrong direction according to advocates for loosening restrictions.

That would presumably include Delahunt. But for those thinking that Keating would strive to be another Delahunt, the truth is that the two are not exactly best buds. Delahunt did not endorse Keating in the primary -- or in the race to succeed Delahunt as District Attorney. The story goes that Delahunt was not supporting of Keating in that race, and Keating subsequently got rid of Delahunt's people on the DA staff.

Regardless, the vote would suggest that Keating is trying to move to the right where he can, to preserve his electoral strength in arguably the state's most conservative district -- as it currently stands, and who knows what it will look like after redistricting.

To let Congressman Keating know what you think of his vote, call his Washington office at 202-225-3111, or his district office in Quincy at 617-770-3700 -- or send him an email message using this form on his web site.

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