Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has previously criticized American intervention in other countries, argued this week that the United States was partly to blame for the devastation in Venezuela – eliciting pushback Thursday from Vice President Mike Pence.
The freshman Minnesota Democrat’s comments come as protests continue to rack Venezuela, with National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaido trying unsuccessfully to instigate a military uprising against embattled President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday. Maduro has repeatedly blamed attempts to overthrow him on the United States, with the White House recognizing Guaido as the country’s interim president and looking for ways to support him economically.
“A lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela, and we’ve sort of set the stage for where we’re arriving today,” Omar said Wednesday on “Democracy Now!,” which airs on PBS. “This particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela, and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States.”
CNN has reached out to Omar’s office for additional comment.
Pence accused Omar on Thursday of backing “socialism over freedom” with her comments.
“As Venezuelans take to the streets to stand for their freedom against an oppressive dictator, Democrat Congresswoman @IlhanMN chooses socialism over freedom,” Pence wrote on Twitter along with retweeting a video of her remarks. “The Trump Administration stands with the freedom-loving people of Venezuela.”
Omar appeared to address Pence’s comments in a later tweet, dismissing the allegation that she opposes freedom and slamming the Trump administration for “making it worse” in Venezuela.
“Just as in interventions past, those who oppose war are labeled supporters of dictators and haters of ‘freedom,’ ” she tweeted. “We saw this playbook in Iraq. The situation in Venezuela is dire and the Trump Admin is making it worse. We must support diplomacy, not war.”
President Donald Trump addressed the conflict in Venezuela on Wednesday evening during an appearance on Fox Business, calling it a “terrible situation” and an “incredible mess” that is likely to be “very bad” going forward.
“We’re doing everything we can do short of the ultimate – and there are people that would like to have us do the ultimate,” he told host Trish Regan via phone, adding that “we have a lot of options open.”
Regan later asked for Trump’s response to potential criticism from “the Ilhan Omars of the world” that the US’s involvement is motivated by Venezuela’s role as a massive crude oil exporter. The US sanctioned Venezuela’s state-backed oil company in January.
“Well, it’s wrong, and what it is is a humanitarian thing,” Trump replied. “When you look at what is happening, we would really like to see a successful country. We liked it the way it was before this group got in there … and the predecessor, I guess, they say was worse, I’m not sure. I think maybe Maduro was worse.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also pushed back Thursday on assertions that America was to blame for Venezuela’s troubles.
“The challenges that face the Venezuelan people today are years and years in the making, long before American sanctions were put in place months and months ago, whether that was putting military individuals in charge of their oil wealth,” Pomepeo told conservative radio host Ben Shapiro.
“The corruption, the kleptocracy, is legion, and that all long predates Americans’ effort … to build out a 54-nation coalition to restore democracy,” Pompeo continued, adding that suggesting otherwise is “sick and dangerous.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough and Sunlen Serfaty contributed to this report.