Menendez goes hard at Sanders over Castro comments, doubles down on open primary


U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) went hard at his colleague/presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in light of a recent interview where he said “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad” about the Fidel Castro regime, also doubling down on his preference for an open presidential primary.

“I’m sure the hundreds that died in Castro’s jails, the over million who came to the United States – and others who are fleeing elsewhere – those who are still languishing in Castro’s jails simply because they seek to speak their mind as we are free to do in the United States, do not find anything of that regime other than it is a tyrannical regime,” Menendez said during a media scrum after announcing federal funding in Hoboken this morning.

” … I don’t understand how you can praise any of that. It is a fundamental challenge as we go into these elections – what does it mean when Senator Sanders … sees something worthy of applauding when you have dictatorships, authoritarian regimes that ultimately deny the civil and human rights of its people.”

Last night, Sanders, who many perceive as the current Democratic presidential frontrunner, remarked that Castro implemented at least one positive initiative when speaking with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes.

“When Fidel Castro came to office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?,” he said before condomening political prisoners in Cuba.

Additionally, Menendez made it clear that Sanders wasn’t his preference to challenge President Donald Trump (R), asking how he would pay for Medicare for all or free college and expressing disappointment that he didn’t vote for “comprehensive immigration reforms.”

Still, New Jersey’s senior senator told HCV that he isn’t backing any presidential candidate at this time, but noted that this is why his suggestion of an open presidential primary throughout the state makes a lot of sense.

“I haven’t made any decision for who I’ll support, which is why, in part, I made the advocacy that there be open lines, that there be an open presidential primary,” Menendez began.

“This way, from Senator Booker, who’s up for re-election, all those council members who are up for re-election, to all the state and county officials who may be up for election, they will not be affected by whoever: Senator Sanders or whoever else.”

Last week, Menendez told NJ Globe that he recommends an open primary throughout the state, and leaders from Hudson, Essex, and Passaic Counties have expressed an interest  – which would put presidential candidates separate from state and local candidates by creating a second ballot column.

To that end, Hunterdon County Dems have already held their convention, voting to support U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), while Morris County Dems will hold their convention on March 15th.

Despite clearly not being sold on Sanders, Menendez intimated that he will support the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, to do what he can to keep Trump from being re-elected.

“Beating President Trump is job number 1 because I believe the president has done harm both here at home and abroad. As the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, I can tell you, he’s done harm abroad,” he stated.

“I don’t think however, he has done irrevocable harm. Am I worried that if he got elected again, to a second term, that he will do irrevocable harm? Yes, I am. So at the end of the day, job number 1 is beating President Trump, not because I dislike President Trump, but because I love the country more.”

Vice Chair for the Bernie for NJ campaign Patricia Campos Medina said over the phone this evening that it isn’t fair to evaluate Sanders entire campaign and/or world views based on one remark.

“We have to move beyond evaluating a political candidate’s view based on one comment. That’s a very limited view on Senator Sanders platform. There are very raw feelings about Cuba, but those who criticize, we still have relations with China and we still have relations to Russia,” she said.

” … Instead of rejecting Sanders message, establishment Democrats should listen to what the people want … in New Jersey there’s people struggling that want a different message.”


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Bernie for NJ campaign.

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