Political parties tried to score points as Mike Pence rallied in Doral for Venezuela

Pence: ‘All options on the table’ in Venezuela

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Doral on Feb. 1, 2019 and told Venezuelans in South Florida that Washington is considering 'all options' to end the Maduro dictatorship.
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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Doral on Feb. 1, 2019 and told Venezuelans in South Florida that Washington is considering 'all options' to end the Maduro dictatorship.

Claiming that South Florida Democrats were snubbed ahead of a Friday rally for Venezuela in Doral with Vice President Mike Pence, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party accused Republicans of using a humanitarian crisis to score political points at a time when both parties should have stood “together in solidarity.”

But even if Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives weren’t invited by the White House, Democratic state lawmakers in Miami were indeed sent invitations to the event. If they didn’t attend, it wasn’t because they were frozen out.

On Thursday, Democratic state lawmakers received an email from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legislative affairs director inviting them to attend a roundtable with Pence and Venezuelan exiles and community leaders at the Iglesia Doral Jesus Worship Center. The email, obtained by the Miami Herald, was sent to every member of the Florida House and Senate, according to DeSantis’ office.

“Governor DeSantis would like to invite you to a Venezuela Solidarity event with Vice President Mike Pence,” wrote DeSantis aide Stephanie Kopelousos.

Having been invited, some members of the Miami-Dade delegation were a little perplexed when they saw Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo issue a statement Friday morning ahead of Pence’s visit saying the vice president had turned the crisis into Venezuela into “a partisan issue ... by shutting South Florida Democrats, including Congresswomen Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, out of his meeting.”

“Lawmakers in Washington and in Tallahassee have been working in a bipartisan fashion to help secure Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans, and humanitarian aid for those suffering at the hands of Maduro Regime. In a time where our two parties can rarely stand together in solidarity, this should have been one of them,” Rizzo said.

Aware of the invitations — some Democratic lawmakers from outside South Florida also attended — Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Nelson Diaz ripped Rizzo in an interview, saying she “attempted to use the freedom and liberty of the Venezuelan people as a political tool.” But on Saturday, Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Caroline Rowland said Rizzo’s statement was accurate.

“The statement said what was true — that Mike Pence and the White House did not invite South Florida Congressional leaders who had been working on bipartisan legislation in Congress related to Venezuela to this event, even though they requested an invite,” Rowland said. “We did not in any way criticize Governor DeSantis or bring DeSantis into it or mention state lawmakers in that statement.

Rowland also said the email from DeSantis’ office gave little time for interested lawmakers to RSVP. (Kopelousos gave out her cell phone and apologized for the short notice in her email.)

The back-and-forth is indicative of the importance the turmoil in Venezuela holds to politics in Florida and in Miami-Dade, and a fragile tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans over the perception of support for efforts to help exiles living in the U.S and in the South American country.

The west Dade suburb of Doral, where Pence visited Friday, has a higher percentage of Venezuelan-born residents than any other city in the country. And both parties see Hispanic voters as a crucial voting bloc in an extremely tight swing state.

Complicating matters, some Democrats in Congress have criticized President Donald Trump for supporting Venezualan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s Jan. 23 decision to claim the mantle as head of state over the struggling South American country. The U.S. recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s president over Nicolas Maduro, a socialist who has been accused by western powers to have rigged the 2018 presidential vote as his country slid deeper into turmoil and hyperinflation.

But Joseph Jackson, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, was wrong to claim ahead of Pence’s visit that “2020 Dems ... have remained silent” on the controversy in Venezuela. Though the wide field of presidential contenders is divided on Trump’s handling of regime change in Venezuela, some current and potential candidates have publicly supported “free and fair elections” and the U.S. decision to recognize Guaidó as president.

In Miami, at the very least, Democratic lawmakers have supported Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan exiles, and backed Guaidó’s ascension. Some have begrudgingly praised Trump.