MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A lawsuit filed in Florida by two Democrats seeks to disqualify Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from participating in Florida’s primary on March 17.
Frank Bach and George Brown argue Florida law precludes an independent candidate, not registered as a Democrat, from running in the closed primary.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Leon County.
Bach and Brown also seek to prevent election officials from counting any mail-in-ballot votes Sanders has already received.
Sanders is not having a good week.
On Sunday, he was interviewed on CBS’s 60 Minutes where he had good things to say about Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
The reaction from South Florida politicians, on both sides of the aisle, could not have been more negative.
When questioned about the Cuban Revolution by Anderson Cooper, Sanders said that it wasn’t entirely bad.
“We are very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. It’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, 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,” said Sanders.
“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” replied Cooper.
“That’s right and we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine,” said Sanders.
In a clip from an older interview, Sanders also pointed to Cuban social welfare programs, introduced by the Castro regime, as reasons the Cuban people didn’t rise up and overthrow Castro after the revolution.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter to criticize Sander’s defense.
Likely Dem nominee praised the supposed “achievements” Castro regime
And he’s wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro. It’s not because “he educated their kids,gave them health care” it‘s because his opponents were jailed,murdered or exiled https://t.co/6i41w7zcDe
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 24, 2020
Florida’s other Republican senator, Rick Scott, also took issue with Sanders on Twitter.
Shameful ignorance from @SenSanders.
The Castro regime has killed & imprisoned dissidents, oppressed its people and propped up murderous dictators like Maduro and Ortega. https://t.co/ROnmWT9oka
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) February 24, 2020
During an appearance Monday morning at Florida A&M University, Governor Ron DeSantis also blasted Sanders.
“Any attempts to whitewash the brutality of the Castro dictatorship is totally unacceptable,” said DeSantis, a close political ally of President Donald Trump. “It flies directly in the face of the values of the people throughout this state. And this is a senator who has spoken positively throughout his whole life about the dictatorship there.”
Republicans weren’t the only ones to take umbrage with Sander’s remarks.
Democratic US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell also expressed her displeasure on Twitter.
As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable.
— Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@DebbieforFL) February 24, 2020
WATCH: Bernie Sanders Receive Blowback From Castro Comments
Congresswoman Donna Shalala is up for re-election in a swing district.
“He hasn’t been down here to talk to residents to understand how our community, not the just Cuban community, but the Venezuelan community, the Nicaraguan community, feel about socialism and communism. We have zero-tolerance for those regimes and that’s why we’re going after them.”
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio weighed in on Twitter.
“Unless the Democrats steal it from him, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist is going to be the democratic nominee for president. That’s a really big deal because democratic socialism sounds benign, but at the core of democratic socialism is Marxism.”
University of Miami Political Science Professor Joe Uscinski said the comments came off as callous.
“Just because Castro might have had a nice literacy program, doesn’t mean he wasn’t shooting people in the back as they tried to escape from his dictatorship.”
The Sanders campaign released a statement saying, “”Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro’s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he’s simply echoing President Obama’s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education.”
At a CNN town hall Monday night, Sanders asked about the uproar.
“But the truth is the truth and that’s what happened in the first years of the Castro regime,” he said.
With Florida’s large Cuban-American population, Sanders’ comments about Cuba could play an important role in the state’s March 17 Democratic primary and, if he is the ultimate Democratic nominee, in the November general election.