Karen Bass, the congresswoman from California, is in contention to become Joe Biden’s running mate. There are good reasons for this. She is reliably liberal, she chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, and she shares a history of family loss with Biden. But she’s also the only person on Biden’s list who spent part of the 1970s working construction in Fidel Castro’s Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a group that has organized annual trips to Cuba for young, leftist Americans for half a century.
The Biden campaign knows about Bass’s history with the Brigade, which began as a joint venture of the Castro government and Students for a Democratic Society, the leftist, antiwar organization that gave birth to the Weather Underground terrorist group. She told Biden’s vetting committee weeks ago that this was probably going to come up. So far, it hasn’t been a deal breaker—in fact, her potential to drive up African-American votes might help in Florida among voters who traditionally haven’t been paid as much attention in the state.
It’s a reflection of the changing politics around Cuba that Biden would consider a running mate whose past might hurt his chances in Florida, where anti-Castro Cubans are still an important constituency. In 1992, being associated with the Venceremos Brigade was enough to prevent Johnnetta Cole, the then-president of Spelman College who was coordinating education policy for Bill Clinton’s transition team, from being nominated to serve as secretary of education.