Mucarsel-Powell said she opposes “comments that show an ounce of sympathy for violent dictators.” Like Shalala, however, she declined to criticize Bass directly.
Bass’ congressional office stood by her 2016 remarks about Castro’s death, when she said, “I wish to express my condolences to the Cuban people and the family of Fidel Castro. The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba. I hope together, our two nations will continue on the new path of support and collaboration with one another, and continue in the new direction of diplomacy.”
A spokesman for Bass told POLITICO in a written statement that the comments underscore how she had “long been an advocate for improved relations with Cuba, which is why she traveled to Cuba with Secretary Kerry in 2015 when he raised the US flag over our embassy in Havana; and separately with President Obama for his historic visit in early 2016. Her condolence statement, which like President Obama’s and Secretary [of State John] Kerry’s statements called for relations to continue in the then-new path of support and collaboration, is consistent with her belief in the power of diplomacy to forge better relations among nations, even in the face of fundamental disagreements with their governments and leaders.”
The night before commenting to POLITICO, the California congresswoman’s office briefly took down the comments from her website. When the site went live again, it featured Kerry’s and Obama’s remarks as well.
President Donald Trump’s campaign said in a written statement that the controversy with Bass was “further evidence that Joe Biden’s pool of potential VP candidates is an ever-shrinking group of radical leftists who look approvingly at brutal, socialist, totalitarian regimes. The names on this list are walking, talking proof that Biden is too weak to stand up to the most extreme fringe of his party, including people who remember Fidel Castro fondly.”
Miami Democrats say there’s a distinction between Bass’s remarks and those of Obama and Kerry: the use of the phrase “comandante en jefe” which to many Cuban-Americans sounds like a term of endearment.
“His followers called him comandante en jefe so they didn’t have to call him ‘G-d’ in public, and his detractors so they didn’t have to call him ‘El Diablo’ in public, too,” state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami-area Democrat and Colombian-American, said via text message.
“As someone that was thoroughly vetted before, I can tell you that words matter, especially if you put them in writing,” said Taddeo, who ran for lieutenant governor in the state in 2014. “As a running mate, there are consequences to what you say and write, especially in Florida, where no matter what the polls say today, our state will be decided by less than one point.”
Taddeo isn’t on the ballot, but Fernandez and state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez are. Democrats are four seats away from winning control of the Florida Senate. A fourth Miami-area seat, held by a Cuban-American Republican, is up in 2022, when the Florida legislature begins the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Fernandez and Rodriguez, who has been a surrogate for Biden’s campaign, both said Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy on standing up to socialist regimes after Sen. Marco Rubio’s longtime friend, former Rep. David Rivera, inked a lucrative deal with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and Trump’s refusal to grant temporary protected status to Venezuelans as he began turning his back on Juan Guaidó, once recognized by the administration as Venezuela’s legitimate leader over Nicolas Maduro.
“I trust Vice President Biden’s search and vetting process,” Rodriguez said. “Just like we condemn Trump’s abandonment of Guaidó, the legitimate democratic leader of Venezuela, in favor of usurper and dictator Maduro and just like we condemn David Rivera working for Maduro, so do we condemn statements made by Rep. Bass that fail to repudiate the brutal oppression of communism and the Castro regime.”