Democratic congressional members from Florida and elsewhere Tuesday hailed President Joe Biden‘s executive order extending temporary protected status to Venezuelan refugees and thumbed their noses at Republican Sen. Rick Scott.
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey not only declared that Biden is providing a moral and humane alternative to former President Donald Trump‘s refusal to aid Venezuelan refugees, they each explicitly rebuked Scott. They accused him and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah of stopping TPS legislation for Venezuelans in the Senate.
Scott’s office issued a statement Monday also applauding Biden’s executive order and saying, “For years, I’ve been calling for this action, as well as a long-term solution for TPS.” But congressional Democrats aren’t letting him get a pass on previous votes on the issue.
Scott and Lee had blocked bills in the Senate because the pair insisted on trading support for Venezuelan TPS in exchange for Democrats’ dropping TPS authority for refugees from other countries. Scott maintained that was the only way his Republican Senate colleagues and Trump would find the bill palatable enough to approve TPS for Venezuela.
“Democrats in Congress have put politics above human rights and repeatedly blocked Senator Scott’s attempts to get TPS done for Venezuelans, which had the support of Senate Republicans,” his office said in a response statement.
Either way, the strategy came home for Scott Tuesday as Wasserman Schultz, Soto, and Menendez characterized Scott and Lee as being the reason the Senate never allowed a floor vote on the Venezuelan TPS bill.
Wasserman Schultz, Soto, and Menendez were joined in their victory press call Tuesday by fellow Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Democratic Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, and exiled Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Carlos Vecchio.
As a result of Biden’s executive order, more than 300,000 Venezuelan refugees — the vast majority of them now living in Florida — will be eligible to stay, to avoid deportation, to apply for work visas, and to make livings while they wait for a regime change that could end the brutal, oppressive, and inhumane conditions under the dictatorship of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
In 2019 a Soto-sponsored bill to expand America’s TPS program to Venezuelan refugees was approved in the House of Representatives.
“In the Senate, Republicans repeatedly blocked our efforts. I and my Democratic colleague Sen. (Dick) Durbin (of Illinois) went to the floor numerous times seeking unanimous consent to pass TPS. But several of my Republican colleagues like Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Mike Lee repeatedly blocked our efforts,” Menendez said.
Wasserman Schultz pointed out that her district has a higher concentration of Venezuelan refugees than any in the country. She quipped that her hometown is sometimes called “Westonzuela.”
“My colleagues and I worked hard to pass the Venezuelan TPS legislation by a bipartisan vote in the House, led by Congressman Soto. But then as the Senator mentions, it was blocked in the Senate, most notably, and unbelievably, by Florida Sen. Rick Scott,” she said.
Soto also pointed out the bipartisan backing for his 2019 bill, including from Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
“Despite Sen. Menendez’s best efforts, the bill was blocked by Sen. Scott and Sen. Lee, who sought to dismantle the whole TPS program in exchange for Venezuelan TPS. Our Venezuelan constituents, once informed on this, rejected this terrible bargain,” Soto said.
Biden’s executive order drew praise from others Monday and Tuesday, including Florida’s other Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, whom the Democrats did not go after on Tuesday.
“Venezuela remains a nation in crisis. I have long advocated providing much-needed relief to help eligible Venezuelan nationals residing in the U.S. with a work permit and a temporary solution, which is exactly what the Trump Administration did earlier this year,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am glad the Biden Administration shares that commitment, and I support granting TPS status to eligible Venezuelan nationals currently in the U.S. While Venezuelans who fled Maduro’s narco-terrorist regime cannot return home safely today, I know they await the day they can return to their beloved homeland.”
Trump never supported TPS for Venezuelans, and his administration oversaw deportations of Venezuelan refugees. On his last day in office Trump issued an order that prevented any more deportations. However the order did not provide the kind of protections or opportunities a TPS order provides.
Like Rubio, the Democrats called for more American efforts to leverage the Maduro regime out of power in Venezuela so that the refugees could return and find freedom and security in their home nation.
The Democrats said Biden is providing moral leadership that Trump did not in dealing with Venezuelans. Deutch called it “Biden’s doctrine.”
“Yesterday was a clear message of the Biden doctrine: We will stand up to tyrants and we will stand for human rights,” Deutch said.
Murphy, a childhood refugee from Vietnam, supported Vecchio’s contention that Venezuelan refugees want to return to their homeland, but in the meantime want to be welcomed in America.
“As somebody who is a refugee myself, who my family and I fled oppression and tyranny, I couldn’t agree more with the ambassador when he said nobody leaves their country because they want to. The situation is intolerable there,” Murphy said.