The Rev. Raphael Warnock sidestepped a question Sunday on whether he attended a 1995 speech at the church where he worked by Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, fueling a rising tide of criticism on the right.
The Democrat Warnock, who seeks to unseat Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, stressed again that he was a youth pastor at the time and had no decision-making role when the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem hosted Castro.
At the same time, Mr. Warnock avoided answering directly when CNN host Jake Tapper asked, “Did you attend the speech, and do you understand why there are so many people who view Castro as a murderous tyrant and not someone to be celebrated?”
“I’ll tell you what I understand: I understand why Kelly Loeffler is trying to change the subject,” Mr. Warnock said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I was a youth pastor. I had nothing to do with that program. I did not make any decisions regarding the program. I’ve never met the Cuban dictator and so I’m not connected to him.”
The issue has dogged Mr. Warnock during the campaign for one of two Georgia Senate run-off races scheduled for Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted Mr. Warnock‘s refusal to respond and posted online CSPAN video of a cheering crowd welcoming Castro at the 1995 event.
“Eeeks… Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock won’t say if he attended the 1995 ‘lovefest’ for murderous dictator Fidel Castro,” tweeted NRSC spokesperson Nathan Brand. “Pressed by @jaketapper on @CNNSotu, Warnock refuses to say if he was at an event where the crowd chanted ‘Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!”
If praising Castro and refusing to answer about it wasn’t enough, here’s a video of @ReverendWarnock actually giving a full-throated defense of Marxism.— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) November 15, 2020
Just keeps getting better. #GApolpic.twitter.com/j7DiywNofh
Pressed by Mr. Tapper on whether he understood why people would be “appalled” by those celebrating Castro, Mr. Warnock said that he did.
“Well, absolutely. And I never have,” Mr. Warnock said. “What I’m putting forward in this race is American values.”
Mr. Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has also faced mounting criticism for his anti-Israel statements, such as signing a 2019 letter comparing West Bank control to South African apartheid, as well as comments sympathetic to Marxism.
In a video clip posted Sunday by the NRSC, Mr. Warnock praised in a sermon Pope Francis for his 2013 remark on Marxism.
“I love this pope,” said Mr. Warnock from the pulpit. “He said, well, I’m not a Marxist, but I know a few Marxists, and they’re pretty good people.”
Mr. Warnock continued: “It’s so hard to discover and to hear an authentic vision and voice of authentic spirituality that gives voice to the least of these, and when it shows up, people describe it as some strange ideology, rather than the vision of that poor Palestinian prophet,” apparently referring to Jesus.
He issued a statement last week to Jewish Insider titled “I Stand With Israel,” denying the anti-Israel charge and accusing the Loeffler campaign of “misrepresenting my views for political gain.”
“Without reservation, you can count on me to stand with the Jewish community and Israel in the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Warnock said.
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