Top Democrats Break With Clinton on Gonzalez Case

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Some leading Congressional Democrats who normally back President Clinton's policies are now breaking ranks with him regarding the case of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the center of an international custody battle.

House Government Reform and Operations Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, asking her not to circumvent judicial proceedings in the Elian Gonzalez case.

The legislators asked the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to respect the Florida State Court's jurisdiction in the matter, saying that any "attempt to enforce the INS's decision without awaiting a ruling from the court would be a serious mistake."

Republicans signing the letter include House Republican Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL), Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT), and Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-ID).

In addition to the Republicans signing the letter, Burton was jointed by the following Democrats: Sen. Bob Torricelli of New Jersey; Rep. Bob Menendez of New Jerse; Rep. Patrick Kennedy of RI; Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida; and Rep. Martin Frost of Texas.

Frost, during the 105th Congress, voted in favor of ending CubanTV-Marti broadcasts, a service of the United States Information Agency. The station broadcasts news of the United States into Cuba, despite attempts by Cuban President Fidel Castro to jam the signal. Kennedy and Deutsch also voted in favor of ending CubanTV-Marti broadcasts during the 105th Congress.

The bipartisan lawmakers want to make sure that the Justice Department will not ignore the court ruling in an attempt to send 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba before his case is decided in a Florida court.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Burton said the chairman had spoken with INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, who would not make a commitment to respect the Florida court's jurisdiction. Although the INS contends that it still has jurisdiction in the case, it said Tuesday that it would extend the Friday deadline it had set for returning the boy to his father in Cuba.

"We ask that you make a public commitment that the Justice Department will take no action to return Elian to Cuba until he has had the opportunity to exercise all of the legal options available to him. We do not believe that there is any justification for an attempt to short circuit the judicial process. By publicly stating that you will take no action until judicial review of this matter has run its course, you will reduce the public anxiety that has surrounded this entire process and reinforce that, in the United States, the rule of law is paramount," the letter said.

Florida Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez on Monday, issued a temporary protective order so Elian Gonzalez's case will be heard in that court in March.

President Clinton has said he thinks that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba, a view that Attorney General Janet Reno has endorsed.