GOP senators ask Trump to hold off on Venezuelan oil sanctions

GOP senators ask Trump to hold off on Venezuelan oil sanctions
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A group of Republican senators are asking President Trump to hold off on hitting Venezuelan oil companies with sanctions, claiming the restrictions could hurt U.S. oil refiners and drive Venezuela closer to U.S. adversaries.

Republican Sens. John CornynJohn CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford MORE (Texas), Bill Cassidy (La.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranGOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race GOP Senate candidate doubles down on Robert E. Lee despite Twitter poll MORE (Miss.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump cancels Mississippi rally due to hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke GOP senators introduce bill to preserve ObamaCare's pre-existing conditions protections MORE (Miss.) warned Trump that refiners in their states that depend on Venezuelan oil could face major losses from sanctions against that country’s oil industry.

The senators also expressed concerns that sanctions on Venezuelan oil could drive the South American country to forge closer ties with China and Russia.

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“We are concerned that unilateral sanctions could harm the U.S. economy, impair the global competitiveness of our businesses, and raise costs for our consumers,” the senators wrote. “It is critical to consider the role that the U.S. energy industry and refining sector play in our economic and national security interest.”

The Trump administration has sanctioned dozens of Venezuelan government officials as President Nicolás Maduro attempts to consolidate power and crackdown on the opposition. Hundreds of anti-Maduro protesters have been killed as he fights with the opposition-controlled legislature. The political violence has exacerbated the Venezuelan economic crisis.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers foreign sanctions, on Wednesday, froze the U.S.-based assets of six members of Venezuela's Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Constituyente) and two officials responsible for its establishment. U.S. people and businesses are also banned from transactions with the targeted officials.

The administration is likely to take further action on Venezuela as the situation escalates, but the Republican senators are worried that could drive Maduro closer to U.S. rivals. The senators cited Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft’s reported plan to buy a Venezuelan oil field with the shares it holds in Citgo, a Venezuelan state-owned oil company.

“There is a market outside of the U.S. to receive the Venezuelan oil,” the senators wrote. “Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and the Venezuelan people to maintain our economic ties as leverage for delivering a democratic government back to the people.”

Thursday’s letter is the latest attempt by lawmakers to shape sanctions in ways to protect the oil industry. Lawmakers made fixes to a bill expanding economic penalties on Russia and Iran, including new limits on the extent to which American and Russian oil and gas companies can interact.

American energy companies said the expanded sanctions were rushed through the Senate without enough vetting and could have prevented U.S. oil and gas companies from drilling near Russian companies, even if they’re not working together.