On the trail: Sanders takes heat for Cuba comment, Biden pushes housing


NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders came under fire on Monday for comments about late Cuban President Fidel Castro, while moderate rival Joe Biden rolled out an affordable-housing plan in South Carolina, the next state to vote.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks an outdoor campaign rally in Austin, Texas, U.S., February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Sanders and his top rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, headed into an intense period of campaigning before Saturday’s South Carolina primary — their first big test with African-American voters — and the 14-state Super Tuesday contest on March 3 that will offer the largest number of votes so far.

Sanders’ Saturday victory in the Nevada caucuses, which followed strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, has stoked concern among establishment Democrats who see the self-described democratic socialist as too liberal to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November.

Here are some Monday highlights from the campaign trail:


U.S. Senator Sanders faced criticism from Florida Democrats for comments about Castro in an interview with the television program “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said, referring to the late revolutionary leader. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

That drew blowback from elected Democrats in Florida, one of the battlegrounds of the general election and home a large population of people who fled Cuba during Castro’s rule and their descendants.

“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,” said Representative Donna Shalala, on Twitter.


Biden rolled out an affordable housing plan aimed at protecting tenants from eviction and increasing access to lending. His campaign has focused heavily on South Carolina, where Biden has had high support from black voters who fondly remember his role in the historic presidency of Barack Obama.

He promoted the plan at community resource center in North Charleston, where the campaign says evictions greatly outpace the national average.

“Imagine being a man or woman who breaks their neck working a full-time job and literally worried that their kid will not have a place to rest their head at night,” Biden said. He declared affordable housing is a “moral” issue that, if not solved, can crush a community.

His plan would provide increase safeguards against discrimination in lending, provide additional legal services to people facing eviction and put in place a mediation program that helps avoid costly and long legal battles.

He also repeatedly invoked a bill by U.S. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina that would address affordable housing.

Clyburn is a political kingmaker in the state and is expected to endorse Biden after the party holds its next debate in Charleston on Tuesday.

Louis Smith, who runs the Community Resource Center of North Charleston, which provides food, diapers and other resources to struggling people, said he was thankful Biden came to his location to address these issues.

“I am not hearing enough from the Democrats on how they are going to help people who are struggling. All they want to talk about is Donald Trump. I could care less about that man,” said Smith, who says he remains undecided about who he is voting for on Saturday.


Sanders’ front-runner status put pressure on the share prices of health insurers as investors consider his plans to vastly expand America’s social welfare system.

Sanders is proposing massive overhauls of the U.S. economy, including banning private health insurance in favor of a government-run system that guarantees universal health coverage,

On Monday, he unveiled another big social spending plan that would dedicate $1.5 trillion over 10 years to create a universal child care and early education system, to be funded by taxing the wealthiest Americans.

“Who does Bernie think will pay for Medicare for All? Mexico?” Bloomberg’s campaign said on Twitter, alluding to Trump’s 2016 campaign promises that Mexico would pay for the wall he wants to build along the United States’ southern border.


Trump, speaking in India, predicted Democrats might use their July 13-16 national convention in Milwaukee to keep Sanders from winning the party’s nomination.

“It could go to the convention, it really could,” Trump told reporters during a trip to India.

Sanders is leading in the delegate count ahead of the convention, which is where Democrats will ultimately select the nominee. Many observers think Sanders could arrive at the convention with the largest share of delegates, but without a majority of them.

Reporting by Jarret Renshaw in North Charleston, South Carolina, additional reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Steve Holland in Ahmedabad, India; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

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