Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was not pleased after Biden Administration officials met with a delegation from Venezuela on Saturday. U.S. officials reportedly discussed sanctions relief in search of an alternative to Russian oil. Menendez later criticized the move in statement Tuesday, as did U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY).
“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. “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.”
The democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, like the resolve & courage of the people of Ukraine, are worth much more than a few barrels of oil. My statement on the Admin's reported talks with VZ breathing new life into Maduro's reign of torture: https://t.co/3U4x6nGsLP
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SFRCdems) March 8, 2022
Biden Administration officials met with a delegation from Venezuela on Saturday in order to discuss the potential easing of sanctions on oil exports. Sanctions have been in place since 2019 over the Venezuelan government’s election fraud and human rights abuses.
Jen Psaki was pressed on the issue during Monday’s White House press briefing. “There was a discussion that was had by members of the administration over the course of the last several days,” Psaki said, confirming that the meeting took place. Psaki did not confirm or deny that sanctions relief was discussed and said such steps would be “leaping several stages ahead in any process.”
Bob Menendez was not the only high-ranking Democrat to object to criticize the Biden Administration’s meeting with Venezuela. U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who chairs Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the U.S. should not be trading one dictator for another. “We need to blow a hole in the Russian economy. We need to lower gas prices for American consumers. Everything should be on the table.” Maloney said in an interview. “But I don’t support strengthening one dictator to hurt another. And I don’t think you’ll see us do that.”
In addition to Venezuela, the Biden administration has reportedly reached out to multiple autocratic countries in search of an alternative to Russian oil. In a troubling move, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE “declined” calls from Biden earlier in the week. The administration is also exploring the possibility of an oil deal with Iran.
The news comes as U.S. gas prices are at record highs, with the most dramatic price hikes affecting the west coast.