Posted on Sat, Mar. 20, 2004
Bush's Cuba policy.
By Peter Wallsten and Lesley Clark
Karl Rove, President Bush's key political strategist, wins a standing
ovation when he promises a Miami audience tougher sanctions on Castro.
With Democrats vowing to exploit a rift between the White House and some
Cuban-American leaders, President Bush's top political strategist
assured Miami GOP activists Friday night that the administration is
committed to economically strangling Fidel Castro's government.
In a speech that seemed designed specifically to soothe long-simmering
tensions, senior White House strategist Karl Rove devoted more time to
Cuba than any other issue -- drawing a standing ovation from the heavily
Hispanic crowd at a Miami-Dade Republican Party fundraiser.
''Have no doubt, we will remain committed,'' Rove told the crowd at the
Radisson Mart Plaza Hotel and Convention Centre in west Miami-Dade
County. Referring to the president, he added: ``He knows, you know, we
must not waver.''
Rove unleashed a litany of promises to tighten the grip on Castro,
saying the administration would find ''new and creative ways'' to limit
the flow of money to the island, punish companies that do business there
and crack down on travel.
His strong language comes after months of debate among Miami exile
leaders, many of whom have complained that Bush has failed to deliver on
campaign promises to crack down on Castro.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has said he
intends to campaign for Cuban-American votes, while a collection of
independent Democratic political committees are planning a massive
campaign to point out Bush's failings on Cuba and key domestic issues
such as jobs and healthcare aimed at Hispanic voters.
Roves message was a clear indication that the administration is nervous
about losing support among Cuban Americans -- especially given the
importance of a key voting bloc in the state that decided the 2000
election by just 537 votes.
At the dinner Friday, Rove sat on the dais with some of Miami's most
influential Cuban-American leaders: U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart,
Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former state Republican
Party Chairman Al Cárdenas.
Rove also sat with state Rep. David Rivera, the Cuban-American lawmaker
who along with his legislative colleagues mailed Bush a letter warning
that he risked losing Cuban-American votes if he didnt move fast to
crack down on Castro.
Rivera said Friday he was encouraged by Roves remarks -- especially his
promise that the White House would tighten travel restrictions.
``If they follow through, that would be huge,''
Speaking earlier in the day to Herald editors and reporters, Rove said
he was not concerned about the presidents ability to win Cuban-American
votes -- especially once they learn about Kerry.
''I think people at the end of the day will look at the record of this
administration and look at the alternative, and I know where they'll
strongly be,'' Rove said, contrasting a Sunday Herald report detailing
Kerry's shifting stances on key Cuba policy issues to what he said was
Bush's firm support for stiff sanctions on the island.
''Its an important issue, a moral issue, for this president,'' Rove
Rove will join the president in Orlando today for the campaigns first
full-scale rally. GOP planners predict the speech will draw 12,000
activists for an event designed to showcase the ''grass-roots'' machine
being built in the state.
Speaking to The Herald, Rove said that he had learned lessons from the
Florida experience four years ago, when Bush nearly lost the state
despite his brother serving as governor and the Republicans apparent
dominance in state politics. But he declined to say what those lessons
''Lots of things, and I aint going to tell you,'' he said. ``Were
working on every one of them.''
The presidents arrival was the focus Friday of what is becoming a daily
onslaught of dueling press conferences featuring campaign surrogates
from both sides attacking each other.
In Miami, Florida's two Democratic senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson,
joined U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat, to assail Bush's
record on jobs and healthcare, accuse him of misleading the public on
Iraq, and to make the case for replacing Bush.
''Florida wont ever forget what happened in the last election,'' Meek,
Kerry's Florida campaign chairman, said, referring to the recount battle
that finally awarded the states electoral votes to Bush.
The Democrats remarks drew scorn from Bush's surrogate of the day,
Christian Coalition founder and leading GOP strategist Ralph Reed, who
said that Nelson and Graham were merely looking to ''audition'' to be
Kerry's vice presidential nominee.
WHAT ABOUT JEB BUSH?
During the wide-ranging discussion with The Herald in which he boasted
of his intimate knowledge of esoteric matters such as western water wars
and agriculture policy, Rove sought to cast aside his reputation as the
White Houses all-powerful political puppet master.
Asked about Democrats assertions that he is involved in every major
decision from Cuba to Iraq, Rove shot back: ``I'm not. My title is
senior advisor to the president. Most of the foreign policy things, I'm
not within 100 miles of. I can tell you more about financing of ag
drought relief than you can ever imagine.
And what about the presidents brother, Gov. Jeb Bush? Would be be a
formidable presidential candidate in 2008?
''I'm focused on 2004,'' Rove said. ``Don't get me in trouble with the
governor of Florida.''
Source: The Miami Herald