Also – Landrieu And The Venezuelans

Continuing with today’s theme of trashing Mary Landrieu, here’s a POLITICO piece about how she stood in the way of the Senate’s attempts last week to impose sanctions on Venezuela for its human rights violations…

Oil company Citgo teamed up with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu to block a package of Venezuelan sanctions that senators were considering last week, emails obtained by POLITICO reveal.

Citgo — the wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company — raised concerns that the package targeted at human rights abusers would hurt the company’s ability to import crude oil to its Gulf Coast refinery in Lake Charles, La., eliminating jobs, according to the documents.

Landrieu can say that this is of a piece with her seriously awesome record on behalf of the oil and gas business, of course, but on deeper scrutiny that doesn’t look particularly accurate. POLITICO dug up some emails from Landrieu staffers which indicate that those sanctions wouldn’t have cut off oil to the refinery in Lake Charles…

Foreign Relations Committee staffers were moving forward with plans to hold a full Senate vote when aides got wind of Landrieu’s intent to place a hold on the bill. A Senate Foreign Relations staffer reached out to a top Landrieu aide to find out the details of the objection.

“I was asked to get a message to Senator Landrieu on this and need to ask her whether she wants to hold the bill,” wrote Landrieu staffer and Energy Committee staff director Elizabeth Craddock in an email to Democratic colleagues last Thursday night.

Craddock asked her Democratic colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee to circle back with committee staff on the next morning, and then wrote back: “We have a refinery in Louisiana that takes Venezuelan crude. The fear is that this bill will prohibit future shipments of that crude, thereby essentially shutting in the refinery and as a result, there will be a large loss of jobs at the refinery. If this is indeed the case, or can potentially happen, my boss is unwilling to support this bill.”

Foreign Relations staffers tried to assure Landrieu’s office that the bill would have no bearing on Citgo’s operations in the United States.

“No need for Senator Landrieu to be concerned about any implications for refineries in Louisiana,” wrote one staffer. “The scope of [the bill] is very narrow. It focuses on individuals that have committed human rights abuses against protesters in the past 6 months, has unlawfully jailed protesters, or supported either of those first two provisions.”

Craddock shared the response with the company, and then shared the company’s response and what appear to be its talking points with the Foreign Relations Committee.

In particular, Citgo worried that “the interpretation of the legislation by the executive branch/ and Congress could change over time,” according to the talking points. Citgo raised worries that it could be considered a “person” under U.S. law and that its association with state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela might implicate it in human rights abuses in the country.

Citgo’s lobbyists are from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, which is the firm John Breaux is a partner in.

In other words, Mary Landrieu did what John Breaux wanted her to do, and blocked sanctions on the butchers of Caracas out of the faint possibility that at some point Breaux’s client might end up having its business impinged upon. This, at a time when the Venezuelans are trying to sell Citgo in a desperate attempt to raise some hard currency amid inflation of over 50 percent in their own failed socialist economy.

A friend of ours who’s a former staffer on the Hill with oodles of experience dealing with Landrieu told us once that we simply wouldn’t believe how often she gets policy completely wrong even on issues she’s supposed to claim as her core competency. We can believe that. When there is a bill aiming to sanction the Venezuelan political commissars ordering brutality against the democracy movement there and Landrieu kills it out of an unrelated concern because she’s told to by a lobbyist and former political mentor, that’s incompetence.

There is more background behind this. Emiliana Duarte, writing at Caracas Chronicles, gives the backstory behind the bill. It seems the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been behind the bill but the State Department objected on the grounds that it would hurt their ability to conduct “dialogue” with the Venezuelans. Over time that started to look like less of a smart call. And then…

Eventually though, the bill got to the Senate floor. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, who also preferred dialogue to sanctions, blocked the bill, and it was put on the backburner while Malaysian planes fell and Russia tried to take over Ukraine.

But then, Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal, a close confidante of Hugo Chávez blacklisted as a “kingpin” by the U.S. Department of Treasury, was arrested in Aruba, only to be released a few days later when the Dutch government intervened. He returned to Venezuela to a hero’s welcome. And so the U.S. government came out looking like an asshole … again.

The positive side of the Carvajal fiasco is that the U.S. decided it had had enough of looking like an asshole and, by saving face, jumpstarted the whole sanctions thing again.

The State Department announced it would revoke the visas of various chavistas, but released no names. Several senators drafted a letter to Secretary Kerry, urging the Administration to send a “strong message in defense of human rights.” Sen. Marco Rubio asked the State Department to freeze bank accounts in addition to revoking visas. Sen. Corker wisely removed his objection to the bill. Administrative costs were bargained, last minute amendments agreed upon; there was unanimous support. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 was about to pass.

And then, hours before Congress went on recess until September … it was blocked again.

So who’s the asshole this time?

Introducing Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana who, according to some transparency watchdogs, is one of the “leading recipients of oil and gas industry support” in the Senate. She is on record saying that with her position as Chair of the Senate Energy Committee she can help her state develop its energy resources. She is also in a tough re-election battle this year.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what does it have to do with Venezuela?

Turns out Landrieu was reached by Patton Boggs, a lobbying firm representing the interests of CITGO, a company 100% owned by the Venezuelan government – owners of, among other things, a large refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Landrieu proceeded to block the unanimous consent needed for the bill to pass. According to this AP story, she claims to be worried about “jobs in the Lake Charles refinery.” This is surprising given how the refinery is not going anywhere no matter what happens to chavista human rights violators.

So, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres and his family can rest easy now: they won’t be missing out on the Magic Kingdom and on gobbling up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups anytime soon. PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, has long tentacles, and they have him covered.

It’s unfortunate that this isn’t really going to cost Landrieu any votes, because to make it stick you’ve got to overcome her howling about how she’s saving jobs in Lake Charles. Which is a lie, but she’s going to tell it and it’s one of those things people who aren’t really paying attention will swallow and move on. And since Louisiana doesn’t have a whole lot of Venezuelans or Cubans – we have some, but not enough to constitute a particular voting bloc – and the Venezuelans and Cubans we do have are unlikely Landrieu supporters anyway, this won’t change any votes along ethnic lines.

But as a matter of policy, this just shows how (1) vapid and (2) easily led Landrieu is. Having Senators like her is one reason why our government is so incapable of making policy of any quality.

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