President Trump reverses President Obama's opening to Cuba

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This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 16, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba.


TRUMP: Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: President Trump announcing his new policy towards Cuba, rolling back major parts of President Obama's opening to that country in 2014.

Time now to bring in our panel: Jason Riley, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of the new book "False Black Power"; Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report, and Byron York of The Washington Examiner.

Jason, the president said, you heard him there, that he is rolling back the deal, the bad deal he says that President Obama made with the Castro regime so we can get a better deal for the Cuban people? Does that make sense?

JASON RILEY, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE SENIOR FELLOW: It does make sense. He wants to curb some of these business transactions that help prop up the regime but don't do much for everyday Cubans. It was a campaign promise. And I think there is a lot of sympathy for doing that.

You know, a lot of people who don't support the embargo nevertheless didn't like how Obama went about cutting this deal. Congress had him play the framework. It's been there for 20 something years. It's known informally as the Helms-Burton Act that was passed back in the 90s and signed by Bill Clinton. And Cuba is supposed to meet certain conditions before we normalize relations. An independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and all kinds -- free and fair elections. And there was no real evidence that they had made the progress towards meeting those conditions before Obama signed off on this deal.

So I think that Trump is right to revisit some of this. I also add that the same people that are so worried about Trump's affiliation with Putin or affinity with Putin, I should say, should be equally concerned why Obama had such an affinity for this Castro regime and why he was so eager to cut this deal in the first place.

WALLACE: What's interesting though, Amy, the fact that this is not a complete rollback.


WALLACE: And you heard me ask Congressman Diaz-Balart about that. The U.S. embassy stays open, U.S. planes, cruise ships can continue to serve the island. What about that?

WALTER: Right. The dry foot policy of the administration, of the Obama administration stays in place as well. Really, I think that Jason's point, this was really about Donald Trump being able to follow through on a promise he made as candidate Trump, President Trump following through as candidate Trump on a promise to do this.

And I think actually one of the biggest winners in all of this is Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who has made this a centerpiece, the opposition to Obama's policy on Cuba. The stories thus far about this entire process have been really focused on Marco Rubio, the backroom dealings he was able to do to get the president to sign on. It reads something like a nerdy spy novel, how they did this very secretly so nothing can leak about this, how he really were able to sit down, convince the president on this story. So for Marco Rubio, I think this does a whole lot.

On the policy itself, to your point, it's not going to make much -- there's not much difference. And then finally, I think for voters, for those outside of the Cuban exile community, I don't think that this is going to make a huge difference in terms of how they view either this issue or how they view the president.

WALLACE: It was December of 2014 when the president announced his opening to Cuba. And last year, when he visited Havana and met with Raul Castro, the president of Cuba, he defended his new policy.


THEN-PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you keep on doing something over and over again for 50 years and it doesn't work, it might make sense to try something new.


WALLACE: Byron, did engagement, which is what I think you can call the big Obama policy, did it work at all? Did it make any difference?

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It does not seem that they have done much, that Cuba has done much to keep up its end of the bargain in terms of liberalizing itself and giving more freedom to dissidents in the country. I think you have to look at this Trump thing more in terms of domestic politics. It is part -- part of it is the classic support of Cuban- American voters in south Florida who voted 54 percent for Donald Trump in the general election while other Latinos in Florida voted 71 percent for Hillary Clinton. So this is clearly a promise that he has made it to them.

On the other hand, polls ever since Obama did this have shown majorities of Americans favor better relations with Cuba. I don't think Trump is riding some national wave of a push to do this. And also this rally today, if you watched it, had a little bit of going back in time feel to it. They were celebrating the brigade that led the attack on the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and it was kind of a rally of yesteryear when Trump did this.

WALLACE: I want to pick up on that with you, Amy, because Steve Harrigan's report was very interesting in that regard. The Cuban-American community is not united on the issue with Cuba. The older Cuban-Americans, people who remember Fidel Castro, having fled, they are very much for the Trump policy getting tougher with the Castro regime. Younger Cuban-Americans not so much.

WALTER: Not so much. And I think that we have been seeing that for years. This isn't new to Donald Trump. This has been going on for quite some time.

But the other thing you pick up in the reporting on this story of how this deal came together was that the president when he was a candidate met with these Bay of Pigs survivors and veterans, families of those veterans, and was very taken with them and very taken with their story, actually wanted to hold the rally today at their museum. It wasn't big enough, so they ended up at this place, but that it was this commitment that he had made to this group that he felt an affinity to while he was on the campaign trail.

And I also think it goes back to candidate Trump talking about how he can make good deals, how he can make better deals. If you listen to him both as president and as candidate, the Cuba deal, bad deal, Iran, bad deal, TPP, bad deal, NAFTA, bad deal. I'm the deal maker. I can make a better deal. This is right in his wheelhouse.

WALLACE: Let's talk about that, Jason. Where do U.S.-Cuban relations go from here? Any reason to think -- we've seen the cut off because we've had it for 60 years and it really didn't accomplish much. Any reason to think that Trump's rollback of the Obama engagement, which may have not worked, that this new policy is going to work?

RILEY: No. I think very little is going to happen so as long Raul Castro is still around. I think that will be the acid test. When he's gone, what the Cuban people decide on going forward. There is an argument for going this route, putting economic freedom ahead of political freedom. We've seen it in other parts of the world, southeast Asia -- south Asia -- east Asia I should say --


RILEY: It hasn't worked as well with China. China, we still have human rights problems. I'm talking about places like South Korea and Japan where we sent economic freedom will lead to political freedom and it's worked. It hasn't worked in Cuba partly because we are kind of on our own here with this embargo. Cuba is still trading with the rest of the world. They are just not trading with the U.S. So I think that's part of the reasons the policy hasn't been as effective.

WALLACE: Real quickly?

YORK: He based this on something really quite clever, which is so much of the economy is owned by the Cuban military, the intelligence, the security forces. And basically he forbade financial transactions with those particular entities, which covers maybe 80 percent of the whole tourist business. But it was specifically aimed at the military and security arms.

WALLACE: You can do business with the Cuban people, just not the government.

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