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Obama’s ‘transformative’ Cuba moment

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Explaining Obama’s move on Cuba
  • The generational shift — even among Cuban Americans — on Cuba policy
  • The Obamas talk about their personal experiences dealing with race

Obama goes big on Cuba: Whether you agree or disagree with President Obama’s move to try and “normalize” relations with Cuba, it is an historic, big move. Anyone who thought this president was going to shrink from power after this latest midterm election drubbing would be wrong. Remember, this is a president who believed he could be “transformative,” and where he has an opportunity to move toward that, he will. Just in the last month, on issues ranging from immigration (executive action limiting deportations) to the prison at Guantanamo (transferring of some inmates to Uruguay) to Cuba policy, what we’ve seen is a president seemingly determined to go down a checklist of items that he promised as a candidate or wanted to accomplish and is now moving toward that, however he can. David Axelrod, a former top Obama campaign strategist and then senior adviser in the White House backs that up. “He’s going down a checklist of thorny, longstanding problems, and he’s doing whatever he can to tackle them,” he told the New York Times. “These are things that have been tearing at us for decades and generations. My sense is his feeling is, ‘I’m not going to leave office without doing everything I can to stop them.’”

The pushback and the rationale: As to the Cuba policy itself, there was expected vociferous opposition from Cuban Americans in Little Havana, Miami, who escaped the Castro regime, as well as from more hawkish Republicans, who have long supported the policy. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the move “will tighten this regime’s grip on power for decades to come” and called it a “setback for freedom” for Cubans. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, R, who took a significant step toward getting in the 2016 race this week called the move a “misstep” and an “overreach of executive power.” He added, “Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators.” The line from the president that perhaps best summed up his rationale for the move Wednesday was: “I don’t think we can keep doing the same thing we’ve done for over five decades and expect a different result.” By the way, for those thinking about 2016, Hillary Clinton said in a statement that she supports the policy change.

Generational shift: How can it be that Democrats feel they can so easily lean into this move? Florida, after all, continues to be a critical swing state. Well, times are changing. The policy is no longer the kind of Florida Third Rail that it had been in the past. Case in point: Despite President Obama having advocated in the past for a thaw in relations — including saying he was open to meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro and his easing of some embargo restrictions — he won Cubans in Florida in the 2012 presidential election, 49 to 47 percent, according to the exit polls. How can that be? Polling show there has been a generational shift among Cubans. It’s notable that the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba has been in place since 1961 — instituted seven months before this president was born. In 1991, a Florida International University survey of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, Fla., found 87 percent were in favor of continuing the embargo. But by 2014, support for the embargo had evaporated. Now, a majority of Cuban Americans — 52 percent — say they support ending it. And there’s a huge generational gap. The only group in which a majority supported continuing the policy are those 65 and older (60 to 40 percent). On the other hand, among those age 18 to 29, 62 percent were in favor of lifting it; among those 30 to 44 and 45 to 64, 55 percent also supported doing away with it.

Obamas on race in People: While the news world’s focus is on Cuba, also keep People magazine on your radar. The widely-distributed publication interviewed the president and first lady and the initial write-up focuses on the first couple’s own experiences with racism. “There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” President Obama told the magazine, confirming the situation has happened to him. First Lady Michelle Obama noted that before they lived in the White House, “Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.” The interview continues the White House media push outside of traditional hard news outlets.

Daily Presidential Trivia:
On this day in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson, who was widowed the year before, married Edith Bolling Galt. How many presidents got married while in office? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Anthony R. ‏(@AntBenjiMan) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: Which president negotiated the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement, which NAFTA replaced? The answer was: Ronald Reagan.

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the correct percentage of those age 30 to 64 who support easing restrictions toward Cuba. It is 55 percent.

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