Two senators say politics are at play in the State Department's announcement that the human trafficking situations in Malaysia and Cuba are improving.
On Monday, the State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report , bumping both nations from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List, allowing Malaysia to stay in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., pushed hard throughout the recent fast-track trade debate to strengthen human rights requirements against prospective trade partners, including Malaysia. Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast track, passed with a provision denying expedited congressional consideration of any trade deal with a country listed in Tier 3.
"The administration has turned its back on the victims of trafficking, turned a blind eye to the facts, and ignored the calls from Congress, leading human rights advocates, and Malaysian government officials to preserve the integrity of this important report," Menendez said in a statement, who noted his "profound disappointment" that the administration "elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights."
The report states that while Malaysia "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," it is "making significant efforts to do so."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also took issue with the report. The Cuban-American and 2016 presidential hopeful has been an outspoken critic of the Castro regime and of President Barack Obama's thawing of relations with the island.
"It is important that this report be a true reflection of the trafficking situation on the ground and that a country’s rating not be determined by political considerations but by the country’s record on this issue," Rubio said in a statement. "I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record."
Menendez has also been critical of Obama's policies towards Cuba and vowed to use all of the tools at his disposal to "challenge these upgrades."
"Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade," Menendez said. "As the State Department’s own report recognizes that there has been no progress on forced labor in Cuba, any upgrade of the country’s ranking challenges common sense."
See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.