Democrats Split in Responses to Venezuela Crisis

Demonstrators react in front of a burning military vehicle during clashes with security forces in Caracas, Venezuela, May 1, 2019. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

While Republicans were largely united in their support for the opposition to Nicolás Maduro’s regime, Democrats offered a wide range of messages on the issue.

When Ilhan Omar was asked about Venezuela on Wednesday, the Minnesota Democrat decided to blame America first.

Back in January, when the United States recognized National Assembly president Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, Omar had tweeted that socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro was the legitimate leader of the Venezuelan people, arguing that “the legislature cannot seize power from the President.” Now, just over three months later, as Maduro’s forces were hard at work attempting to violently suppress the Guaidó-led uprising of the unarmed and starving Venezuelan people, Omar was on television, blaming American “neocons and warmongers” for the crisis.

American policies “kind of helped lead” to “the devastation in Venezuela,” Omar said in an interview on the news program Democracy Now! “This particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela, and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States.”

Omar’s pro-Maduro sentiments make her an outlier within her own party. Joe Biden tweeted on Tuesday that Maduro’s violence against protesters was “criminal” and that the “U.S. must stand with the National Assembly & Guaidó in their efforts to restore democracy through legitimate, internationally monitored elections.” Nancy Pelosi tweeted that “Maduro needs to acknowledge the will of the Venezuelan people, whose moving calls for democracy have been heard around the world.”

“This is one Trump foreign policy that I’ve agreed with because they had multilateral [support]. That’s what gives it its legitimacy,” Representative Tom Malinowski (D., N.J.), a former Obama State Department official, tells National Review. “I want to increase the pressure. I want to make sure we do it in concert with our allies.”

So far, Omar hasn’t been joined even by other members of the far-left wing of the Democratic party, many of whom have offered a muted response to the Venezuelan uprising. “Violence is horrible,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells NR when asked to comment on the situation. When pressed on whether the Maduro government is legitimate or Guaidó deserves U.S. support, she adds that she’ll “defer to caucus leadership on how we navigate this.”

Bernie Sanders, much like Ocasio-Cortez, had no words of condemnation for the Venezuelan dictator nor words of support for the Venezuelan people who are risking their lives by taking to the streets. The Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator, who refused to say in February whether Maduro should step down, has not yet even commented on Venezuela this week. New Jersey senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker similarly says that he has “nothing right now” in the way of comment on the crisis.

Other Democrats running for president in 2020 have been more forthcoming, if not particularly unified in their views.

“I have of course supported bringing in the new president and delegitimizing the Maduro government,” Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar says. “You always leave things on the table,” she added when asked about U.S. intervention.

“We obviously need to advocate for a peaceful end to this process in a way that sustains [Venezuela’s] democracy,” California senator Kamala Harris told a reporter Tuesday.

“Neocons/Neolibs & MSM all sing from the same songsheet: War war war!!!” Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard tweeted on Thursday. “Trump never gets positive media unless he’s threatening war/carrying out military action. Today, Venezuela. Tomorrow, Iran? Cuba? Who’s next?”

Republicans, meanwhile, remain united in backing the Trump administration’s policy of support for Guaidó and threats of a blockade on Cuba if Cuban forces continue to help prop up Maduro.

“We should be putting as much financial pressure as humanly possible on the corrupt elements of the Maduro regime. Now is the decisive moment,” Representative Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) says. “To the extent we are enhancing our military presence, we have to be working by, with, and through the Colombians and Brazilians on the ground, and be in lockstep with our partners. To the extent we are using military assets, it should be to prevent outside powers — i.e. the Russians, the Cubans, and the Chinese — from aggravating the conflict.”

“Juan Guaidó has no weapons, no security forces, no access to funds, no control of media outlets, and he’s able to garner thousands of people in the streets . . . and almost bring the country to a standstill,” notes Florida senator Marco Rubio.

“It shouldn’t be hard for us to support the leader of the one democratically elected body in Venezuela,” says Representative Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas). “You have . . . people fighting for their freedom, and it is within the American interest and the American ideal to support that.”

“This is a classic case of good and evil. I understand it’s not always that clear-cut in international affairs,” Crenshaw adds. “But this time it is.”

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