A group of U.S. lawmakers want to block the Obama administration’s efforts to open up the United States airways to flights from Cuba. Citing concerns about Cuba’s security infrastructure, four members of Congress, including three Republicans and a Democrat, have officially called for a halt to the recently announced commercial flights between the United States and the communist nation until a closer review of security measures at Cuba’s airports can be conducted.
"How can this administration guarantee the American people there won't be a security threat on one of those planes?” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. a former chair of the Transportation Security subcommittee.
U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week that ten cities, including four in Florida, and eight airlines won tentative U.S. government approval to schedule commercial air service between the United States and Havana, Cuba. Last month, the department awarded approval to six airlines to nine other Cuban cities.
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How can this administration guarantee the American people there won't be a security threat on one of those planes?
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C
The addition of commercial flights to Cuba are seen as one of the biggest steps the White House has taken to loosen the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba since Dec. 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced that they would take steps to normalize relations.
The administration has also eliminated limits on remittances, restored direct mail and allowed American companies to sell to Cuba on credit.
The DOT could not be immediately reached for a comment. The Transportation Security Administration says it is currently assessing security measures at the Cuban airports that have been approved for service to the United States. TSA is also working to finalize an arrangement with the Government of Cuba on having Federal Air Marshals on flights between the United States and Cuba.
U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-NY, who is leading the push to stop the flights and current chair of the Transportation Security subcommittee, introduced legislation Tuesday with Hudson and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Tx., and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Tx., that would prohibit commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration certifies that Cuban airports have appropriate security measures. The bill also asks the Government Accountability Office to confirm that Cuba meets the standards.
It’s unclear what future the legislation will have. Support has been growing on both sides of the aisle for better ties with Cuba, which is only 90 miles from the tip of Florida. One Democrat has signed up to support legislation, it is unlike many others will follow an effort that goes against one of Obama’s most prominent policy initiatives. The legislation has a better chance of passing the more conservative House, but a growing number of Republican Senators have signaled their support for improved relations seeing economic opportunities for their districts. Several Republicans joined Obama, for example, on his trip to Cuba this Spring.
But Katko wants to slow things down. He notes that it was only last year that Cuba was removed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Katko was among a group of members of the Homeland Security Committee who were denied visas to Cuba for a scheduled visit to review security measures at Cuban airports.
“We still don’t know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers are screened, and if federal air marshals will be allowed to fly missions to Cuba on commercial flights,” he said in a statement.