President Obama appears ready and even eager for a fight over naming the first ambassador to Cuba in over 50 years, a move that would no doubt further poison his relations with Senate Republicans right after a thaw with the passage of two key trade bills.

After announcing the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington, the White House signaled Wednesday that it intends to nominate an ambassador and wouldn't mind a very public — and undoubtedly intense — debate over the issue.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration has yet to lay out a timeline for an announcement of an ambassadorial nomination but left the impression that Obama intended to move forward with one.

"I'm confident that [the Senate] would be a venue for robust debate about how the policy changes that the president announced back in December aren't just clearly in the best interests of the American people, they're clearly in the best interests of the Cuban people as well," he told reporters Wednesday traveling with the president on a trip on Air Force One.

Long-time observers of Cuba suggest that the president could decide to avoid an entrenched battle over an ambassador nomination, especially when that ugly fight would occur at the same time the Senate is considering a possible nuclear deal with Iran, and Obama may need all the votes he can get.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relation Committee and is a key figure in the Iran talks, issued a statement Wednesday that expressed skepticism about Obama's claims that normalizing relations would help the Cuban people.

"While the administration's policy toward Cuba may have changed, we still have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance freedoms and circumstances for the Cuban people," he said. "We will continue to carefully evaluate the most appropriate way forward for the U.S.-Cuba relationship."

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst on the Western Hemisphere at the Cato Institute, said the budget for the U.S. mission in Havana, known as the U.S. Interests Section, has already been approved through 2017 so opening an official embassy there is as simple as changing the signage on the building.

Likewise, he said, the current head of the mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a 24-year veteran of the Foreign Service, has been in Havana since August 2014 and could simply remain in an acting position with no impact on his role there.

"I don't think we will have an official ambassador to Cuba anytime soon," he said, but that doesn't really hurt the embassy's ability to function.

DeLaurentis will have all the capabilities of an acting ambassador even if he has to wait for the title until Republicans lose the majority in the Senate, Hidalgo said.

The only problem, he added, would be a symbolic one — the Cuban people would know "that within the U.S. government there is a body that is blocking" him from becoming an official ambassador.

William LeoGrande, a Latin American expert and former dean of the American University's School of Public Affairs, brushed any major concerns aside about allowing DeLaurentis to remain in the job without a full ambassador rank.

Although he hopes Obama would move forward with naming an ambassador as quickly as possible, LeoGrande acknowledged that a number of political issues, including the status of the Iran agreement, will factor into the White House legislative strategists plans for Cuba.

"I'm sure they're already thinking about how to sequence these fights," he said.

"Under normal circumstances, I would say it would be very important," he said. "But the Cuban people are very well aware of the politics of the U.S. Congress and the conflicts between Obama and the congressional leadership there."

The Senate already confirmed DeLaurentis once before, in 2011, for a prominent United Nations post. He has served in Havana twice before, once in the early 1990s after beginning his career in the foreign service, and then again from 1998 to 2002.

"Even if he had to stay as chief of mission, I'm sure he would do a perfectly fine job of representing U.S. interests," LeoGrande said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Wednesday morning laid down the gauntlet in the likely fight over whomever Obama names for the top Cuban envoy post. He vowed to block the nomination as long as the administration continues to move forward with normalizing relations with the communist island nation without extracting major human rights or pro-democracy concessions.

Rubio, a Cuban American GOP candidate for president who has vehemently opposed the Obama administration's attempts to normalize diplomatic relations, argues that Obama is appeasing the Castro regime with his attempts to renew ties and not pushing for any concessions.

He named four areas where he wants the Obama administration to seek concessions from the Castro regime: political and human rights reforms, resolving outstanding property claims by U.S. citizens against the Cuban government, and the "unequivocal" lifting of restrictions on U.S. diplomats ability to meet with the island's dissidents.