Caught in the White House transition this week from Reince Priebus to John Kelly: steep economic sanctions the U.S. threatened against Venezuela if President Nicolás Maduro rammed through his new constituent assembly in a Sunday vote denounced as fraudulent.
Kelly, a military general who used to head U.S. Southern Command in Miami, is intimately familiar with Venezuela’s tumult. And since being named chief of staff Friday, he’s taken a key role in shaping the Trump administration’s response to the South American country’s crisis, sources close to the White House said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has worked with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, the National Security Council, Priebus and now Kelly on Venezuela policy, said he felt reassured by Kelly’s Oval Office presence.
“We’re fortunate it worked out this way,” Rubio told the Miami Herald in an interview. “The president has Kelly next to him — not just a chief of staff who I believe will improve the performance of the White House, but someone who I believe understands Venezuela as well or better as anyone in the administration.”
Kelly’s involvement appears to be one of several reasons why the White House has taken its time before escalating penalties against Venezuela — not because Kelly opposes more sanctions, but because he wants to vet and weigh in on the administration’s plan.
Maduro announced late Wednesday his government intends to seat the new constituent assembly Friday, a watershed move expected to trigger further action by the U.S. and international community, which have condemned the violence-marred election and refused to recognize the new assembly.
Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press