(CNSNews.com) - President Bush is against lifting the ban on American travel to Cuba, even though the House voted 240-186 Wednesday to ease those restrictions as part of a Treasury Department appropriations bill.
The president thinks it's "important to send a strong message of standing strong against oppression in Cuba," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Thursday.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who sponsored the bill, said the measure to open up travel is one way to "get rid of" Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
"I am Castro's biggest critic, but the surest way to get rid of him is to open Cuba up," Flake said. "It represents a good compromise between those who would continue to isolate Cuba and those who would go so far as to lift the embargo completely."
The Castro government approved of the House vote, calling it "proof of the majority sentiment in American society."
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Cuba defends the right of American citizens to travel freely to Cuba, and that right has never been taken away by Cuba, only the United States.
Roque hopes the Senate, which is currently considering similar legislation, will pass similar legislation, but predicts that "extremist groups" would fight to block a Senate vote.
However, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who supports bettering ties with Cuba, said he is confident that similar legislation will pass through the Senate.
"I think it's important that we make these incremental moves," Daschle said. "I believe that it would be helpful for both countries to have a greater opportunity for travel and for visits of this kind."
But not everyone was so happy about the bill.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban exile and one of Castro's biggest critics in the House, wasn't happy with the passage of Flake's amendment, but believes the House reaffirmed its strong stance in favor the Cuban embargo.
"The embargo is not responsible for political prisoners, for the torture, for the assassinations, those are the work of the tyrannical Fidel Castro," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "I'm glad that my colleagues recognize that the cause of the suffering of the Cuban people is the regime, not U.S. policy.
"We still maintain a strong and united stance against doing business with a government that has no integrity yet which causes so much harm to its people," she said.
Though the bill passed a vote on the House floor, sources tell CNSNews.com that the portion of that appropriations bill dealing with Cuban travel could possibly be killed when it returns to the House legislative conference.
U.S. citizens have been prohibited from traveling to Cuba since 1960, unless they have a special license from the Treasury Department. Licenses are routinely granted to academics, journalists, government officials and people on humanitarian missions.