Biden Admin Turning to Venezuela for Oil Sparks Bipartisan Backlash

The Biden administration is facing bipartisan backlash over the possibility of easing sanctions against Venezuela in order to allow the country to increase exports of oil.

There was skepticism from both Democrats and Republicans toward the idea after a group of U.S. officials visited Venezuela in the highest-level trip to the South American country in years, as the White House considers whether to ban oil imports from Russia.

The visit comes amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of harsh sanctions against the country by the U.S. and its allies. Russia is a major oil and gas exporter.

Some senior U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela on Saturday and conducted talks with President Nicolás Maduro's government.

Venezuela was once a major exporter of crude oil to the U.S. but a combination of mismanagement and U.S. sanctions severely curtailed exports.

The idea of easing sanctions against Venezuela in order to potentially supplement losses from a ban on Russian oil was met with anger and criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) shared a video on Twitter showing Maduro announcing the resumption of talks with the opposition. That announcement came after his government's meeting with the U.S. delegation.

"Here it is, as I told you earlier the White House offered to abandon those seeking freedom from #Venezuela in exchange for an insignificant amount of oil & this announcement below from the narco-dictator #Maduro," Rubio wrote.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also appeared to criticize the Biden administration for engaging in talks with Maduro's government.

"Nicolás Maduro is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder," Menendez said in a statement on Monday.

"As such, I would strongly oppose any action that fills the pockets of regime oligarchs with oil profits while Maduro continues to deprive Venezuelans of basic human rights, freedoms, and even food."

Representative Val Demings, a Democrat for Florida's 10th congressional district, said she was "deeply skeptical of the new talks."

"We must ensure that Florida families can afford gas, AND ensure that no dictators can profit from this crisis," Demings said.

The state of Florida has a significant Venezuelan population and Venezuelans had the top rate for population growth among Hispanics in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is considered a strong presidential contender in 2024, also weighed in, tweeting on Monday: "It is wrong for the Biden Administration to beg for oil from Venezuela & legitimize Maduro's communist regime during an official visit.

"The U.S. should hold Maduro accountable while increasing domestic energy production so we won't need to rely on hostile regimes for energy."

Republican Representative Carlos Gimenez, of Florida's 26th district, said that "Biden's team brokering an oil-sale deal with Venezuela is embarrassing."

"How about we put American oil, American jobs, and the American economy FIRST and we KEEP sanctions on dictators such as Nicolas Maduro? Everything Biden does is just so backwards," Gimenez tweeted.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) did not mention Venezuela directly but urged the U.S. to end its dependence on foreign oil.

"The way to undercut the power of Russia is to end our dependence on oil and move toward clean energy," Merkley tweeted. "We have every reason to pivot quickly to clean energy and protect the planet, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and stop funneling money to tyrants like Putin."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that no decision had been made about banning Russian oil imports. Gas prices are currently at near-record highs as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues.

Newsweek has asked the White House for comment.

Joe Biden Speaks About Jobs
President Joe Biden speaks about the February jobs report during an event at the White House complex March 4, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Biden administration has been criticized for talks with Venezuela. Win McNamee/Getty Images