TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and South Florida Democrats plan to meet with Venezuelan exiles this week amid an ongoing stalemate in Congress over whether or not to offer protections to those who fled the South American country.
Democrats have scheduled a forum on Thursday in Weston, a town that has seen an influx of Venezuelans fleeing their country during an economic collapse that began under former President Hugo Chávez and has continued under President Nicolás Maduro.
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The Trump administration has taken a hard line against the Maduro regime and backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, but Maduro has remained in power.
Florida is home to at least 190,000 Venezuelans and the economic crisis in that country reverberates loudly in South Florida. Cuban Americans see parallels between what has happened under socialist rule in Venezuela and under communism in Cuba.
“In South Florida, democracy in Venezuela is a local issue,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a South Florida Democrat who plans to attend the forum with Pelosi.
An effort to offer immigration protections to Venezuelan immigrants has bogged down due to partisan infighting in Congress.
President Donald Trump has been urged by Florida leaders to shield Venezuelans from deportation but he has taken no action. The House in July passed a bill authorizing temporary protected status to Venezuelans, but the measure has not moved in the Senate.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) last week offered an alternative that would have granted protections to Venezuelans and overhauled the program, but Democrats blocked the measure. Scott accused Democrats of using the “Venezuelan community as a political prop instead of working with us to find a solution.”
Democrats insist their efforts are serious.
“We cannot champion Venezuelans in Venezuela, then ignore them here,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in a statement. “Speaker Pelosi led the House in passing tough measures to protect Venezuelans, here and at home. The Speaker and my House colleagues are eager to strategize with Venezuelans in Florida on how to continue these efforts.”
Wasserman Schultz and Mucarsel-Powell are scheduled to attend the forum, along with Reps. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.), chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Venezuelan Ambassador Carlos Vecchio.
Pelosi is heading to Florida the same day that President Donald Trump is scheduled to discuss Medicare at The Villages, a sprawling central Florida retirement community and Republican stronghold.