Rep. Karen Bass disavowed Sunday her 2016 praise of Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, a comment that now jeopardizes her prospects as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s running mate, saying she “wouldn’t do that again.
The California Democrat made the rounds on the Sunday shows, pushing back against Sen. Marco Rubio’s warning last week that if she became vice president, she would be “the highest-ranking Castro sympathizer in the history of the United States government.”
“One, I don’t consider myself a Castro sympathizer,” said Ms. Bass on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Number two, my position on Cuba is really no different than the position of the Obama administration.”
She said she supported President Barack Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, but that she regretted describing the Marxist strongman as the “comandante en jefe,” or commander-in-chief, when he died in November 2016.
“I think the use of term ‘comandante en jefe’— what I meant by that is, clearly in Florida, that is a term that is endearing to him. I didn’t see it that way,” said Ms. Bass. “I was expressing condolences to the Cuban people, to the people in Cuba, not Cubans around the world.”
She told NBC host Chuck Todd that she changed her mind after discussing the issue with her colleagues representing Florida, where many Cuban exiles fled after Castro came to power in 1959.
“I don’t think that is a toxic expression in California, but let me just say, Chuck, lesson learned,” said Ms. Bass. “Wouldn’t do that again. Talked immediately to my colleagues from Florida and realized that that was something that just shouldn’t have been said.”
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 2, 2020
Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez accused Ms. Bass on a Saturday press call of being a Castro sympathizer, while the Trump campaign on its website called her “Castro-Loving Communist Karen Bass.”
She said she visited Cuba eight times in the 1970s, when she was in her teens and 20s, to “help the Cuban people” by building houses, as well as to meet with Americans who were there, and that she continues to work on health-care issues related to Cuba.
“Now that doesn’t excuse the fact that I know the Castro regime has been a brutal regime to its people, I know there’s not freedom of press, freedom of association,” she said.
She and other young Americans in Cuba “had the ability to come home and protest against our own government, but the Cuban people most certainly cannot do that, they couldn’t do it then and they can’t do it now.”
Mr. Todd pointed out that her tune on Castro had changed, saying that she once seemed to have a “soft view of Castro.”
“Congresswoman, I have to say that you sound a lot tougher on Castro now than when you described him as ‘comandante en jefe,’” said Mr. Todd.
Her November 2016 statement said, “The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba.”
Knowing what she knows now, however, “I absolutely would have not put that statement out, and I will tell you that after talking to my colleagues who represent the state of Florida, raised those concerns with me, lesson learned, would not do that again,” said Ms. Bass.
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