Trump and Democrats find rare common ground on Venezuela

There’s good news in Washington despite the growing partisan fight over President Trump’s foolish declaration of a national emergency to build an $8 billion border wall: Democratic Party leaders are solidly backing Trump’s decision to oust Venezuela’s fraudulently elected dictator Nicolas Maduro.

As difficult as it is to support anything coming from Trump, one of the most untruthful and divisive U.S. leaders in history, the president has been right in taking the bold step of recognizing Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guiadó as that country’s legitimate president. And Democratic leaders are doing the right thing in supporting Trump on this.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – the most powerful figure in the Democratic Party – met with Guiadó’s ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, on Jan. 13 and reiterated her support for the Guiadó government.

“Speaker Pelosi’s support is very important, because it sends a powerful message to Maduro that you have a strong and unified U.S. position on Venezuela,” Vecchio told me after the meeting.

In a Feb. 8 statement, Pelosi announced her decision “to recognize Juan Guiadó, president of the national assembly, as the interim president until full, fair and free elections can be held.” She added that “Nicolás Maduro’s regime of repression … must be condemned swiftly by the full international community.”

In a rare show of bipartisan harmony, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, tweeted afterward, “Appreciate Speaker Pelosi’s strong statement of support. The U.S. stands united in its support of Venezuelan interim President Juan Guiadó.”

Other key Democratic leaders have also spoken up. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is contemplating a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted that, “The international community must support Juan Guiadó.”

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Sens. Dick Durbin and Bob Menéndez, as well as Rep. Eliot Engel, who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also have championed the cause of democracy in Venezuela. Unlike Trump, most of them are also calling for granting Temporary Protected Status – or U.S. residency – to Venezuelan refugees.

Democrats pride themselves on leading on Venezuela in Congress. There are four major bills on the issue in the House, all led by Democrats.

They include a bill from Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., to restrict sales of arms and tear gas to Venezuela’s security forces, and another from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., asking the State Department for an assessment on Russia’s presence in Venezuela.

Guiadó’s top aides have told me that his Democratic support also is important because it can help convince European countries to implement sanctions against the Maduro regime. While Trump has antagonized many European allies by, among other things, criticizing NATO and insulting their countries, Democrats enjoy good relations with virtually all European countries.

Granted, part of the bipartisan support for Guiadó has much to do with domestic politics. Trump has realized that taking a strong stance on Venezuela can help him win Florida – a key swing state – in the 2020 election. Florida has a large Cuban-American voting bloc that cares deeply about Venezuela.

Trump was scheduled to be in Miami on Monday to speak about Venezuela, only two weeks after Vice President Mike Pence did the same. Bolton came to Miami in November, days before the midterm elections, to announce sanctions on the Maduro regime.

The Democrats don’t want to be left behind. Wasserman Schultz is organizing a South Florida conference on Venezuela on Feb. 23, with Menendez, Vecchio and leaders of the Venezuelan exile community scheduled to attend.

True, a few left-wing Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and – the worst of them – Rep. Ilhan Omar are both tacitly and explicitly criticizing America’s support for Guiadó.

Democratic leaders should now press all of their party’s presidential hopefuls to back Guiadó, like Biden did. And they should go to the Colombian border to draw U.S. and world attention to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

Fortunately, Pelosi and most leading Democrats realize that Venezuela’s freedom should be a bipartisan cause. And they have begun to act on it, even in Washington’s fractured political climate.

Andrés Oppenheimer is a Latin América correspondent for the Miami Herald. Send e-mail to: aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.