Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said on Tuesday that Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro was a dictator and was surprised his colleague Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) refused to declare the same.
"I'm really surprised that Senator Sanders could not at least call him a dictator," Menendez said.
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During his CNN town hall on Monday night, Sanders again refused to call Maduro a dictator and insisted there are still "democratic operations" in Venezuela.
"Well, I think it's fair to say that the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country. The point is, what I'm calling for right now is internationally supervised, free elections," Sanders said.
CNN host John Berman asked Menendez if he believed Maduro was a dictator.
"He's a corrupt dictator. He has a combination of an absolute dictatorship and a narco traffic state," Menendez said. "There is no question he's corrupt."
"Is it a mistake then for Senator Sanders not to call it by its name?" Berman asked.
"Absolutely. Dictatorship is dictatorship whether from the right or left. Dictatorship oppresses their people," Menendez said.
Several Democrats have publicly criticized Sanders for his tepid response to the situation in Venezuela.
Sanders "has demonstrated again that he does not understand this situation," Rep. Donna Shalala (D., Fla.) told Politico. "I absolutely disagree with his imprecision in not saying Maduro must go."
Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) also said he disagreed with Sanders's equivocation.
"I disagree with Senator Sanders in regards to the legitimacy of President Maduro. I don't believe he is a legitimate leader," Cardin said. "I do agree with Senator Sanders that we need free and fair elections in Venezuela in order to determine its future leader. That has to be done."
Sanders announced his presidential campaign last week.