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Florida senator calls for military involvement in Venezuela

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 12, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By ZAC ANDERSON | Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. | Published: April 13, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Rick Scott reiterated his view Friday during a speech in Sarasota that the U.S. military should help deliver aid to Venezuela, a provocative position that risks drawing America soldiers into an armed conflict in the South American nation.

"It shouldn't be America by themselves; we ought to continue the sanction process, but we also ought to look at whether we use our military assets – with other countries and after the request by the rightful leader ... Juan Guaido – use military assets to give humanitarian aid," Scott told about 175 people gathered at Michael's on East for the Argus Foundation event.

Scott floated the idea of having the U.S. military escort aid convoys in Venezuela during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. He pointed to the stark humanitarian situation that exists in the country under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro to justify his position, writing on Twitter that Venezuelans are enduring "one of the worst humanitarian crisis in our hemisphere's history."

Scott noted Friday that millions of people have fled Venezuela, and those who remain are struggling to survive as they grapple with shortages of food, medicine, electricity and other basic needs.

Meanwhile, the Maduro regime has turned away some efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.

Scott told the crowd he is traveling to Panama, Colombia and Argentina next week. Many of the refugees from Venezuela have poured into Colombia, while others have made their way to South Florida, leading Scott and other Florida politicians to take a keen interest in the Venezuelan crisis.

This week Scott co-introduced a bill with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio that would prohibit companies that do business with Venezuela from getting contracts with federal agencies in the U.S. Scott pushed similar legislation at the state level when he was governor of Florida.

Scott did not take questions Friday, and his 20-minute speech did not touch on another issue that is important to many Floridians – offshore oil drilling. Scott voted this week to confirm former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt as secretary of the Interior Department.

While he was running for office last year, Scott held a news conference at the Tallahassee airport with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who declared then that Florida was "off the table" for offshore drilling.

But Bernhardt hasn't made the same commitment, at least publicly, and Politico reported this week that sources within the oil and gas industry say that both the Gulf coast and Atlantic coast of Florida would be opened for drilling under the Trump administration's "current five-year off-shore drilling proposal."

Whether Scott and the Trump administration end up seeing eye to eye on the administration's final offshore drilling plan, the new senator has been a close ally of the president. Trump even mentioned recently that Scott would help craft a health care plan endorsed by the president.

Trump quickly backed away from the idea of pushing a comprehensive health care overhaul this year, and Scott has taken a more limited approach by focusing on prescription drug prices. Scott joked Friday that his push to rein in drug prices had earned him an unlikely ally, democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Scott said he and Sanders also are aligned on the issue of restoring the Everglades.

"Shocking to you, my two issues, Bernie Sanders voted with me," Scott said to laughter, adding: "I might have gone off the deep end. You never know."

After eight years in the governor's mansion, Scott said that heading to Washington, D.C., has been an adjustment. He repeatedly described the federal government as dysfunctional.

Scott also talked about learning the rhythms and procedures of the Senate. Junior senators often preside over the Senate on behalf of the majority leader. Scott said he was presiding over the chamber during his first week in office, and a bill passed and "I didn't even know it."

"No one tells you the rules; you just listen to a parliamentarian," Scott added, noting that some bills are passed without a formal vote through a "hotline" procedure that allows the bill to pass if nobody has objected.

"So I found out that when I was sitting up there presiding we passed a law that I wasn't sure I was going to support," Scott said. "But I guess I did."

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