(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Bernie Sanders’ controversial comments on Cuba’s Castro regime were in the spotlight on the U.S. House floor on Thursday, but a Republican lawmaker’s effort to have the remarks condemned failed after Democrats criticized him for linking the amendment to an unrelated issue.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (D-Fla.) wanted to bring to the floor a resolution criticizing Sanders. But a Republican attempt to amend the rule to allow for its immediate consideration was foiled when a vote on the previous question – a bill relating to banning flavors in e-cigarettes and tobacco products – passed, 224-198.
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), a co-sponsor of Diaz-Balart’s resolution, called the Democrats’ stance “shameful.”
“The natural progression of socialist policies is a totalitarian state that deprives its citizens of basic freedoms and human rights,” he said after the vote. “Democrats know this – they’ve seen it in Cuba, Venezuela, China, and other places – yet they just voted against acknowledging this basic truth and condemning Senator Sanders’ remarks.”
“Today House Democrats had a simple choice: stand up against socialism and human rights abuses or defend the tyrannical communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member. “I’m sad that too many of my colleagues chose the latter.”
Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a former health and human services secretary who sponsored the bill designed to reduce youth vaping rates, was also the first Democrat on the Hill to speak out strongly against Sanders’ Cuba comments.
She expressed frustration over the GOP decision to link two issues not germane to each other, especially since, she said, she firmly supported Diaz-Balart’s initiative.
Shalala referred to “the terrible comments Sen. Sanders made regarding the dictator Fidel Castro,” calling them “misguided, ill-informed, hurtful, and unacceptable.”
She said her constituents in South Florida would agree with “the Cuban regime and other similarly authoritarian regimes across Latin America are instruments of evil and are not worthy of praise.”
In a floor speech, Diaz-Balart said his resolution sought to condemn Sanders’ “blatantly false” comments about “the racist, terrorist, murderous Castro regime in Cuba.”
His measure cited comments Sanders made on a CBS “60 Minutes” interview last Sunday, during a town hall in Charleston, S.C. on Monday, and during a Democratic presidential debate in the same city on Tuesday.
In each case the self-described “democratic socialist” pointed to literacy and education programs under Castro. When challenged during the debate, he said that “when dictatorships, whether the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that.”
After naming some political prisoners in Cuba, Diaz-Balart said he wanted to remind “Sen. Sanders and the progressive movement” that the Cuban regime was not just a threat to U.S. national interests, but also to democracies in the Western Hemisphere.
He also drew attention to the regime’s “relationship with some of the world’s worst thugs,” citing its close ties with the Iranian regime, its involvement in smuggling weapons to North Korea in 2013 – “in the largest violation of international sanctions against that rogue regime” – and its “propping up” of Venezuela’s Maduro regime.
Diaz-Balart pointed, too, to the regime’s harboring of fugitives from U.S. justice, including Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s “most wanted terrorists” list and the subject of a $1 million U.S. reward offer.
Wanted for killing a police officer in New Jersey in 1973, the Black Liberation Army activist escaped from a life sentence in 1979 and was later granted asylum in Cuba.