An urgent push by Democrats to pass a measure in Congress that would give Venezuelans temporary legal status in the U.S. is running up against the clock, with the House of Representatives set to go into summer recess Friday.
To get the measure to a vote, House Democrats are suspending the rules so they can quickly take up a bill to grant Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, sponsored by Florida Reps. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. But suspending the rules, a move normally used for noncontroversial bills like renaming post offices, comes with a catch: To pass, the bill must win support of two-thirds of the House instead of a simple majority.
That means about 55 Republicans — the exact number depends on how many members show up to vote on the bill — will need to side with Democrats on a bill that allows a specific group of undocumented immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S. without winning conservative concessions like funding for a border wall.
“I wanted to get this done before we went on our August recess,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, the first member of Congress born in South America. “I think that this is a moment when Republicans are going to have to make a decision on whether they truly support Venezuelans or not.”
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Though President Donald Trump has made promoting democracy in Venezuela a key pitch to South Florida voters ahead of the 2020 election, he hasn’t instructed his administration to grant TPS for Venezuelans despite rampant hunger, inflation and political violence in the country. The Department of Homeland Security runs the program with consultation from the State Department. The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t moved forward with TPS for Venezuelans a full seven months after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader even though Nicolás Maduro maintains control of the military and lucrative oil fields.
“President Trump has, with sanctions and other actions that I’ve certainly supported, taken steps to put pressure internally on Venezuela,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who represents one of the largest Venezuelan communities in the country. “The most immediate thing we can do is grant them TPS. It is the morally right thing to grant TPS because it’s what we can do in our control completely. If the bill reaches his desk, would he even sign it? It shows you how committed he is.”
Democrats don’t know if enough Republicans will join them on TPS to pass the bill immediately, with one aide putting the chances of passage at about 30 percent. Soto and Diaz-Balart’s bipartisan bill passed the House Judiciary Committee in May on a 20-9 vote, a threshold that is just over the two-thirds majority needed to pass the entire House of Representatives.
Diaz-Balart, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, urged Democrats to put the bill on the floor back in May.
“I urge the Democratic Leadership to bring this important legislation to the floor, and I commend my dear friend and colleague, Representative Soto, on his hard work in bringing attention to this legislation that would meet the acute need to provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan nationals in the United States,” Diaz-Balart, a Republican, said in a statement.
Passing the bill would give Venezuelan citizens currently living in the U.S. the ability to stay and work legally for 18 months, and it would prevent them from being deported.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a key advisor to the White House on Venezuela policy, noted that deporting Venezuelans is not a priority given the political situation and lack of commercial flights. But Venezuelans can still be detained inside the U.S. and 336 Venezuelans were deported in the last fiscal year, according to DHS.
Wasserman Schultz said she anticipates a majority of Florida Republicans will back the fast-tracked bill. But other Republicans who typically balk at voting for immigration bills without conservative provisions could be wary of backing the bill.
Soto said he’s hopeful that more Republicans will back TPS after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Orlando Sentinel “we’re looking at it” in an interview on Sunday.
“Time is of the essence … however, seeing Pompeo’s statements just yesterday gives me a sense that they might be reconsidering their position and we welcome it,” Soto said. “Anything immigration-related becomes controversial under the Trump administration. I suspect that many Republicans are caught between general anti-immigrant rhetoric, which has become popular, along with the understanding that Venezuela needs our help.”
Passing the bill with a bipartisan vote would put pressure on the U.S. Senate to act. Rubio and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez have a nearly identical TPS bill, though it hasn’t moved through committees in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senators are in session until Aug. 2, giving them an additional week to consider the bill if the House passes it.
Wasserman Schultz said the bill could move quickly in the U.S. Senate and Trump could sign it into law before the August recess, depending on the priority given to it by Republican leaders.
“If they want to pay more than lip service, they will help us fast-track this legislation and send it to the president’s desk and not put undue pressure on Venezuelans,” Wasserman Schultz said.
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