State Department defends Cuba policy official after Rubio blames her for admin's 'weak' response

Sen. Marco Rubio claimed Emily Mendrala stood in the way of proper response to Cuban government's actions

The State Department defended its head of Cuba policy, saying both the U.S. and Cuba are better for her service despite Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., claiming she was responsible for the Biden administration's "weak" response to how the Cuban government is treating its people.

In a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Rubio called on President Biden to take charge by leading the international community in pressuring the Cuban government to ease its crackdown on protesters. The senator called the administration's response "weak" thus far, and asserted that this would not change as long as the current lead official on Cuba policy – Deputy Assistant Secretary Emily Mendrala – is in charge.

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The State Department responded with a full-throated endorsement of Mendrala and her capabilities.

"Deputy Assistant Secretary Mendrala has years of experience – at the State Department, White House, and on Capitol Hill -- working to support human rights and advance the cause of democracy in Cuba," the State Department said. "The American and Cuban people are better off because of her continued public service."

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Rubio said Mendrala's history includes "supporting engagement" with Cuba, including planning trips for members of Congress to meet members of the Cuban government. Mendrala's State Department bio confirms she has "led educational travel delegations" to Cuba for members of Congress and others.

Rubio, who is Cuban American, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters as they face retaliation from their own government. On Wednesday, he called on Biden to help Cubans by authorizing funding for emergency internet connectivity, as the government has restricted internet access for its people in response to the protests.

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The Florida Republican also called for Biden to convene the Organization of American States and the United Nations in order to collectively pressure Cuba to cease its actions against its people.