While making a show of decrying dictators on Thursday, a Republican House member kicked progressive Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) out of a subcommittee hearing over her calls for diplomacy and normalizing relations with Cuba, spurring criticism over the Republican participating in the same anti-democratic behaviors she was supposedly denouncing.
Lee posted a video on social media of her being removed from a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, saying that not only did Republicans give her the boot, they also cut the sound in the livestream of the hearing when she objected to the removal and defended herself.
The removal was ordered by the subcommittee chair, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican from Florida, who accused Lee of “unequivocal support of Fidel Castro” — something that Republicans have long accused Lee of with little evidence other than her desire to restore diplomacy with Cuba — and spreading “communist propaganda.”
“I am an African American woman who has a point of view, where, in a democracy, those points of views are allowed. And you are doing exactly what you say the Cuban government is … denying me the opportunity to present my point of view. What is wrong with this picture?” Lee said.
Salazar doubled down and dodged the question. “I would love to have this same type of political discourse in Havana,” she said, while blocking this “type of political discourse” from happening in the U.S. Capitol.
“Let’s have it in Havana if we normalize relations,” Lee shot back.
Later, as Lee spoke of the merits of diplomatic relations, Salazar interjected to say, “Fidel Castro has been the worst dictator that the hemisphere has seen since the arrival of Christopher Columbus,” perhaps ignoring the U.S.’s role in funding a wide variety of brutal dictatorships across the world.
“Madam chair, he’s been dead for 10 years,” another person in the room quipped.
Lee is a former member of the subcommittee and was invited to the hearing to speak on Cuba and diplomacy with the country, an issue that she has long championed with the goal of easing the U.S.’s decades-long repression and destabilization of the country.
Democrats who witnessed the incident said that Salazar’s move is potentially “unprecedented” and that it is emblematic of the very political repression and dissent that Salazar was posturing about.
“This goes against the fundamental principles of Congress,” Rep. Ro Khanna (California), who is the subcommittee’s top ranking Democrat and who invited Lee to speak, wrote on social media. “We should be engaging with those we disagree with, not removing them from hearings.”
“I was grateful [Representative Salazar] invited me to join her hearing as we both fight for human rights in Cuba. But I refused to participate when my colleague [Representative Lee] was shut out due to her opposing views,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida). “In democracies, we debate freely and openly, even when we disagree.”
Later during the hearing, Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Arizona) read the remarks that Lee was planning on delivering on her behalf.
“The Cuban people want to build a freer society, but the United States policy is based on the idea that, if we punish them just a little more, we will make them succeed,” Stanton recited from Lee’s remarks. “We see the failure of this upside down policy everywhere — more Cubans are fleeing the island than ever before, adding to the humanitarian crisis. Do we really want to exacerbate a situation where life in Cuba is so unbearable that people are forced to leave?”
Salazar’s move is just the latest in Republicans’ quest to silence their political opponents and censor history that doesn’t support their views. Republicans in the House have particularly honed in on progressives like Lee, and in recent months have censured Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and voted to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) from committee for the lawmakers’ views on Palestine. They have also attempted to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), seemingly just because they disagree with him generally, under the flimsy guise of him errantly pulling a fire alarm in the Capitol.
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