LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Republican majority is unlikely to confirm an ambassador to Cuba as the United States prepares to re-open its embassy in the communist country after more than 50 years of hostile relations.
In a speech to a local chamber of commerce in Kentucky, McConnell called Cuba "a thuggish regime" that is "a haven for criminals" fleeing prosecution in the United States.
"I'm having a hard time figuring out what we got out of this, you know? You would think that the normalization of relations with Cuba would be accompanied by some modification of their behavior," McConnell said. "I don't see any evidence at all that they are going to change their behavior. So I doubt if we'll confirm an ambassador, they probably don't need one."
Democratic President Barack Obama has urged Congress to lift the country's trade embargo with Cuba as part of his effort to re-establish ties with the island nation. But McConnell noted Thursday that many of the restrictions placed on Cuba would require legislation, "and we're going to resist that."
"It is a police state that is mired in the '50s and '60s," he said. "You've seen any film down there, they are still driving cars that are in a museum here. Cars from the '50s and '60s in use. They must be pretty good mechanics. So I don't know how it ends, but I do think there is going to be resistance."
McConnell's comments were part of a larger criticism of Obama's foreign policy initiatives, saying that he "can't think of a single place, not one, where we're in better shape now than we were when he came into office." But McConnell said he is seeking common ground with Obama to accomplish some things at home, including passing legislation to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent.
"Let me make it very clear the federal government is not going to pass a gas tax increase," he said. "That obviously restricts what you do on the highway bill."
Instead, McConnell said he favors taking money away from things like mass transit and bike paths and spending it on roads and bridges. But he noted that likely would not pass.
"Before the end of this month, we will pass a highway bill of some duration," McConnell said. "I cannot tell you how long the duration will be."