Florida’s two highest-ranking Cuban-American Republicans are preemptively attacking California Rep. Karen Bass, one of Joe Biden’s potential vice president picks, due to her past work in Fidel Castro’s Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a group that has organized annual trips to Cuba for left-leaning Americans since 1969.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez criticized Biden for including Bass on his shortlist and said picking her would hurt his electoral prospects with Hispanic voters in South Florida.
“A vote for a Biden-Bass ticket would be a slap in the face to all those Cuban dissidents and exiles who arduously worked for freedom,” Nuñez said on a press call organized by President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Biden’s campaign said Trump is trying to distract from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic by getting prominent surrogates to attack Bass.
“There is one presidential candidate who has failed to meaningfully condemn dictators and express a willingness to meet with brutal dictator Nicolas Maduro and that is Donald Trump,” Biden Florida spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a text message. “It is Donald Trump who failed to respond to this pandemic that is hurting Florida families as we saw another day of record deaths, and this is nothing but another attempt to distract from his failures.”
Bass first visited Cuba in 1973 with the brigade, continued to visit throughout the 1970s and returned three times in her capacity as a member of Congress to normalize relations with Havana. She joined President Barack Obama during his 2016 trip to the island and tweeted out a photo of herself from the Venceremos Brigade trip.
Bass’ longstanding work with Cuba was detailed in a recent Atlantic Magazine story.
Bass did not respond to a request for comment, but told the Atlantic she first traveled to Cuba because she was “a Black activist who was deeply concerned about what the activists are raising today: systemic racism.”
“We built houses during the day,” Bass said to the Atlantic. “But it was an opportunity for all of the various activists to get together.”
Rubio said Bass’ decision to travel with the Venceremos Brigade shows “a stunning amount of interest in the Castro regime that goes back three decades” and that her statement referring to Fidel Castro as “comandante en jefe,” or commander in chief, after his death in 2016, was not a misuse of words but a reflection of her sympathy toward Castro’s regime.
“Obviously this is something she’ll want to deflect from,” Rubio said. “I don’t believe in the last six decades there’s ever been someone considered for the vice presidency with this level of sympathy for the Castro regime. If, God forbid, Bass is elected Vice President she’ll be the highest ranking Castro sympathizer in the history of the U.S. government.”
Shortly after Rubio’s remarks, Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, who was born in Cuba, defended Bass and backed her for vice president.
“Like all communities, Cuban-Americans are not monolithic,” Valdés-Fauli said in a statement. “Having spoken to Karen, I can attest to her commitment to democracy. And having spent my entire life in service to my community in Florida, I know that they will embrace her when they have the opportunity to get to know her as I have. As someone who serves on Biden’s Mayor’s Committee, I believe the Biden-Bass ticket will win Florida. Together, Joe Biden and Karen Bass have the best governing experience to heal our nation, rebuild our economy, and restore America’s standing in the world.”
But other Democrats have cautioned that putting Bass on the ticket would hurt Biden in Florida. Biden said Friday that he’s delaying his vice president pick by one week. He was originally supposed to name a running mate the week of Aug. 1.
“For a lot of Hispanic voters in Florida, even Hispanic Democratic voters, it might very well be disqualifying,” Miami-based Democratic strategist and pollster Fernand Amandi said. “Part of the reason is Congresswoman Bass doesn’t seem to have expressed any remorse or contrition for those trips in the ‘70s and ‘80s to what was an undeniably totalitarian regime.”
And Bass is also under fire for praising the Church of Scientology at a 2010 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a Los Angeles facility.
“The Church of Scientology I know has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere,” Bass said in a video that was obtained by the Daily Caller on Friday. “The words are exciting of your founder, L. Ron Hubbard, in The Creed of the Church of Scientology: that all people of whatever race, color or creed, are created with equal rights.”
The Church of Scientology has been accused of abuse and intimidation.
Bass is one of about a dozen women Biden is considering for vice president. The shortlist also includes Florida Rep. Val Demings, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, among others.
But Amandi said Bass is the only candidate on the list who carries Florida-specific baggage.
“If the Republicans could pick any one of the names of the vice president shortlist, it would be Karen Bass without question,” Amandi said. “These are not invented biographical elements, they‘re acknowledged by Bass herself.”