Marco Rubio Stakes Claim on Cuba Ahead of 2016

The Florida Republican asserted his hawkish foreign policy on Cuba after Obama announced major changes.

On Cuba, Sen. Marco Rubio has found a foreign policy cause to speak on with authority.

In a bold statement against the Obama administration, Rubio held a press conference Wednesday blasting the president's move to relax trade and diplomatic restrictions that have existed between the U.S. and Cuba since the Kennedy administration.

"This entire policy announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie," Rubio said.

Rubio said the Obama administration's view of the world is "more than just naive. It is willfully ignorant of the way the world really works."

Rubio asserted that he knew more about the Cuban regime than the Obama administration. He accused the president of taking a step backward and playing into the hand of a manipulative government in Cuba. Rubio says he has no doubt that the U.S. steps to thaw relations with Cuba would have a "dramatic impact on the cost of freedom and democracy on the island."

"I know the Cuban regime and its true nature better," Rubio said.

Speaking at the Capitol immediately after Obama's address, Rubio sought to assert himself as a foreign policy leader in the Senate as he eyes a potential bid for the White House in 2016. The senator has a personal connection to relations with Cuba. His parents immigrated from the country in 1956 shortly before Fidel Castro rose to power. While Rubio has been accused of embellishing facts about his parent's arrival in the U.S., his parents decision to start a new life in America has continued to be a key emotional narrative for the freshman senator as he's ascended in politics.

"Cuba is close to home for me both because of my heritage and from the community I live in," Rubio said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another potential 2016 contender and son of a Cuban immigrant, did not appear alongside Rubio, a telling sign that the jockeying to be the authority on foreign policy ahead of 2016 is already well underway, even as neither Rubio nor Cruz have announced bids. When asked if the decision on Cuba would impact his presidential ambitions, Rubio said that "this is unrelated. I am not going to discuss that today."

Rubio was not the only senator infuriated by the president's new position on Cuba. While some senators praised the release of U.S. citizen and aid worker Alan Gross, who had been held captive for five years in Cuba, outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Obama, by negotiating with the country, had "vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."

While Rubio said he was not consulted about the decision on Cuban relations, Secretary of State John Kerry placed a call to him at 10 a.m. to lay out the scenario.

Now that Republicans control the Senate majority, Rubio said he would do what he could to unravel changes made by the Obama administration.

"I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority," Rubio said. Rubio also announced that the next Congress would not lift the travel ban on Cuba as the president has requested.