"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?" Chuck Todd, host of 'Meet the Press, asked.
"Well, one, don't consider myself a Castro sympathizer," Bass replied. "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."
Bass talks Castro and Cuba with Chuck Todd:
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 big 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 for, 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 a 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.
CHUCK TODD: Congresswoman Karen Bass, Democrat from California, what do you think of all the extra scrutiny you're getting, all the extra attention? Good or bad?
REP. KAREN BASS: Well, you know what, I mean, it's okay because really, my focus is about what this country is going through. I don't want to see another 154,000 Americans dead. And the reason for that is because the lack of leadership we have in the White House, we are 90+ days away from an election. And I am looking forward to watching President Biden raise his hand and being sworn in if I'm on the ticket or not. I will work just as hard to get him elected because I believe he has the leadership to get us out of this crisis that we're in right now.
Bass talks Castro and Cuba with 'FOX News Sunday' host Chris Wallace, transcript below:
WALLACE: As your star has risen as a vice presidential possibility, so has scrutiny over your record and your past, understandably.
WALLACE: You've taken heat for this statement that you made back in 2016 upon the death of Fidel Castro. Let's put it up on the screen.
WALLACE: The passing of the comandante en jefe, or commander-in-chief, is a great loss to the people of Cuba.
But, Congresswoman, what many people may not know is that in fact he visited Cuba eight times during the 1970s.
What was it about Castro and Cuba that you found so appealing at that time? And do you now regret your involvement and considerable time spent in a communist dictatorship?
BASS: So, let me tell you that, first of all, when I went to Cuba over 40 years ago when I was in my teens and early 20s, I went to help the Cuban people, we were building houses. The other reason why I went was to meet and work with Americans from around the country that were involved in a lot of different social issues.
I think that over the past 20 years, my involvement in Cuba has centered on health care and promoting democracy.
Do I know an awful lot more now? Do I understand that the Castro regime did not have the same freedoms as we do in the United States, was a brutal regime? They don't have freedom of press, freedom of protest -- which was kind of ironic because when I went in my youth, the majority of us that were there were antiwar activists. We were protesting against police abuse and understood then and now that the Cuban people did not have the same freedoms.
But what I also believe is that the best way to deal with change is to have relations. And so, I support what President Obama and Vice President Biden did in opening up relations with the island of Cuba, that's 90 miles away.
In fact, one time when I went to visit Cuba, I visited the U.S. political prisoner actually with one of your panelists that's going to be on a little later, Donna Brazile. We went and visited Alan Gross.
For the last eight years, I've served on the board of National Endowment for Democracy, which funds democratic activists on the island of Cuba.
So my perspective has definitely developed over time. I am interested in two products that the Cubans have -- one to address diabetes, the other to address lung cancer. And I'm hoping that both of those products will be tested and marketed in the United States if they are safe.
WALLACE: But -- but I have just a minute left, Congresswoman, and you make it sound as if this was just -- when you were young and irresponsible, you were young and irresponsible.
WALLACE: You put out that message about Cuba -- about Castro's death six years -- or four years ago in 2016. Shouldn't you have known by then that Castro's death was not a great loss to the Cuban people?
BASS: I absolutely would have not put that statement out and I will tell you that after talking to my colleagues who represent the state of Florida, raised those concerns with me, lesson learned, would not do that again for sure.
WALLACE: Congresswoman Bass, thank you. Always good to talk with you. It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks for you and all the other women on the list.
BASS: Thanks for having me on.