House Republicans will try to force a procedural vote on legislation this week condemning Sen. Bernie Sanders’ praise of Fidel Castro’s literacy initiatives, aiming to capitalize on Democratic angst over the presidential frontrunner’s comments.
On Thursday, the GOP plans to offer an amendment disapproving of Sanders’ recent interview on “60 minutes,” during which the Vermont independent lauded Castro’s literacy programs and argued it’s “unfair to simply say everything [in Cuba] is bad.” The language is expected to chastise Sanders for ignoring systematic human rights abuses committed by Castro’s communist regime.
The chief sponsor of the proposal is Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a Cuban American and longtime Castro critic whose family fled the regime; his aunt also was Casto’s first wife. Díaz-Balart’s district is home to 335,000 constituents of Cuban descent.
When announcing the plan, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats have a choice: “Do they stand with Bernie or do they stand for freedom?”
The resolution could put vulnerable Democrats — who have broken with their party on GOP procedural votes before — in a tough spot. Several Democratic lawmakers have slammed Sanders for his remarks, and there is growing concern Sanders could cost them key Senate and House races as well as their quest for the White House if he becomes their presidential nominee.
But there is also a desire among Democrats to show party unity, especially as Sanders has emerged as a frontrunner in the primary.
"Whatever the atmosphere is — and I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president — we wholeheartedly embrace that person," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her members during a closed-door caucus meeting on Wednesday.
Still, several Democrats have openly expressed discomfort with Sanders’ sympathetic comments toward Castro, which are fueling broader concern about whether his brand of democratic socialism will be an easy sell in key swing states like Florida.
"As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders' comments on Castro's Cuba absolutely unacceptable," tweeted freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), who flipped a GOP-held district in 2018.
Even Democratic lawmakers outside Florida have sought to distance themselves from Sanders.
“Stalin doubled literacy in the Soviet Union, even as he murdered tens of millions of people. Apologists for dictatorship - Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia - always say ‘they do some bad things, and some good things.’ It's a way of making them seem just like us. It's utterly wrong,” tweeted freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who also represents a swing district.
Sanders has also come under fire from Democrats for other foreign policy positions, including his decision to boycott the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he has accused of “bigotry.”
"Senator Sanders owes an immediate apology for his appalling comments about AIPAC and those who believe deeply in the US-Israel relationship — a strategic alliance that is key in the fight against terror," tweeted centrist Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).