MENENDEZ GETS THE CUBA DEBATE OFF TO A BAD START…. Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) push on U.S policy towards Cuba is a reminder of how frustrating the foreign policy debate has been for far too long.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a strong supporter of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is launching a full-on battle this week to remove several provisions from the 2009 government spending bill that would open a small crack in the slammed door of relations with Havana.

Menendez fired a broadside at the Obama administration yesterday for backing a provision buried in the $410 billion spending bill, which must become law by next week in order to keep the government running. The New Jersey senator, a Cuban-American, objects to language in the bill that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year and end limits on the sale of American food and medicines in Cuba. […]

The WaPo reports today that the senator has held up two Obama science nominees in an attempt to twist the arms of his fellow Dems.

Menendez supports a policy that hasn’t worked after decades of trying. That’s his right. But President Obama ran on a campaign platform that vowed to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, and managed to do quite well with Cuban-American voters. (Indeed, most Cuban Americans support lifting the counterproductive embargo.)

But Menendez isn’t just making his case to continue with a failed policy, he’s now blocking two White House nominees — Obama’s choices to be the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — to get the senators’ attention on his Cuba-related concerns.

So, to summarize, Menendez supports Obama’s nominees, but won’t let the Senate vote on them until after he’s done complaining about a subtle change in a foreign policy that hasn’t worked after more than five decades of attempts.

Changing the U.S. policy towards Cuba is long overdue. Menendez’s stunt gets the broader policy debate off to a discouraging start.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.