It makes sense that as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Tom Harkin would want to check out how other countries are doing when it comes to public health. So he spent last week in Cuba, where he saw all sorts of things that made quite the impression on him.
Cuba is a "poor country, but they have a lower child mortality rate than ours," the Iowa Democrat said to reporters Wednesday. "Their life expectancy is now greater than ours. It's interesting—their public health system is quite remarkable."
Harkin, who made a 186-mile trek over the course of three days, also cited low infection rates in Cuban hospitals and the country's success in reducing smoking among citizens through public health campaigns.
Harkin has been to Cuba before. In 2003, he visited and called on Cuba to release 75 dissidents there. Indeed, other congressional lawmakers have traveled to the Caribbean island, which hasn't had diplomatic relations with the U.S. since 1959. The most recent high-profile visit came in 2009 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to Cuba and met with Fidel Castro.
Such visits are kosher. Harkin is no Beyonce and Jay Z, who made a Cuba trip last year as a cultural visit but ended up sparking all sorts of congressional outrage because it looked a lot like tourism—and that's prohibited.