Sen. Rick Scott was supposed to meet with National Security Advisor John Bolton Tuesday afternoon, the latest in an ongoing effort by Florida Republicans trying to squeeze Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro out of power.
Then came the presidential tweet.
Donald Trump’s latest high-profile firing via Twitter, complete with a Twitter rebuttal from Bolton just minutes later, caught Republicans in Washington off guard and could be a blow to Venezuela hawks like Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Florida.
“I did not see it,” Scott said, when he was informed by a reporter of Bolton’s ouster. “I have a good working relationship with Bolton. I was supposed to talk to him at two o’clock. I hope that they [the White House] can continue to commit to do everything we can to get rid of Maduro. I’ve had a very good working relationship with Bolton whether it’s talking about Venezuela, Cuba or Hong Kong.”
Rubio also said he had a good relationship with Bolton but added that it’s up to Trump to decide who works in the White House.
“We worked very well with him and in my view he did a good job, but ultimately that’s the president’s decision to make,” Rubio said. “He has a right to have people around him that he wants.”
Rubio wasn’t sure what Bolton’s ouster meant for Venezuela policy eight months after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader and began ratcheting up sanctions on Maduro’s inner circle.
“I don’t know, nor do I know enough about what the circumstances were behind it, so we’ll obviously see here in the next few days,” Rubio said. “It’s my personal view that he did a good job, but he didn’t work for me, he worked for the president.”
Maduro remains in control of Venezuela’s military and bureaucracy despite efforts by Guaidó to oust Maduro amid a humanitarian crisis and rampant inflation.
Even the White House was unaware of Bolton’s imminent ouster on Tuesday morning, sending out a notice just before 11 a.m. that Bolton would brief reporters along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Tuesday afternoon.
An hour later, Trump tweeted, “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
Bolton disputed the nature of his ouster in his own tweet minutes later.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’ ” Bolton tweeted.
Republican opponents of intervention in Venezuela cheered the move.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Trump “deserves to have someone around him who agrees with his policy.”
“The threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House,” Paul said, calling Bolton’s “advocacy for regime change around the world a naive worldview.”
“The world will be a much better place with new advisers to the president and hopefully somebody who’s actually listening to what the president says when he says over and over again that he wants to bring America’s longest war to a close,” Paul said.
Other Republicans said the constant stream of firings via tweet, a list that also includes former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former FBI Director James Comey and former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, makes it harder to do their jobs.
“I think probably senators [and] the country looks for stability, consistency,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said. “And it’s another person out of the administration that we developed a relationship, had a sense of where he was coming from and now he’s not there.”
Trump has long touted himself as a different style of Republican who is opposed to foreign intervention around the world, though Venezuela appeared to be an exception.
Trump almost assuredly needs to win Florida in 2020 if he wants a second term, and his advisers identified tough talk on Venezuela as an issue where he can rail against socialism and make inroads with Venezuelan and Cuban voters in South Florida. The country’s largest Venezuelan communities are concentrated in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Democrats blasted the chaotic nature of Bolton’s firing. He had been in the role for 17 months.
“Today’s action by the president is just the latest example of his government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times.”
White House officials on Tuesday acknowledged the president’s frustration with Bolton’s unfulfilled promises on Venezuela policy, including predictions that Maduro would step down in Venezuela over a year ago. But one official cautioned against assuming that, with Bolton gone, the administration will make any sudden policy shifts.
Trump has endorsed a strategy that gave Maduro’s aides incentives to turn on their boss and help with his ouster. Until that strategy bears fruit, the sanctions designed by Bolton will remain in place, the official added.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told reporters in a press briefing that his disagreements with Bolton are well-known. He did not specify what those disagreements entailed regarding Venezuela.
Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Trujillo, was also unaware of Bolton’s firing. At a press conference at noon, Trujillo — who is from Miami and a key figure for administration efforts in Latin America — was asked how Bolton’s firing could impact U.S. Latin American policy. Trujillo said he would have to check back with his team: “I haven’t heard of it.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called for the U.S. military to enter Venezuela in May, said Trump deserves a national security advisor who shares the president’s worldview. While Graham was with the president on Air Force One Monday night, he said he had no advance warning of Bolton’s firing, though he knew there was friction in their relationship.
“I think the president deserves someone he has confidence in,” Graham said. “It’s clear to me that the relationship had soured and I hope he’ll pick a national security advisor he has confidence in. I appreciate John Bolton and he sees the world for the dangerous place that it is.”
McClatchy reporters Emma Dumain, Lesley Clark, David Lightman, Michael Wilner and Bryan Lowry contributed to this report. El Nuevo Herald reporter Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report.