The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rubio disputes that the United States would participate in a coup in Venezuela

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday that he knows of no U.S. leaders who are calling for a coup in Venezuela. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) disputed on Sunday that the United States would participate in a coup to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, saying he doesn’t know of any U.S. leaders who are calling for one.

The remarks came four days after the Trump administration recognized Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as interim president after Guaidó and his supporters asserted that last year’s election that kept Maduro in power was illegitimate. Many other U.S. allies followed suit, including Canada.

But the history of U.S. military involvement in Latin America, along with reports that the administration met last year with Venezuelan officers who wanted to plot a coup before rebuffing them, has raised questions about whether the White House would direct a military intervention. President Trump has said that “all options” are on the table, while defense officials have sought to tamp down speculation that the Pentagon could become involved.

Rubio, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the United States is “simply supporting the democratic institutions” in Venezuela, along with many other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

“This is not the U.S.,” he said. “This is Honduras. This is Guatemala. This is Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, et cetera, et cetera. This is not a U.S.-sponsored anything. This is the U.S. supporting the people of Venezuela, who want their constitution and democracy followed. That’s a fact.”

Rubio also has said all U.S. options should be on the table, but he qualified that Sunday.

“The United States always retains the right — always, anywhere in the world in any instance — to protect its national security,” he said. “So I’m not going to justify military intervention because I don’t know who’s calling for that. What I said is that everything is an option because we always have an option to defend our national security in cases where it is threatened.”

Although the Trump administration’s decisions on Venezuela this week have received support from some Democrats, others have called for Washington to take a more limited role.

“The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said in a tweet Thursday. “Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders — so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.” Gabbard announced this month that she will run for president in 2020.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said in tweets Friday that the United States should support the efforts of Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican to facilitate peaceful dialogue in Venezuela and that a “U.S. backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face.”

“We cannot hand pick leaders for other countries on behalf of multinational corporate interests,” she said in one tweet. “The legislature cannot seize power from the President, and Venezuela’s Supreme Court has declared their actions unconstitutional.”

Rubio, in a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said Trump has “never needed any convincing on Venezuela” and has raised the issue for discussion with the senator more than the other way around.

The preferred outcome, Rubio said, is that Maduro leaves office and that, within 30 to 45 days, Venezuela holds a presidential election.

On Saturday, Maduro backed off an earlier demand that all U.S. diplomats leave his country, as Venezuelan and U.S. officials reached an agreement that gives them 30 days to finalize details on new “interest offices” that would have a more limited role. If no deal is reached by then, diplomats from both countries would have to go home.