Congress will not support U.S. military intervention in Venezuela despite comments hinting at such involvement by President Donald Trump, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said on Wednesday.
"I do worry about the president's saber rattling, his hints that U.S. military intervention remains an option. I want to make clear to our witnesses and to anyone else watching: U.S. military intervention is not an option," U.S. Representative Eliot Engel said at the opening of a hearing on the volatile political situation in the OPEC nation.
Engel also warned about the possible effects on the Venezuelan people of U.S. sanctions on state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL]. The United States in January imposed sanctions aimed at limiting President Nicolas Maduro's access to oil revenue.
"I appreciate the need to squeeze Maduro," Engel said. "But the White House must think through the potential repercussions that these sanctions could have on the Venezuelan people if Maduro does not leave office in the coming weeks."
Venezuela already faces chronic food and medical supply shortages, hyperinflation and severe economic contraction.
The country's Congress chief, Juan Guaido, invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro's re-election last year was a sham.
Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China, as well as control of state institutions including the military.
Trump's pick to lead U.S. efforts on Venezuela, former U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams, said Washington would keep up pressure on Maduro and his inner circle by "a variety of means."
"But we will also provide off-ramps to those who will do what is right for the Venezuelan people," he said.
Abrams drew intermittent protests at the start of the hearing. "You are a convicted criminal!" one man shouted before being escorted out of the room.
Abrams, assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration, was convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.
Sandra Oudkirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, told the panel the Venezuela crisis was unlikely to affect adequately supplied global oil markets or have a sustained negative impact on U.S. refineries that import Venezuelan oil.