The past two days were filled with bleak signs for Venezuelans in South Florida who saw the Trump administration as a key player in solving the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The president on Tuesday fired National Security Advisor John Bolton via tweet, and Bolton disputed the nature of his ouster in his own tweet minutes later. Florida’s two Republican senators were not informed of the dismissal in advance. Republican opponents of intervention in Venezuela cheered the announcement.
A day later, Trump told reporters he didn’t see eye to eye with Bolton, who referred to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as the “Troika of Tyranny” in a Miami speech last year.
“I disagreed with John Bolton on his attitudes on Venezuela — I thought he was way out of line,“ Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
After nearly 48 hours of back and forth, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the most influential voice on Venezuela policy among lawmakers in Washington, talked to the president.
Rubio came away with a very different impression of what Bolton’s ouster means for the future of Trump’s Venezuela policy, and Rubio sent a Thursday morning tweet informing his nearly four million followers that Trump is committed to the cause of ousting Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
“Just spoke to @realDonaldTrump on #Venezuela,” Rubio tweeted. “It’s true he disagreed with some of the views of previous advisor. But as he reminded me it’s actually the DIRECT OPPOSITE of what many claim or assume, if in fact the direction of policy changes it won’t be to make it weaker.”
Five hours later, Trump sent out a tweet of his own.
“In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton,” Trump tweeted. “He was holding me back!”
A spokesperson for Rubio said the call with Trump was arranged after continuing speculation about whether Trump’s Venezuela policy would change with Bolton’s firing.
CNN commentator and Miami resident Ana Navarro tweeted to her 1.2 million followers Wednesday that “Trump doesn’t give a damn about Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua.”
After the call, Rubio’s office said it was clear that the president has not wavered from his tough-on-Venezuela policy, noting that the president cared about the country’s humanitarian crisis long before Bolton was named national security advisor.
Rubio, despite being the highest-profile advocate in Congress for elevating Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, has not called for the U.S. military to get involved, unlike some other lawmakers such as Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
A spokesperson for Scott said the senator hasn’t talked to Trump but did speak with acting National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman after Bolton’s firing. Trump has said he wants to name Bolton’s permanent replacement quickly.
One senior administration official said Wednesday that Trump had grown weary of repeated vows from Bolton that Maduro would be out of office in short order. A second official said that they had clashed over Bolton’s efforts to advance planning for military intervention.
That official pointed to the administration’s national security strategy, which predated Bolton’s tenure and called for “strong diplomatic engagement” to isolate rogue nations in the Western Hemisphere. “That has been and remains the policy,” the official told McClatchy, although officials across the administration insist that all options are on the table.
Rubio’s spokesperson said Trump remains committed to strong diplomacy and humanitarian action throughout the Western Hemisphere to further isolate Venezuela.
“The administration cared about Venezuela before John Bolton,” the spokesperson said. “They had disagreements publicly but those issues do not mean that the president has weakened his stance on Venezuela.”
McClatchy DC reporter Michael Wilner contributed to this report.