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Obama Announces Major Shift In Cuba Policy; Rubio Blasts U.S. Policy Shift Towards Cuba; Interview with Congressional Delegation Members

Aired December 17, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. It's also 1:00 p.m. in Havana, 6:00 p.m. in London, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, breaking news, a dramatic shift in U.S. relations with Cuba and the release of a U.S. citizen held by the Cuban government for five years. We're going to hear from that freed American, Alan Gross. He's going to be speaking live right during this hour. We'll have live coverage of his remarks. He's now back here in the United States.

Gross' release is part of a landmark deal. It paved the way for the most sweeping overhaul of U.S.-Cuba policy, U.S.-Cuba relations since the 1961 revolution and the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

In a speech just a little while ago, President Obama said the policy of isolating Cuba has not worked and it's now time to chart a whole new course.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba. This is fundamentally about freedom and openness and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.

With the changes I'm announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. And Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. Nobody represents America's values better than the American people. And I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.


BLITZER: The Cuban president, Raul Castro, also spoke exactly at the same time as President Obama. He also spoke about the effort to improve relations with the United States. Both presidents thanked Pope Francis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT, CUBA (translator): This (INAUDIBLE) by President Obama, this has the respect and recognition of our people. I want to thank and recognize the support of the Vatican and especially Pope Francis for the improvement of relationships between Cuba and the United States.


BLITZER: Let's get some more background now on Alan Gross. He was jailed in Cuba back in 2009 while working as a subcontractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was convicted of crimes against the Cuban state. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Alan Gross is in declining health. He's lost more than 100 pounds during his time in prison in Cuba.

Let's get some more details now on the release of Alan Gross and the dramatic overhaul of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN's Patrick Oppmann, he's the only U.S. network correspondent reporting from Havana.

Jim, let me start with you. President Obama, he actually spoke yesterday with the Cuban president, Raul Castro, for, what, about 45 minutes? President Obama was in the Oval Office. That's the first time an American president has had such a substantive conversation with a Cuban leader in, what, more than 50 years?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I -- and I think it is a sign that the cold war with Cuba is over. And that is what President Obama announced just a few moments ago here at the White House. The president culminating a deal that has been in the works since June of 2013. Senior administration officials held a conference call with reporters earlier today laying out sort of how this all went down.

The deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, along with other administration officials have been working on this for months. Flying up to Canada, meeting with Cuban officials in Canada. And then, apparently, throughout this entire process, Pope Francis was involved. Pope Francis sending letters to both President Obama and Cuban leader, Raul Castro, last fall, urging them to make this happen.

And, Wolf, I was traveling with the president back in April earlier this year when the president went to the Vatican, met with Pope Francis. I asked President Obama about his meeting with Pope Francis, and he did not divulge that the two leaders had talked about Cuba. But, in fact, according to senior administration officials, during that meeting, the pope and President Obama did talk about this initiative with respect to normalizing relations with Cuba.

So, this has been going on for months and months and it ended today with this what is really, objectively speaking, a blockbuster diplomatic agreement for this administration. I think the timing of this is very interesting, Wolf, in that it happened after the midterms as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Menendez, a Cuban American and a fierce critic of the Castro government, a fierce supporter of the embargo, as he is handing over the gavel to Bob Corker, the Senator from Tennessee.

Perhaps this administration saw that things were starting to change, from a political standpoint up on Capitol Hill that, really, the Cuban American leaders up in Congress couldn't really do anything to stop this. And so, really, the White House had a green light to move forward here.

One other thing I do want to point out in listening to this background call with senior administration officials, this is not lifting the embargo. This is not ending the travel ban. Americans will not be able to go to Orbitz or Travelocity and buy plane tickets to Cuba. They're going to have to go through these third party travel agencies to buy tickets, to plan travel to Cuba. You can't go to the store -- you won't be able to go to the store and buy Cuban cigars. People will be able to travel to Cuba and bring back Cuban cigars, legally up to $100 worth, but they won't be able to go to a cigar shop in the United States and buy Cuban cigars off the shelves. That still is banned under the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

But no question about it, a major, major step forward in the relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It is the beginning of normalization with this communist island -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's go to Havana right now. Our correspondent there is Patrick Oppmann, once again, the only U.S. television network correspondent on the scene in Cuba for us. And you've been there for a while, Patrick. Give us your perspective. This is a huge historic moment in the U.S.- Cuban relationship.

PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've been coming to Cuba for nearly 20 years and there's never been a day like this that I've experienced here. Cubans only just found out in the last hour when Raul Castro when on Cuban state T.V. and he made this announcement that this was even happening. That there had been a prisoner exchange, that there had been this major, major step towards normalization.

And while we were doing live shots here, our cameraman, Rabiaz (ph), was out going into people's homes and watching them as we were seeing this announcement. Took them completely by surprise. He told me people had tears in their eyes, that literally broke down. You have to think, Wolf, that most people in Cuba were born after the Cuban revolution took power. They've never known a day in their lives without the Cuban embargo. And they just -- many of them gave up hope years ago that something like this could ever happen.

As that announcement took place, of course you heard Raul Castro thank Pope Francis for his very, very active role in making this agreement happen. We heard church bells all throughout Havana and, presumably, all throughout Cuba ringing, marking a historic day on the island -- Wolf. BLITZER: Patrick Oppmann, I want you to stand by. We're going to come back to you. Critics certainly are already hammering President Obama and his administration over the move toward normalizing relations with Cuba. One of those critics is Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He's calling it outrageous, counterproductive.

Senator Rubio is joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator Rubio, thanks very much for joining us. What do you say to the president who says if the United States could have normal diplomatic commercial ties with a communist regime in China, with a communist regime in Vietnam, with other repressive regimes around the world, why not with a neighbor only 90 miles away from the United States?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, I would make two points. That actually makes my point. We do have normal relations with Vietnam and with China and it's done nothing to bring freedom and democracy in either of those two places. The regime in China is as repressive as it's ever been. And it can -- and that's -- if it hasn't worked on a country like China, how -- which is bigger and more difficult to control, just imagine what the Cuban regime will be able to do with these unilateral changes. They're going to take all the benefits of these concessions and none of them are going to reach the Cuban people.

And it's heartbreaking to hear that report from Havana of Cubans crying and weeping because they think something good is coming. The Cuban government, unfortunately, is going to manipulate all these changes to tighten their grip on power. I know the true nature of this regime. And I think this president is being woefully ignorant of the truth or just naive.

BLITZER: Because the argument that they're making is if a whole lot of Americans start visiting Cuba now, speaking with average Cubans on a day-to-day basis, going to the hotels, going to their shops, driving around in taxis, inevitably, it's going to ease a lot of the oppressive nature of that regime.

RUBIO: Well, how -- there's no precedent for that in human history. Tourists are interested in going to the beach, not in furthering democracy. You're not going to see any of that happening there. Tourists travel all over the world and it didn't -- it doesn't change the nature of the governments that control those countries. What it will do is provide an extraordinary amount of new revenue for the Cuban government, so they can make themselves a permanent fixture forever.

You know what's outrageous is all these concessions the president made, the banking, now people are going to be able to use ATM cards there, the opening up of telecommunications, companies going in, diplomatic relations being re-established. And in exchange for all that, the Cuban government didn't agree to freedom of the press, freedom of the organizing alternative political parties, they didn't agree to elections or any sort of Democratic opening. The only thing they agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners who could be right back in jail next week if they, once again, take up the cause of freedom and democracy. BLITZER: What about the release of this U.S. spy, a Cuban national

who helped the United States, had been in prison for 20 years in Cuba? He is now freed. We're told he's back here in the United States. And, of course, Alan Gross who spent five years in a Cuban prison for simply trying to improve Internet access for the tiny Jewish community in Havana.

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I'm glad that Alan Gross is back home. I haven't criticized that aspect of it. I'm glad that this individual who's cooperated with our government is back home. And as the president himself said, those issues were completely unrelated, he had said this, to all the other things that have happened.

But let me make one point. The president, today in his statement, said that the reason why the Cuban people don't have access to advanced telecommunications is because of the Cuban embargo. That's patently false. The reason why they don't have access to advanced 21st century telecommunications is because it's illegal in Cuba. And that's why Alan Gross was supposedly taken hostage. It was because he was providing telecommunication equipment to a Jewish community. So, again, this is just one untrue statement after another.

BLITZER: The president also makes the case, and many supporters of an improved relationship with Cuba make the same point, that for 50 years the U.S. had the embargo, the sanctions, tried to isolate Cuba and that regime, that Castro regime, first with Fidel now with his brother, Raul. They're still in power. They're still oppressive. The policies of successive Democratic and Republican administrations over the years simply have not worked and it's time for a change. Your response.

RUBIO: My response is then we should lift sanctions on Russia because it hasn't gotten them out of Crimea. We should lift the sanctions that were just imposed on Venezuela, because they haven't agreed to stop abusing human rights. What the -- what the United States -- we, as a nation, and our moral standing in the world is based on one fundamental principle and that is a respect for human dignity, human rights, democracy and freedom.

And we back it up with sanctions because we're a large, powerful and important country. We impose sanctions against those that violate these principles. They are already in place in Cuba. Why would we lift them? And it's ironic, Wolf, that a week ago, we passed sanctions against government officials in Venezuela for human rights' violations. A week later, we are lifting sanctions on the very government that has taught the Venezuelans how to -- how to oppress their own people and commit these atrocities.

BLITZER: Yes, with the Cuban revolution in 1959, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Cuba in 1961 and it's gone on ever since.

So, one final question, Senator, before I let you go. I know your speaking out vociferously. You hate this decision by President Obama, what he did today. But, practically speaking, if the United States, under his administration, he's still got two years in office, wants to establish an embassy in Havana, let the Cubans have an embassy here in Washington, what, practically speaking, can you do to prevent that?

RUBIO: Well, it's my understanding, and I hope the president understands this, that any embassy that decides to open any in the world -- anywhere in the world, it has to be funded. I think he's going to have a heck of a fight on his hands to get it funded, as long as I'm in the U.S. Senate. And then the embassy would supposedly have a U.S. ambassador. And I can tell you, we're going to have some very interesting conversations with the White House about how they're going to get an ambassador nominated, as long as I'm here.

BLITZER: And you're going to stay on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So, just to be precise, Senator, what you're saying is you will vote against the confirmation of any nominee, any U.S. ambassador that the president designates to go to Havana, is that what you're saying?

RUBIO: Not only would I vote against it but I reserve the right to do everything within the rules of the Senate to prevent that sort of individual from ever even coming up for a vote.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Rubio, thanks very much for joining us.

RUBIO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Marco Rubio is the senator from Florida. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Alan Gross, by the way, the American contractor who spent five years in a Cuban jail, he is expected to speak in about 15, 20 minutes or so, make a statement here in Washington. We're going to have live coverage of that. His wife, Judy, is with him at the same time.

Also, two people who worked very, very hard to get Alan Gross' release, their thoughts and perspective. Our live coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: Once again, we're only moments away, we're getting ready to hear from Alan Gross, the American contractor who is now back in the United States. He's actually back here in Washington, D.C., after five years of captivity, spent five years in a Cuban prison. He was flown out today with two U.S. senators, one U.S. member of the House of Representatives on board that U.S. military plane that flew from Havana to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C.

By the way, we're going to be speaking with those three lawmakers, Senator Leahy, Senator Flake, Representative Chris Van Hollen momentarily. Going to get their eyewitness account, what it was like in Havana on that plane as they flew back to the United States.

Let's talk about this dramatic new shift in U.S./Cuban relations right now, what it means. Joining us are CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, she's joining us from Miami, and here with me in Washington, our CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Pretty strong, Jim Sciutto, statement from Marco Rubio. You heard how

angry he is about this decision that President Obama made to improve relations with Fidel Castro. We heard a statement from Raul Castro, the president of Cuba, also welcoming this improved U.S./Cuban relationship. He basically threatened that as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he will vote against confirming anyone to be a United States ambassador to Havana and he will oppose any funding for a U.S. embassy in Havana.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, and it's a point of view that's not confined to the Republican Party. You have Democratic senators who are very opposed to this as well. Robert Menendez, though he's outgoing, et cetera.

I mean Americans may not realize this, but there are already a number - a great number of American diplomats in Cuba right now. There's an American intercept section there. There's an ambassador's house. There's a big U.S. embassy right on the waterfront there that the Cubans have very cleverly surrounded with bullhorns and flags. When you go there and visit, you see that very clearly. So, you know, you already have a presence there that you could begin this reengagement, even if you don't have approval from a Republican-led Congress. That's something to keep in mind.

But, you know, listen, this is a dramatic risk by the Obama administration. Think of it, you have a phone call between the American president and the leader of an adversary that you haven't had contact with for decades. You have secret negotiations going on in a third country. And lo and behold you have a reengagement with a country that you'd been at odds with for years. It's very much like the Iran scenario. And the Iran scenario has shown us both the benefits of that, you have ongoing nuclear negotiations, but also the risks, those nuclear negotiations have not come to a conclusion, bad things still happening inside of Iran. Iran's another country that doesn't treat its people very well. So this is legacy-building for the Obama administration, but it's risky legacy-building and it's one that hasn't - we don't have the final chapter of this, certainly on Iran and we're a good year and a few months into that, so it remains to be seen where it goes with Cuba.

One more thing I just might mention. In the Iran talks, it was Oman that was the key third party where you had those secret, high-level negotiations leading up to the phone call. In this case it was Canada, just across the border, playing that key role.

BLITZER: Because Canada's had full diplomatic relations with Cuba for years, open contact, as every other country in North America and South America have had with Cuba.

It's clear to me, Elise, having covered this president now, he's been in office for six years, he's wanted to do this from day one but it's taken a long time and I think that five-year captivity of Alan Gross, that was a major impediment. But he wanted to go down in history as the American president who normalized relations with Cuba, just as Richard Nixon was the American president who normalized relations with China. ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and he pledged to engage Iran, he pledged to engage Cuba. You saw with Iran that election in 2009 and the crackdown of the Iranian opposition, that stopped him there. Clearly Alan Gross stopped him on Cuba. The president had taken some actions toward Cuba, modifying some of the travel restrictions in 2011. And then Alan Gross happened.

So the president -- obviously this has been a hold-up. But the president has been seeing, and members of the administration, some small reforms on the island, some economic liberalization. Some small political reforms that the administration is saying, listen, the embargo is not working, if we want to encourage reforms in Cuba, we need to open up, we need to engage not just with the Cuban people, with the Cuban government. And that's what the president was talking about.

And, listen, the president acknowledged here that the administration is alone on this issue. Not only was Canada and the Europeans really pushing, the Vatican pushing for the U.S. to move forwards normalizing relations, but everybody in the western hemisphere, except the United States, was looking for Cuba to be integrated into the region. And when we talk about President Obama going to this Summit of the Americas in Panama, basically the message to President Obama was, no Cuba, no summit. So clearly the president thought this was the moment to continue to try and push these further reforms.

BLITZER: All right, I want everybody to stand by. Ana, stand by. Evan, stand by.

Right now I want to go up to Capitol Hill. Joining us, the three members of the congressional delegation that went to Havana this morning and accompanied Alan Gross back to the United States. Joining us now, Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic congressman from Maryland, Alan Gross lives in his district. He's in Rockville, Maryland. Senator Patrick Leahy is joining us from Vermont, and Republican Senator Jeff Flake. So we've got a Democratic senator, a Republican senator, we've got a Democratic congressman.

Senator Leahy, I'll start with you. You're the veteran there. You must be pretty thrilled about this decision by the president to normalize relations with Cuba.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I'm very thrilled with it. I've talked with the president many, many times about this over the past few years. Like my two colleagues who are here, we've gone to Cuba numerous times, met with Alan Gross when he was down there. But what I kept telling the president, obviously we wanted to do everything we could to get Mr. Gross out. We also have to think, what is in the long-term best interest of the United States? And I think normalization with Cuba is in our best interest. We look foolish to the rest of the world, the most powerful nation on earth acting as though somehow we're afraid to allow U.S. citizens to go to Cuba. They're not going to change overnight. But they certainly aren't going to change if we continue our embargo.

BLITZER: Senator Flake, you're a Republican. A bunch of -- we heard Marco Rubio, he hates this decision by the president. Where do you stand in terms of trying to normalize U.S./Cuban relations?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, I've been in Congress, in the House and the Senate, for 14 years now and all 14 of those years I've pushed to lift the travel ban and to normalize relations. I think that our policy has done more to keep the Castros in power than anything. And so I think it's high time for a change. Fifty years is long enough and that we ought to do this and do whatever we can so that ordinary Cubans can have more control of their destiny. And this does that by allowing Americans to travel and more commerce, more contact. This is a good thing.

BLITZER: Congressman Van Hollen, tell us what it was like. You flew to Havana early in the morning, what, about 4:00 a.m. and then you get Alan Gross, you pick him up, his wife, Judy, is on the plane coming back to Joint Base Andrews. First of all, what was your impression after five years in a Cuban jail? How is he doing, this American contractor?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, a very emotional moment. His wife, Judy, has dedicated the last five years tirelessly to try to bring Alan home. So you can imagine that moment at the airport in Havana when we first saw Alan. And he knew the moment had come to bring him home.

He was elated. A big smile on his face. And, of course, on the airplane back, as we finally crossed into U.S. airspace, you saw him give a big hoorah, put his arms up. He was clearly glad to be home.

I should also say that after having spent five years in Cuban prison, he knows how important it is to be free. And he believes that the president's policy will over time lead to more freedom for the Cuban people for the reasons my colleagues have said. That the current 54- year-old policy has been a miserable failure by its own standard that we set to try and reform and open Cuba. This policy of engagement will do more than that failed policy. And that's Alan Gross' view after having spent five years in a Cuban prison.


BLITZER: All right, these are live pictures or - hold on a second. All right, we're showing our viewers, this is Alan Gross and his wife, Judy. They've arrived at this office building here in Washington, D.C. They're going to be going up to their lawyer's office, making a statement. We're going to have live coverage of that coming up.

But here you see Alan Gross getting into the elevator, together with the entourage, the people who have brought him, his wife, Judy, who's worked for five years plus to try to get her husband out of that Cuban jail. You see - you see that he's lost a lot of weight.

Senator Leahy, you visited him before. I interviewed him a couple of years ago in that Cuban prison and he told me then, and I was shocked when I heard it, he had lost 100 pounds in that Cuban jail and he was described as very frail.

LEAHY: I think that's (INAUDIBLE). But he's, you know, you keep on doing exercises, push-ups and everything else in his - in his cell. I did notice a difference the last time I visited him that I was thinking, we've got to get this man out of here. You say he's going to his lawyer, Scott Hilbert (ph), who's superb and has worked tirelessly on this.

But the other thing I think I remember, we were flying there and watching some of the news on the airplane. And I said, you know, Alan, you're free. And he got up and he threw his arms around me, hugged me. He said, Patrick, I finally know I'm free. And we were both shaking, very, very emotional, as it should be. Now let's take the next steps forward to make all the time he spent there, all the effort on his behalf, let's make it worthwhile for the future of our country and of Cuba's.

BLITZER: Senator Flake, what was your impression? Because we spoke with his wife, Judy, a few weeks ago and she was afraid she would never see her husband again. She thought he was actually dying in that Cuban jail, losing sight in one eye, having all sorts of other problems. But he looked pretty good, at least in the video that we're showing our viewers right now here in the United States and around the world. But you spent three hours on that plane with him. Give us your impressions, Senator Flake.

FLAKE: Well, he was ready to come home. I met with him a month ago myself and Senator Tom Udall in Havana, in the Cuban prison. And at that point, he was at wits end. And he had said many times, I've spent my last birthday here. Either I go home or I go home another way. And so he was really at wits end. And so this was a welcome thing for him. And I share my colleagues view that it was just very emotional. And it's great to have him home.

BLITZER: What do you say, Senator Flake, to your Republican colleague, Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that anyone that the president nominates to be the United States ambassador to Havana, to Cuba, he will vote against it. He doesn't want to have a U.S. ambassador in Havana, and any funding to establish a formal U.S. embassy in Havana, he will vote against any funding for a U.S. embassy in Havana. What do you say, Senator Flake, to Senator Rubio?

FLAKE: Well, he has very strongly held views on this. I respect those views. But I disagree. I think that, you know, we have a U.S. interest section in Cuba and we ought to have an embassy. We ought to have normalized relations. And that would do better to protect Americans who are there. It would be better for -- just to have a U.S. presence there, an official U.S. presence. So I would simply disagree and would hope that my colleagues would share my view.

BLITZER: Is most of your -


BLITZER: Hold on one second. Senator Leahy, one second for one follow- up for Senator Flake.

LEAHY: Sure. BLITZER: There are going to be 54 Republicans in the next United States Senate. How do they divide up, your Republican colleagues, the 54? Are more of them with Senator Rubio, you think, or more of them with you?

FLAKE: You know, I don't know. We'll see in the coming weeks. We haven't really had a test vote, if you will, on Cuba, or a travel policy, for a number of years. And I think more than half of the Senate is in its first six years. So it's really unknown at this point. But I would hope that my colleagues would realize it's been 50 years. It's time to move on and have a policy that actually has a better chance of improving the lives of ordinary Cubans.

BLITZER: What about among the Democrats, Senator Leahy? You've got Bob Menendez, who's the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee himself, like Senator Rubio, a Cuban-American. He doesn't like this improvement either.

LEAHY: Well, of course, there's going to be some, for whatever reason, for politics back home or how they feel will be opposed to this. But let's stop and think what's in the best interest of the United States, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. Are we going to say, oh, we don't like you, so we're not going to put an embassy in there, we're not going to be in a position where we may help to change things and we're not going to be in a position where we can help Americans who are spending time in your country? I think that would be really, really foolish.

If you're a U.S. citizen, you're in another country and suddenly you need help, you expect to be able to go to the U.S. embassy. And we say, no, we have a few people in Congress who don't like this country. So there's nobody here you can go to. It just doesn't work that way. You don't get to pick and choose. We're in countries where we don't agree -- we don't agree with the Chinese form of government. We don't agree with Russia's form of government. But I think everybody from the business community to the academic community think we're out of our mind if we pulled our embassies out of those countries.

BLITZER: A final thought from you, Congressman Van Hollen. You agree with Senator Leahy, I assume?

VAN HOLLEN: I do. This was a very emotional moment, obviously, for Alan Gross and his family and our community in Maryland. I've been proud to represent the family. I knew Alan before he was taken prisoner in Cuba. So this is a great day for Alan Gross and the Gross family. It's also a very important day in American-Cuban relations trying to turn the page on 54 years of clearly failed policies to try to actually open up Cuba so the Cuban people have more freedom and more opportunity.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic Congressman from Maryland; Jeff Flake, the Republican Senator from Arizona; Patrick Leahy, the Democratic Senator from Vermont, who were on that plane from Havana to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., today, together with Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, bringing him home after five years being held in a Cuban jail. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.