Republicans Use State of the Union Guests to Hit Back at Obama Over Cuba

John Boehner and Marco Rubio have invited Cuban activists in a show of dissent from President Obama's Cuba policy.

At the State of the Union, the spotlight will rest squarely on the president, but Republicans have plenty of opportunities to make a point. Aside from the official GOP response to President Obama's speech, two prominent Republicans are using their guest lists to jab at Obama's Cuba policy.

House Speaker John Boehner has invited two Cuban democracy activists, Jorge Luis García Pérez and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, to the Tuesday night speech. García Pérez spent 17 years as a political prisoner in Cuba, and his wife, Pérez Aguilera, founded a human-rights group focused on women in Cuba.

And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, an outspoken critic of the administration's Cuba policy, is bringing a dissident whose father was allegedly killed by the Cuban government for engaging in pro-democracy activism. "While I disagree with the president's new Cuba policy, I hope Rosa María Payá's presence on Tuesday night will at least remind him that her father's murderers have not been brought to justice, and that the U.S. is now, in fact, sitting at the table with them," Rubio said in a statement.

For his part, President Obama invited Alan Gross, an American who spent five years in a Cuban prison before his release last month, to attend the speech. The Obama administration's diplomacy led to Gross's release, which marked a turning point in U.S.-Cuba relations: a move toward normalized relations after more than fifty years of hostility.

While Boehner's and Rubio's guests call attention to the unresolved wrongdoings of the Cuban regime, Obama's decision to invite Gross to the event highlights a tangible benefit of rapprochement with Cuba—here, the release of a long-held prisoner.

With their combative guest lists, Boehner and Rubio are indicating that Republicans, now in control of both chambers of Congress, are ready to fight the administration over the thawing of relations. Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said last week he's preparing for "a robust set of hearings" on the administration's policy, kicking off what promises to be one of the most heated debates of Obama's final two years in office.