Trump’s stance on Venezuela garners rare bipartisan support in Congress
Many Democratic lawmakers, including Shalala, have joined their Republican colleagues in praising the administration for recognizing National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president, issuing sweeping sanctions against the largest state-owned oil company in the South American nation and offering $20 million in humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela.
"We have common interests," another Florida congressman, Rep. Darren Soto, told CBS News. The two-term Democrat said both parties back sanctions against Maduro's regime, the recognition of Venezuela's opposition leaders and humanitarian assistance.
"We all stand against tyranny — and this is an attack on democracy," he said.
Soto and Shalala have teamed up with lawmakers of both parties to introduce several bills to address the worsening political and socioeconomic crisis in Venezuela. One bill would codify existing restrictions on U.S. arms sales to Maduro's government and add tear gas and batons to the list of banned items. Another proposal would allow the U.S. government to dispatch $150 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela. And a third would allow Venezuelans living in the U.S. who have fled the country's repressive government and collapsing economy to qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Shalala said she understands why some lawmakers are hesitant to back efforts designed to facilitate the ouster of a foreign government, given America's history of assisting right-wing leaders who violently overthrew governments and installed authoritarian regimes. But she stressed that this time was different because America's efforts are supported by an international coalition, including most of Latin America and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Guaidó's declaration last week set off a new wave of violence and chaos in oil-rich Venezuela — once considered one of Latin America's wealthiest countries. The 35-year-old opposition leader, who's already been targeted by the Maduro-allied Supreme Court, is betting on pressure from the international community and military defections to oust Maduro. But so far, top military leaders in Venezuela have remained loyal to the ruling government. Guaidó has called for peaceful, nationwide demonstrations on Saturday to force Maduro to hold elections.
Shalala urged the Trump administration to continue to assist the opposition, which she said is supported by the "majority of the people." On Friday, Vice President Michael Pence will travel to Miami to meet with the exiled Venezuelan community in the area, along with a congressional delegation.
"Our hopes and prayers — and our muscle, I hope — is with the Venezuelan people," Shalala said.