WESTON, Fla. – In a rare feud over who is really supporting Venezuelans' efforts to qualify for a temporary protected status in the United States, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday Sen. Rick Scott is "a wolf in sheep's clothing." And on Friday, Scott accused her of engaging in "partisan nonsense."
Both of them have acknowledged the refugee crisis amid an economic decline and political chaos, yet a battle between the Democratic congresswoman, who has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Republican senator, who has the support of President Donald Trump, is brewing.
Scott and Trump have said they are strong supporters of restoring democracy in Venezuela. During a news conference Thursday in Weston, Wasserman Schultz told Venezuelan American activists that Scott's commitment to help Venezuelans "is totally disingenuous."
A Pew Research Center analysis estimates the population of Venezuelan migrants in the U.S. grew from 93,000 to 421,000 from 2000 to 2017. The researchers said about 52% of them live in Florida, a crucial swing state for the 2020 presidential election.
Wasserman Schultz and Pelosi blasted Scott for tying Venezuelans' TPS to a new requirement for review of all migrants TPS cases every 18 months. Rep. Donna Shalala accused Trump of not passing TPS because he is racist. Pelosi said Venezuelans' need for TPS is urgent.
"We call upon everyone to call upon the Senate to pass the legislation in the Senate -- legislation that truly protects Venezuelans, not at the expense of others," Pelosi said about the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, which has support from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
Scott's office released a statement on Friday saying, "Scott's Amendment, which would grant TPS to Venezuelans immediately is the only measure that can pass the Senate and become law."
Scott's attempt to pass his amendment through unanimous consent failed in the Senate. Trump doesn't need congressional approval to grant Venezuelans TPS.
On the Senate floor, Scott said, "the courts have basically made a temporary program permanent, which is not sustainable. The amendment grants TPS to Venezuelans for 18 months. It requires congressional approval for TPS extensions."
The feud between Wasserman Schultz and Scott is unraveling, as Pelosi and Trump are in the middle of an impeachment inquiry. Trump hasn't publicly ruled out a U.S. military intervention to oust Nicolás Maduro and he supports Juan Guaidó's political transition with aid, travel bans and economic sanctions.
"We will stand with the Venezuelan people every single day until they are finally freed from this horrible and brutal oppression," Trump said at the United Nations in September. "They will be freed. It will happen."
The U.N. estimates there are about 4 million Venezuelan refugees around the world running away from a collapsed health care system, a decline in quality of education, a rising crime rate, food shortages and hyperinflation. Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Peru are absorbing the majority of them.