It is no accident that President Obama announced his decision to move forward with normalizing relations with Cuba yesterday. Four big factors made this the ideal moment.
1) Being a lame duck has its advantages – President Obama will never face an election again nor need to worry about how Congressional Democrats will do under his term. This means Obama doesn’t need to care what people think.
2) Congress just left on a long vacation – Maintaining outrage over the long term is difficult in Washington. There are always new issues and emergencies to dominate the news cycle. By the time Congress gets back in town next year I suspect Cuba will have already slipped from the front page. The new Congress will have a long list of other priorities they want to get to.
3) There is almost nothing Congress can do since they just approved a nine month funding bill – I strongly suspect this deal is why President Obama was so aggressive working to get the long term government funding bill. Basically, the only real leverage Republicans have over Obama is with must pass legislation. It will be nine months until Congress needs to approve another one and by that time this will be very old news.
4) The politics now favor ending the embargo – Probably the biggest factor is that the politics around the issue finally changed in favor of ending the embargo in the past year. Our idiotic electoral college has long given Cuban-Americans living in Florida a disparately important role in our national politics. This year was the first time a small majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida actually favored ending the embargo.
While this move by Obama was good policy it actually wasn’t all that politically courageous. It happened only after the general public and this important voting bloc in a critical swing state were ready to support it. This will make it difficult for Republicans to try to undo it.