August 31, 2017

Colorado Republican proposes a ban on Venezuelan oil imports

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@alextdaugherty 

The push to punish Nicolás Maduro is getting attention outside of South Florida. 

On Thursday, Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman announced his intention to introduce the "Protecting Against Tyranny and Responsible Imports Act," legislation that would ban the importation of Venezuelan oil into the United States. Coffman plans to formally introduce the bill once Congress comes back to Washington next week. 

Coffman took issue with Donald Trump's suggestion that the U.S. could use military force against Venezuela, arguing that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence should pursue a ban on oil imports before considering military intervention. 

“The price of the blood that could be shed by our own military has a greater value to me than any increase in the price at the pump caused by a ban on the sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States,” Coffman, a Marine Corps veteran, said in a press release. 

The White House has said all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela, and last week restricted Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from American creditors. 

“Although I am pleased that President Trump authorized additional sanctions against Venezuela, I believe that we must take stronger action to get Maduro to reinstate the National Assembly," Coffman said. His office estimates a ban on oil imports will lead to $10 billion in lost income for the Venezuelan government.

Most South Florida politicians from both parties are in favor of banning Venezuelan oil imports, which would directly impact Citgo, a Texas-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA. 

But there's disagreement in Congress among politicians from both parties over whether an oil ban would hurt Maduro's regime or fuel anti-American sentiment. The White House has yet to make a decision. 

“I believe there’s a crisis coming in Venezuela, and I think we need to be careful about not making ourselves the focus of that crisis,” Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said in July. “Sometimes what we do unifies the chavistas.”

Venezuela exported 291 million barrels of oil and oil products to the United States in 2016. The United States buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

In contrast, Venezuelan oil accounts for just eight percent of U.S oil imports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

August 29, 2017

Marco Rubio calls for temporary protected status for Venezuelans

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@alextdaugherty

Marco Rubio has spent months pushing the White House to expand a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, according to a previously unpublished letter from Rubio to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

The letter, dated March 20, asks Tillerson and Kelly to “review the existing conditions in Venezuela and consider granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Venezuelan nationals residing in the United States.”

“In light of the ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, it is not in the best interests of the United States to deport non-violent Venezuelan nationals back to the country at this time,” the letter reads.

President Donald Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he is open to extending the program to another country.

Rubio’s position puts him in line with an increasing number of Venezuelan activists and Florida politicians from both parties who want to expand the temporary program, which currently applies to foreign nationals from 10 countries already in the United States.

Last week, Democrats Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, voiced their support for the program, which would not be a permanent solution for Venezuelans seeking to stay in the United States.

In recent days, José Javier Rodríguez, a Democratic state senator and congressional candidate, along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, have also called for expanding the TPS program.

“Temporary Protected Status will allow Venzeuelans fleeing violence to live and work here legally and contribute to our state’s diverse communities until it is safe for them to return home,” Graham said in a statement.

Rubio has positioned himself as an important voice on Venezuela under Trump as the State Department deals with a downsized staff. He set up a meeting between Trump and Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez, and Rubio’s vocal criticism of Maduro and his associates led to the Florida senator getting protection from a security detail.

Rubio and Nelson hinted as far back as 2014 that they would consider the possibility of TPS for Venezuelans, but the issue has drawn increased attention after Maduro held a constituent assembly vote with the power to redraw the nation’s constitution.

Read more here.

August 08, 2017

Marco Rubio and Mike Pence meet to discuss Venezuela (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty

While Donald Trump holds court in New Jersey, Vice President Mike Pence met with Sen. Marco Rubio and two other members of Congress in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan confirmed in a statement that the meeting was about "important issues in the Western Hemisphere that impact our national interests, including the crisis in Venezuela."

A spokesman for Duncan declined to provide a detailed readout of the meeting, deferring to Pence's office. Representatives for Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The meeting between Pence and Rubio is the latest example of the Florida senator's close relationship with the White House on Latin American foreign policy issues, particularly the situation in Venezuela. Rubio and other South Florida lawmakers are lobbying Trump and Pence to impose sweeping sanctions on Venezuelan oil imports.

The White House and Treasury Department have not announced a timeline for future sanctions beyond freezing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's U.S. assets after he held an election for a constituent assembly tasked with rewriting the nation's constitution in favor of Maduro. Maduro is the fourth foreign leader after Bashar Assad of Syria, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to be personally sanctioned by the U.S. government. 

Tuesday's meeting also included Cuban-American Democratic Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, according to Politico. Sires is the ranking member of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee and Duncan is the chairman. 

"I am grateful that the Trump administration is soliciting input on these matters from Congressional leaders," Duncan's statement said. "I applaud the Administration for its continued actions to pressure the Venezuelan dictatorship and am encouraged by the courageous steps being taken by international partners in support of democracy and the people of Venezuela." 

Update 6:00pm: Pence tweeted about the meeting. 

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2017

At key moment, Cuban-American lawmakers adopt Venezuela cause as their own

Venezuela Political Crisis

@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

For months, Cuban-American lawmakers have deployed familiar rhetoric to warn Washington colleagues of a democracy under threat in Latin America, where people are deprived of food and the ballot box, and where economic collapse could empower Russia uncomfortably close to home.

“This is a dysfunctional narco-state that is in a death spiral in terms of its ability to function,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“We are talking about a nearly failed state in our own hemisphere,” said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

“We will have a swift and firm response from our own administration,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But the tough talk isn’t about Cuba. It’s about Venezuela.

The fight for a free Cuba — a fight carried in their bones, transcending all politics — has fueled Cuban-American lawmakers for decades in their campaign against Fidel and Raúl Castro. But President Donald Trump has already taken a tougher line toward Cuba, as the legislators wanted. So, the unfolding Venezuela crisis has become Cuban Americans’ new crusade.

“Just like it has been too long for the Cuban people, most people are coming to the understanding that this is part of the same movement, the same cancer that has been sickening the Cuban people and the Venezuelan people for decades now,” Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a Capitol Hill speech to Venezuelan activists and lawmakers Wednesday.

Cuban-American Republicans and Democrats agree President Nicolás Maduro must be stopped. Their united front could amplify their clout: As with Cuba, one of their own — Rubio — has proven to be the White House’s go-to legislator on Latin America.

Rubio, a Republican who’s spent years in Congress criticizing Maduro, says he’s been in regular touch with Trump and especially Vice President Mike Pence about how to sanction Venezuela if Maduro moves forward with a planned July 30 election. That vote would create a constituent assembly empowered to rewrite the nation’s constitution, effectively replacing a democratically elected legislature with Maduro loyalists.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement Monday, released as Rubio made similar remarks on Twitter. “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart back banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic measure once considered unthinkable against the No. 3 oil supplier to the U.S. But also in favor is a local Democrat, Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents thousands of Venezuelans.

The message: On Cuba, Rubio and company faced significant opposition, both on Capitol Hill and in Trump’s administration. On Venezuela, they don’t.

“There’s not a single senator that I’ve seen, and no House member that I’ve heard from, who still supports this regime,” Rubio told the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute in bilingual remarks Wednesday. “Once there were people who sometimes backed [former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez, or said things about Chávez in the past. But that doesn’t exist anymore. No one here supports Maduro.”

Even Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat who worked with the late Chávez, frequently traveled to Venezuela during Chávez’s presidency and is the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chávez’s funeral, supports sanctions.

“We are compelled to take a stand on what’s right,” Meeks said. “Sanctions that are being considered are the right things to do.”

Behind the bipartisan push is a deeply held belief that Maduro is just another Fidel — and a sense that if Cuban Americans and their allies don’t defend Venezuela in Washington, no one will.

“We need to let the Venezuelan people know that they are not alone in this fight, that we stand together with them, that we will not rest until Venezuela is free from oppression and is once again a nation of democracy and the rule of law,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an impassioned speech Wednesday.

The position is certainly heart-felt, but politics aren’t entirely out of the picture: Venezuelans fleeing Chávez and now Maduro could emerge as a significant voting bloc in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

Read more here.

 

June 27, 2017

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare."