WASHINGTON -- Republicans voted down a bill Tuesday that would provide Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans, a setback for South Florida lawmakers from both parties.
Democrats needed GOP support for a bill sponsored by Reps. Darren Soto, D-Fla., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., after they fast-tracked the measure to force a vote before the House of Representatives leaves for its summer recess at the end of the week. The fast-tracking meant the bill needed two-thirds support instead of a simple majority to pass.
Democrats needed about 55 Republicans to join them to pass the bill, but only 37 Republicans and one independent voted for it, along with 230 Democrats. Eleven members -- five Democrats and six Republicans -- didn't vote.
Diaz-Balart argued passionately on the House floor in favor of the bill, but 154 of his conservative Republican colleagues railed against providing protections for Venezuelans, arguing that immigrants disproportionately rely on welfare and that Venezuelans will be granted TPS for years if Congress passes the bill.
"While I am disappointed we were unable to pass this critical legislation with broad bipartisan support, it was not unexpected, given the nativist, anti-immigrant ideology and rhetoric that has swept through the Trump administration," Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said in a statement. "To pass a bill under suspension requires two-thirds of the members of the House to vote in favor of it. While this is a considerable hurdle, we thought we could pass a bipartisan bill given how vocal the support for the Venezuelan people has been from the President and his allies in the House."
The failed vote doesn't mean that Soto and Diaz-Balart's bill is dead. It can still pass the U.S. House through regular procedure, meaning it only needs a simple majority, but it likely won't get a vote until after members return to Washington in September.
"It's a critical moment for Republicans in the House to show their commitment to supporting Venezuelans," said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., who debated the bill for Democrats on the House floor. "TPS was created specifically for situations like the one we're seeing under this narco-regime in Venezuela under Maduro. We have that law. The president has refused to act on it. It is our job here in Congress to represent our communities. They have asked us to do it."
The failure to pass the bill with substantial Republican support is a blow for its future in the U.S. Senate, where 60 senators will need to approve the bill in the GOP-controlled chamber to send it to President Donald Trump's desk.
While Trump has positioned himself as a champion for Venezuela after recognizing Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader, he has not extended TPS to Venezuelans even though the policy does not need congressional approval. Key members of the administration including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Venezuela special representative Elliott Abrams have previously said TPS was under consideration, but stopped short of endorsing a proposal that expands immigration protections without conservative priorities like border wall funding.
Conservative immigration groups also opposed the bill even though it enjoys support from Florida Republicans like Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. TPS is administered by the Department of Homeland Security with consultation from the State Department.
In past cases, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had approved TPS for countries like Haiti without congressional approval after major disasters or political unrest. Florida lawmakers who represent the largest Venezuelan communities in the U.S. have argued for months that the crisis in Venezuela, with its rampant hunger, inflation and violence, meets the standard for TPS.
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. Last year, 336 Venezuelans were deported, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
"I am disappointed that the House failed to muster the supermajority needed to pass the Venezuela TPS Act under suspension of the rules," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Our ultimate goal must be freedom for the Venezuelan people. Until then, it is crucial that we allow Venezuelan nationals to remain safely in the United States. It would be unconscionable to force them to return to the perilous oppression, crime, and destitution of Venezuela today."
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