April 11, 2013

White House says Obama didn't talk Cuba with Jay-Z

Hip-hop artist Jay-Z defended his trip to Cuba in a new song today, saying he got clearance from the White House -- a claim disputed by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said, "I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury," -- insisting it was the U.S. Treasury Department -- not the White House that ok'd the trip to the island.

Jay-Z released "Open Letter" in the wake of criticism from two Miami Republicans who have questioned whether Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce -- both big Obama supporters -- lawfully visited Cuba, which is mostly off limits to ordinary U.S. tourists.

After inquiries from Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, Treasury officials said Tuesday the couple were granted an educational exchange license to travel. In the song, the lyrics include "boy from the hood, I got White House clearance."

Later, they say, "Obama said, 'Chill, you gonna get me impeached, you don't need this s--- anyway, chill with me on the beach."

But Carney said Obama never talked about the Cuba trip to Jay-Z: "Treasury offers and gives licenses for travel, as you know and the White House has nothing to do with it," Carney said. "I am absolutely saying the White House, from the president on down, had nothing to do with anybody's personal -- anybody's travel to Cuba. That is something that Treasury handles."

Pressed on why Jay-Z had mentioned Obama, Carney quipped "OFAC, Treasury, these are tough words to rhyme.

"It's a song," he said. "The president did not communicate with Jay-Z over this trip."

April 08, 2013

White House deflects questions on Beyonce's trip to Cuba

Beyonce may be a major Obama campaign supporter, but the White House is staying mum on her recent trip to Cuba.

Press Secretary Jay Carney Monday directed questions about Beyonce and Jay-Z's trip to Cuba to the Treasury Department, saying it's the agency that makes the decisions on who can travel to the island.

Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have asked the Treasury Department for answers on whether the singer and her husband got a U.S. license, noting that it's still prohibited for Americans to spend tourist dollars there.

Carney said the decisions on "cultural travel and academic travel" are made by Treasury, and referred questions to the department.

"It is certainly the case that under this administration we have eased the ability to travel to Cuba for those purposes, but the decisions at the individual level are made at the Treasury Department, not here," Carney said. "That's not a White House matter. That's a Treasury matter. And I would refer you to Treasury."

February 06, 2013

Rubio will give Republican address Tuesday night

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will give the Republican response to President Barack Obama after the State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

Rubio, 41, is viewed as an up-and-comer in Republican ranks, a possible 2016 presidential contender. A conservative in his first Senate term, he's been helping lead the fight to overhaul the nation's immigration system.

Republican leaders explained their choice of Rubio to give the Republican address: "He carries our party’s banner of freedom, opportunity and prosperity in a way few others can. His family’s story is a testament to the promise and greatness of America," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“He’ll deliver a GOP address that speaks from the heart to the hopes and dreams of the middle class; to our party’s commitment to life and liberty; and to the unlimited potential of America when government is limited and effective.”

Added Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., "Marco’s own experience as the child of immigrants has always informed his belief in limited government and free enterprise, which is why he has helped lead the fight against out-of-control spending and job-destroying tax hikes that continue to hold our economy back and stifle opportunity for millions. He was a natural choice to deliver the Republicans’ alternative to the administration’s reliance on government and debt.”

July 25, 2012

White House condemns violence in Cuba

The White House is criticizing the arrest of nearly 50 pro-democracy activists by the Cuban government during a funeral for activist Oswaldo Paya, noting that some of those arrested were reportedly beaten.

"The fact that this occurred while hundreds of people gathered peacefully to commemorate the life of one of Cuba's foremost human rights advocates only underscores the importance of Paya’s struggle on behalf of the Cuban people," the statement from Press Secretary Jay Carney said. "Unfortunately, these arrests provide a stark demonstration of the climate of repression in Cuba, as demonstrated by the June 9 arrest of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez following his testimony to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee regarding rights abuses in Cuba, and by hundreds of other arbitrary detentions in recent months."

"We call on the Cuban government to respect internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, rather than arresting their citizens for peacefully exercising these universal rights that are protected and promoted by governments throughout the world. We look forward to the day when the Cuban people can live in the free society Oswaldo Paya worked so hard to bring about throughout his lifetime."

January 14, 2011

White House to ease Cuba travel regulations

The Obama administration today will announce it plans to ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, including possibly expanding the number of U.S. airports where charter flights to the island depart.

The key change will be an expansion of religious, educational and cultural travel to Cuba. And President Barack Obama will restore the broader "people-to-people" category of travel, which allows "purposeful" visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

The changes are part of the administration's "effort to support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their own future," a senior administration official said in a background briefing.

Tourist travel to Cuba will still be illegal, the administration official said. And the official dismissed speculation that the administration delayed the changes until after the November election because Democrats in Florida feared it would hurt them among Cuban-American voters.

"There were a number of false rumors, the largest that this was imminent on a number of occassions," the senior administration official said. "This package of changes was the result of an interagency process that has concluded only in the last couple of days. They are rolling out now that they are ready to be rolled out.''

January 04, 2011

White House poised to make Cuba travel changes?

The U.S.Cuba Policy and Business blog reports that "reliable sources" say an announcement on changes to the U.S. travel ban to Cuba are "imminent.

"The White House is expected to announce updates to current travel regulations expanding travel for academic and religious purposes as well expand the number of U.S. airports that can provide charter flights to Cuba," the blog says. "Unfortunately, this announcement will not revert the travel regulations back to the successful people to people regulations of the Clinton era which pro-embargo hardliners fear."

John McAuliff, executive director of the pro-travel to Cuba Fund for Reconciliation and Development, noted the changes would be "far less" than changes rumored in August. Back then, the White House had reportedly been poised to expand cultural and educational exchanges to the island.

"The White House seems to favor the prolonged pain of slowly removing the bandage rather than a bold action," McAuliff said. The Cuba biz blog in September said the changes were delayed until after the election at the urging of pro-embargo Democrats including Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

May 19, 2010

Oil spill opens new talks between Cuba and the U.S.

The State Department confirms that "low, technical level" talks are under way to help Cuba respond if the sprawling oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should move close to its shores.

The sprawling oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is prompting fears in Cuba, which boasts one of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean, miles of mangroves and nesting areas for green sea turtles.

Cuban government officials called U.S. oceanographers looking for assistance last week. And the State Department is "exchanging information and looking at avenues for further information exchange."

April 15, 2010

Obama's Florida trip and fundraiser with Gloria Estefan irks some Cuban Americans

In Florida to defend his plans for NASA, President Barack Obama will be in Miami tonight for two fundraisers -- including a cocktail reception at Gloria and Emilio Estefan's home -- an event that has irked some in the Cuban-American community.

The visit is expected to raise some $2.5 million for the Democratic National Committee. But tempers are flaring in some quarters.

"The Estefans may have broken more than a rule when they decided to host a cocktail reception for the president during his visit to South Florida on Thursday,"writes Herald columnist Jackie Bueno Sousa. "Estefan, along with husband Emilio, also broke a bond that had united them with Miami's Cuban community, whose members largely oppose the president's agenda."

April 06, 2010

White House: Fidel Castro said what?

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says he's unaware that Fidel Castro is a big fan of President Obama's health care bill.

"I have not seen that statement," Gibbs said, asked today whether Obama was grateful for Castro's remarks that Cubans "consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of Obama's government."

Told it was out there, Gibbs suggested to the reporter, "he probably e-mailed you directly."

"I am unaware that he's aware of the statement," Gibbs said of Obama.

Castro's comments did not escape 2008 vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin. Campaigning recently for John McCain, she joked, "When it comes to Obamacare, I see Fidel Castro likes Obamacare and we don't. Doesn't that tell you something?"

April 02, 2010

Get on your feet! Barack Obama to raise money with Gloria Estefan

President Barack Obama conveyed his harshest rebuke yet of Cuba's government last week and, hours later, Gloria Estefan protested repression in Havana from the streets of Miami.

Now, they'll be together again when the Cuban-born singer and her husband, Emilio, host Obama at their Miami Beach homeApril 15 for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, when the president comes to Florida to talk about cuts to the NASA space program.

The $30,400-a-couple cocktail reception is the Estefans' first political fundraiser, said Democratic consultant Freddy Balsera, who advised Obama's campaign on Hispanic issues and is close to the couple.

It's not their first presidential encounter. Here's Gloria's Christmas interview with POTUS.


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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