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Dem Congresswomen Who Criticized Sanders over Cuba Remarks Skip Vote to Condemn

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment of President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, December 17, 2019. (Patrick Semansky/Pool via Reuters)

Two Democratic congresswomen from Florida who called out Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders earlier this week over his comments praising aspects of late Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro declined to participate Thursday in a vote to formally condemn the 2020 frontrunner’s remarks.

Representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, both representing districts at the southern tip of Florida with large Cuban-American populations, were absent for a House vote to bring to the floor an amendment disapproving of Sanders’s comments praising Castro’s health care system and literacy program.

The House voted 224 to 189 to reject a procedural motion to immediately consider the measure, effectively tanking the resolution. Both congresswomen were marked as not voting.

“I’m hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro,” Shalala, who previously served as secretary of Health and Human Services, wrote in a Sunday tweet.

“I find Senator Bernie Sanders’s comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable,” Mucarsel-Powell agreed in her own tweet.

“The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families,” the Miami congresswoman added. “To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society.”

However, on Thursday, Mucarsel-Powell accused Republicans of politicizing the vote to condemn Sanders, saying GOP members “attempted to use an underhanded maneuver to derail an important public health bill to protect our children from a vaping epidemic.”

“It is shameful that they attempted to create a false choice between standing with the Cuban community and a generation of children whose health is at risk,” she continued.

In a video clip from the 1980s, Sanders claims that part of the reason the Cuban people did not help the U.S. overthrow Castro’s regime was because the authoritarian leader provided them with health care and education.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” the Vermont senator said Sunday on CBS when confronted with the decades-old comments. He went on to praise Castro’s “massive literacy program,” saying, “Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?”

Later during Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate, Sanders doubled down on his remarks, even invoking similar comments by former president Barack Obama.

“What Barack Obama said was they made great progress on education and health care,” Sanders said from the debate stage.

Thursday’s resolution would have rebuked Sanders for his comments “disregarding the history of systemic human rights abuses, forced indoctrination, and authoritarian actions of the literacy and education policies of the communist Castro dictatorship in Cuba.”

The resolution was led by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican and a nephew by marriage of Castro who has heavily criticized the communist regime.

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