Florida’s days as a battleground state depend on how President Joe Biden responds to the current situation in Cuba, Politico reported Friday.
Democrats in the Sunshine State want Biden to take a strong position in some fashion, Politico said, as progressives and moderates within the party argue about how to respond to the ongoing protests against Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and the socialist government amid shortages of goods, rising prices, and power cuts.
Florida politicians seeking to run next year against Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., or Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are in a tight spot as they wait to see what Biden does. They include Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who hopes to oppose DeSantis, and Democrat Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings, who have eyes on unseating Rubio.
"If [Biden] continues to ignore members of his own party in the third largest state in the nation," Politico’s Gary Fineout wrote, "then that will be proof that Florida's days as a battleground are indeed over. And it will be a bright signal to Demings, Fried and Crist and Florida Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz for 2022: You are on your own."
Biden called Cuba a "failed state" Thursday, and made it clear he opposed remittances — payments Americans can make to their families in Cuba — because the money would be confiscated by the government.
It was unclear, though, whether Biden planned to take any specific actions.
DeSantis called on on Biden to authorize the U.S. to beam internet access for the Cuban people.
"I write to urge you to assist in providing Internet access to the people of Cuba standing up against communist oppression and demanding a voice after decades of suffering under the yoke of a cruel dictatorship," DeSantis wrote.
Also Thursday, progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., issued a statement calling for the U.S. to lift its embargo of Cuba. Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., responded by sharing AOC’s comment and adding, "No. This is not correct.”
Democrats struggled in Florida in last year’s races. In Miami-Dade, home to many Cubans, two incumbent members of Congress were defeated, in part, "because of lackluster and inconsistent response to criticisms that Democrats are soft on socialism and communism," according to Politico.
With Republicans calling on Biden to support the protesters and denounce the Cuban government, the longer the administration fails to act feeds into the GOP narrative.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said Cubans arriving in the U.S. by sea will be returned to their home country, or, if they can prove they'd be in danger, will be sent to a third country.
Before leaving office, former President Donald Trump’s administration in January re-designated Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism," hitting the country with new sanctions.
Removing Cuba from the terrorism list had been one of former President Barack Obama’s main foreign policy achievements as he sought better relations with the island, an effort endorsed by Biden as his vice president. Ties had been essentially frozen after Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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