Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) made a puzzling remark on Sunday during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet The Press” when asked about her prior comments on Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro – comments that threaten to derail her prospects as a potential running mate for Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket this November.
The segment comes after Bass was involved in leftist activism in communist Cuba in the 1970s and said in 2016, following the death of communist leader Fidel Castro, “the passing of the Comandante en Jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba.”
“There’s many people who believe that the Castro regime in general was keeping them confined, was stifling their freedom,” host Chuck Todd said to Bass. “That actually, getting rid of Castro might’ve been a celebration to some.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Bass responded. “And in the island, I think it’s slightly different because, you know, they certainly didn’t have the freedom and wouldn’t have the freedom to celebrate that.”
The congresswoman’s “yeah, maybe” remark was quickly clipped by the Trump campaign and posted online where it quickly went viral.
Chuck Todd: "There's many people who believe that the Castro regime…was stifling their freedom, that actually getting rid of Castro might have been a celebration to some."
Karen Bass: "Yeah. Maybe." pic.twitter.com/9n2fG54hWc
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) August 2, 2020
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA NBC NEWS:
CHUCK TODD: Let me turn to the issue of Cuba. A lot of people have turned to this issue with you as they’ve dug in. You spent some time there in the ’70s as a young activist, I believe, working with a group called the Venceremos Brigade, building houses in Cuba. You have rejected the idea that you were somehow celebrating the Castro regime. But looking back – do you look back on that and think you were a bit naïve?
REP. KAREN BASS: Oh, I think as any 19-year-old would be, sure. In my early twenties, I went to Cuba to help the Cuban people, to build houses. But over the last 20 years, Chuck, I have been working – one, I’ve always believed in bridging the divide between our two countries. Cuba’s 90 miles away. But for the last 20 years, I’ve actually been working on health care-related issues in Cuba. You know, the Cubans train U.S. doctors. And I’ve been recruiting those doctors to work in the inner city because they come in tuition free. The Cubans also have two medicines – one for diabetes, of which my mother died, for lung cancer, which my father died … and I would like to have those drugs tested in the United States. Now, that doesn’t excuse the fact that I know the Castro regime has been a brutal regime to its people. I know that there is not freedom of press, freedom of association. And interestingly, when I went in my late teens and early twenties, you know, one of the things that – one of the reasons was to build relations with the Americans that were there, because there were over 100 young people that were there, and all of us worked on different issues. Well, what’s interesting is that we 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.
CHUCK TODD: But Congresswoman, I have to say, you sound a lot tougher on Castro now than you did when you described him as “comandante en jefe” when he died. And then you said something that I found interesting. You said you didn’t quite realize how sensitive folks were in South Florida about this still.
REP. KAREN BASS: No. Oh, go ahead.
CHUCK TODD: And so I’m just curious, sort of, that you thought, well, Californians wouldn’t mind that description, but it might offend Floridians. Forget that a minute. It still seemed as if you had a soft view of Castro, if you will.
REP. KAREN BASS: Yeah. And let me explain too because I think the use of the term “comandante en jefe,” what I meant by that is is that clearly, in Florida, that is a term that is endearing to him. I didn’t see it that way. I was expressing condolences to the Cuban people, to the people in Cuba, not Cubans around the world. I don’t think that is a toxic expression in California. But let me just say, Chuck, lesson learned. 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.
CHUCK TODD: But it’s not – you said you were expressing condolences to the Cuban people. There’s many people who believe that the Castro regime in general was keeping them confined, was stifling their freedom. That actually, getting rid of Castro might’ve been a celebration to some.
REP. KAREN BASS: Yeah, maybe. And in the island, I think it’s slightly different because, you know, they certainly didn’t have the freedom and wouldn’t have the freedom to celebrate that. So, I think that it is just very important, the way the Obama administration had opened up relations with Cuba, I think the best way to bring about change on the island is for us to have closer relations with the country that is 90 miles away.
CHUCK TODD: Just very quickly, I’m curious of your reaction. You were called “Communist Karen” yesterday by the Trump campaign. And Senator Marco Rubio said you would be – essentially implied that there was nobody who has ever been considered for the vice presidency that was seen as so much of a Castro sympathizer. How do you react?
REP. KAREN BASS: Well, one, don’t consider myself a Castro sympathizer. Number two, my position on Cuba is really no different than the position of the Obama administration. As a matter of fact, I was honored to go to Cuba with President Obama. I went to Cuba with Secretary Kerry when we raised the flag. So there really isn’t anything different. And then frankly, I believe the Republicans have decided to brand the entire Democratic Party as socialists and communists. So I’m not surprised by Rubio’s characterization of me or of a role I would play if I were on the ticket.