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Democratic Congresswomen Who Criticized Bernie 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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Marco Rubio Says Bernie Sanders ‘Actually Not a Socialist — He’s a Marxist’

Marco Rubio appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” on Tuesday, where he questioned whether “socialist” was the proper label for his senate colleague Bernie Sanders, who is the current frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Rubio Explains How Sanders’ View of ‘An Individual’s Role in Society’ Makes Him a Marxist

Rubio said a more accurate label would be “Marxist,” given Sanders’ view of an individual’s role in society.

RELATED: Bernie Sanders Praises Fidel Castro Again at Townhall, Lauds Communist China

“I think he’s gotten away with for years saying that he’s a socialist,” Rubio said. “He’s actually not a socialist. He’s a Marxist. This is Marxism, and Marxism is based on the belief that no person has any value as an individual, that your value is that you’re a member of a class. Second, Marxism is based on the belief that an employer and an employee, a worker and an owner, can’t both help each other and both be better off. The worker gets good pay. The employer makes a profit on the capital they’ve invested.”

‘Marxism always leads to authoritarianism and dictatorship’

“But his ideas are Marxist ideas, and Marxism always leads to authoritarianism and dictatorship, eventually,” Rubio continued. “It does everywhere in the world it’s been tried.”

“And as you point out, in my home state of Florida, we have hundreds of thousands of people who have come to this country fleeing some of the very same policies that we’re now seeing advocated on a debate stage in one of our two major political parties,” Rubio told Sean Hannity.

RELATED: Susan Sarandon Will Stump for Bernie Sanders in South Carolina: ‘It’s Happening Guys’

Rubio’s Cuban American Constituents Would Know

“Bernie Sanders is the likely Democratic nominee and, frank — and he’s a Marxist, and these are Marxist ideas and needed to be called for what they are,” Rubio finished.

The senator from Florida is not wrong. The very notion that an open socialist is within striking distance of receiving the presidential nomination of one of America’s two major political parties should concern everyone in this country. Sanders socialist ideas have only wrought misery everywhere they have been tried.

Nobody knows this better than Sen. Rubio’s Cuban American constituents.

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Biden super PAC makes late jump into Super Tuesday states

“Over the last three days, donors have become much more interested,” Schale said. “It’s a combination of things: the state of the race, a good debate, the town hall, polls. It’s been a good couple of days.”

Schale said the super PAC is focusing heavily on African American turnout and persuasion in five Super Tuesday states: North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.

More than 70 percent of the delegates available on Super Tuesday hail from communities where at least 30 percent of the voters are people of color, Schale said.

“It’s a delegate game at this point,” he said.

The Unite the Country ad buy is a small investment compared with rival campaigns and super PACs. A pro-Warren super PAC, Persist PAC, has locked in more than $3 million in television spending in Super Tuesday states.

But Biden will still benefit from the outside help. While Mike Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars advertising in Super Tuesday states and Bernie Sanders’ small donors have funded a multimillion dollar television campaign, Biden’s campaign was off the air until it reserved Super Tuesday ads only this week.

Schale acknowledged that Unite the Country’s spending is low compared with other efforts, but he said the super PAC is putting more money on air as soon as it gets in the door.

“We’re basically raising and spending in the same motion,” he said.

In a memo reviewed by POLITICO, Schale and fellow super PAC strategists Amanda Loveday and Julianna Smoot painted Bloomberg as Biden’s chief rival in the race.

“The biggest challenge facing Joe Biden and our goal of helping him to a night on March 3rd isn’t Bernie Sanders, or any of the other candidates who have been on the debate stage,” the memo reads. “Rather, his biggest challenge is the work Michael Bloomberg’s doing to divide the moderate vote to the benefit of Bernie Sanders.

“In fact, today, it is fair to argue that the single best thing Bernie Sanders has going into Super Tuesday is Mayor Bloomberg,” the memo continued.

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After fumbled messaging, Trump gets a coronavirus czar by another name

The new role will put Ambassador Debbie Birx, who has served since 2014 as the U.S. government’s leader for combating HIV/AIDS globally, at the center of what now appears to be three leaders of the government response. Trump revealed in a news conference Wednesday evening that Pence would head up the administration’s management of the coronavirus, overseeing a task force nominally led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Birx will report to Pence but serve on the task force that Azar chairs.

Over three decades of public health experience, Birx “has been utilizing the best science to change the course of the HIV pandemic and bring the pandemic under control,” the White House said in a statement, adding that she “will bring her infectious disease, immunologic, vaccine research and interagency coordinating capacity to this position.”

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Pence said “we are ready for anything” to fight coronavirus. “I promise you, this president, this administration, is going to work with leaders in both parties. We’ll work with leaders across this nation, at the state and local level. And this president will always put the health and safety of America first.”

Birx’s appointment marked the latest swerve by the White House in assigning responsibility to tackle the burgeoning public health crisis. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Trump said “we have it totally under control” and maintained “it’s going to be just fine.” The virus has since exploded globally from China to nearly 50 countries, with more worries emerging inside the U.S.

A week after Trump’s Davos comments, the White House announced a task force to handle the widening outbreak. A month later, Trump was forced to vastly upgrade the response when his bold predictions proved to be wrong.

Appointing a “coordinator” allowed Trump to fulfill an increasingly urgent call from lawmakers to put a trusted public health official at the center of the White House response as a czar. Some administration officials had opposed appointing a czar — a move President Barack Obama used in 2014 during the Ebola threat — because it could be perceived as an admission of failure up to this point, while others have been criticizing Azar for months for his work on the president’s health initiatives far beyond coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Azar told lawmakers “I serve as the lead” on coronavirus efforts, and he denied a POLITICO report stating that the White House was weighing whether to appoint a czar to coordinate its response to the spreading epidemic.

The leadership change — putting Pence in charge — was a shock to Azar and his team, four people familiar with the matter said, coming shortly after the health secretary returned from his full day of congressional testimony.

Azar had reason to be confident: Trump had reassured him earlier in the day that he was doing a good job atop the task force and wouldn’t be replaced. And technically, he wasn’t, even as he’s lost ultimate authority over the federal response.

Azar insisted at Trump’s Wednesday news conference, however, that he would remain the chair of the White House task force, indicating Pence would play a supervisory role. That was before Thursday morning’s coronavirus “coordinator” announcement, which Trump hinted at the prior night.

At a congressional hearing on Thursday, Azar downplayed the significance of Pence’s appointment, calling it a “a lot of continuity” of the administration’s response to date.

“What the vice president will do is actually a function very similar to what acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has been doing very ably for me,” he told the House Ways and Means Committee, describing the role largely as ensuring alignment across the government and coordinating decision-making outside of the health care arena. “The vice president’s involvement and leadership across the whole of government brings just the weight of the office of the vice president to that task.”

Azar later insisted that he was consulted and involved in the decision to put Pence in charge, telling lawmakers that he was supportive as soon as the suggestion was made. “I said, quote, that’s genius,” he said.

Azar also told reporters after the hearing that he was “involved” in the decision Wednesday to name Birx. “She’s a terrific leader. And she will do wonderful work helping us with just the internal processes,” he said. As for Pence’s new role, Azar said “the vice president helps me, in terms of heft within the executive agency” but maintained that he’s still leading the interagency task force work among a slew of other responsibilities as the nation’s health chief.

The compromise position allows the White House to respond to frustration inside and outside the administration while allowing Azar to save face. Trump remains pleased with his health secretary and had reassured him as recently as Wednesday that he was happy with his work on the coronavirus, people close to the White House said.

The White House is battling bipartisan criticism from members of Congress skeptical of the administration’s response and emergency funding request, which some lawmakers have slammed as insufficient to counter the growing threat.

The administration’s disjointed messaging about the severity of the threat earlier this week frustrated even Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially after White House National Economic Director Larry Kudlow declared the containment effort as nearly “airtight” at nearly the same time CDC officials were warning of its “inevitable” spread.

An exasperated Sen. John Kennedy aired his concerns directly to Trump on Tuesday, after the Louisiana Republican struggled to extract basic answers about the disease from acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

“We had one story from the classified briefing, we had another story from one Cabinet secretary, then we had another story from another Cabinet secretary,” said Kennedy, who on Thursday praised the decision to elevate Pence. “[Trump] said, I hear what you’re saying, I’m gonna get this straight.”

The announcement of Birx’s latest role within the administration came hours after news broke in California of the first potential case of coronavirus spreading within the U.S. It also follows intense scrutiny of Pence’s record as governor of Indiana overseeing a massive HIV outbreak in the state that public health experts deemed preventable — an episode that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised directly with the vice president on Thursday morning.

“I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position,” she said during her weekly press conference.

Birx brings bipartisan credibility to the job, having won widespread praise from Democrats in the run-up to her 2014 confirmation as head of the Obama administration’s global HIV/AIDS office.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat Ben Cardin in 2014 called her “one of the most well-qualified nominees that has ever come before the U.S. Senate for confirmation,” ahead of a unanimous vote to install her in the job.

Rep. Eliot Engel, now the top Democrat on the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, similarly lauded her as a “dedicated force in efforts to eliminate the global scourge of HIV/AIDS.”

Yet despite her Obama-era appointment, Birx is a Republican and could be characterized as a conservative, one person who knows her said. This person added that she’d be “good on camera,” and has already worked closely with several of the administration’s current top public health officials — including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, with whom she served as an Army physician.

Most notably, this person said, she aided Redfield’s candidacy to become CDC chief in 2018, serving as a reference and advocating for him within the administration.

Nancy Cook, Caitlin Oprysko and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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South Carolina Democrat Debate Lacks Facts On Gun Control

The debate stage in Charleston, S.C. was the place to be Tuesday night for Democratic presidential candidates who wanted to demonstrate their lack of firearms knowledge and Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

There certainly were a lot of words and crosstalk during the heated back-and-forth between candidates on the criminal misuse of firearms. However, the candidates’ platforms included wildly false statements, tired scare language and egregiously wrong facts. Unfortunately for the American people, the debate offered gun control platitudes, not serious answers voters deserve.

Biden Targets Manufacturers

Former Vice President Joe Biden, desperate to make South Carolina his vaunted firewall, used firearms as a verbal bludgeon. He attacked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) vote against the Brady background check bill in the 1990s. His gun-control highlight reel continued as he thundered a warning shot to firearms manufacturers if elected, bellowing, “I’m coming for you, and gun manufacturers, I’m going to take you on and I’m going to beat you.”

Former Vice President Biden also reminded the national audience he supported the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, even though it did nothing to reduce crime. He tried to paint Sen. Sanders at fault because he once voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Doing that, though, he reminded the audience that frontrunner Sen. Sanders can’t be trusted because he once supported gun rights only to change his platform to meet the radical gun control elements of his base. Biden’s dinger for the night, though, was grossly overstating that 150 million Americans died by wrongful gun use since 2007. No, Joe – half the U.S. population didn’t die due to guns in the last thirteen years.

Sen. Sanders’ Laundry List

Sen. Sanders might want to ban so-called assault weapons, but he was firing off gun control myths at rapid-fire. Sen. Sanders rattled off a series of groaners “Right now, my view is we need to expand background checks, end the gun show loophole, and do what the American people want, not what the NRA wants.” The senator knows there’s no such thing, that firearms sold at shows by retailers are subject to the same background checks as in stores. His demand for universal background checks is really a call to ban the private transfer of firearms, even among close relatives. When. Sen. Sanders says he wants a so-called “assault weapons” ban, he’s purposefully conflating semiautomatic modern sporting rifles with those used by the military.

Buttigieg Blunders

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg used his time to call for a ban on “anything remotely like what I trained on …” Buttigieg, a former Navy Reservist, invoked the scare-tactic language often used against modern sporting rifles. As a veteran, he knows or at least should know, the difference between the military rifle and an MSR. Buttigieg purposefully misstates that the MSR fires only one bullet per each pull of the trigger, just like handguns and shotguns. That’s not a surprise to those who legally and safely own and use the more than 17.7 million in circulation today.

Other Stray Shots

The four other candidates spoke up as well, mostly stating similar inaccuracies. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted his gun control groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action and also recently tweeted “Every day, 100 Americans are killed by guns.” He arrives at that figure by lumping together criminal misuse of firearms with suicides to justify his gun-grabbing agenda.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she could enact her grand plan for gun control if the Senate would just eliminate the filibuster. This would entail a series of crippling taxes on firearm and ammunition, an age-based gun ban, a national license to exercise Second Amendment rights and repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

Outsider billionaire Tom Steyer blamed the inability to move gun control on corporate greed, insisting congressional terms limits are needed to get it done. Lastly, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar reminded the audience she “has the receipts” for gun control, and would ensure domestic abusers can’t buy an AK-47 and that she authored the bill to close the “boyfriend loophole” of domestic abusers.

The only coherent message from the field of candidates is they’re aiming squarely at knocking down the rights of law-abiding gun owners instead of addressing crime.

Thanks to the National Shooting Sports Foundation for this contribution.

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