BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu visited a Citgo refinery in southwestern Louisiana on Thursday to highlight her success in stalling a bill to impose sanctions against human-rights abusers in Venezuela’s government.
While the Democratic senator has been criticized as siding with Venezuelan leaders who have committed horrific abuses, she says she’s protecting 2,000 Louisiana jobs at the refinery, which imports oil from the country.
She toured the refinery in Sulphur, near Lake Charles, using the event to highlight her support for the oil and gas industry, a centerpiece of her re-election campaign. The Republican mayor of Sulphur was with her as she met with employees and managers of the facility.
In a tight race for a fourth term, Landrieu has twice stalled a Senate vote on the sanctions legislation by Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez. She said she supports sanctions but the bill is written too broadly.
“There’s a way to work this out, I am sure, so that we could crack down on abuses in Venezuela and make sure that this Citgo refinery, the jobs that are here, are not at risk,” Landrieu said, in comments recorded and released by her campaign.
Her main Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, supports the legislation and said Landrieu has sided with Venezuelan leaders who “are killing democracy.” He said Landrieu has repeatedly been reassured by Democrats and Republicans that the legislation would not harm workers in the United States or the Citgo refinery.
“Sen. Landrieu wants to claim this, and yet her own party says it is not true. The fact is that the United States has always stuck up for freedom, and we don’t think individuals should have the right to destroy democracy,” Cassidy said.
The Independent Venezuelan American Citizens group has held rallies at federal buildings in New Orleans and Baton Rouge to criticize Landrieu’s blocking of the bill.
Landrieu’s office says her position has support from the AFL-CIO workers’ union, and points to a letter from Citgo raising concerns about the sanctions.
“Bill Cassidy is a doctor. He’s not a lawyer. And Citgo has five law firms that have read the bill backwards and forwards in English and Spanish, and they believe that it can target them, and they asked for about two or three very modest changes to the language,” Landrieu said.
The Democratic senator is one of the most vulnerable in the nation, targeted by the GOP in its effort to gain six Senate seats this fall and retake control of the chamber. Chair of the Senate energy committee, Landrieu hopes the Citgo issue showcases what she describes as her willingness to take on Washington to protect Louisiana jobs and the state’s energy industry.
Republicans describe Landrieu’s opposition to the sanctions bill as an attempt to draw attention away from her inability to get a vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which the senator supports.
“Landrieu has resorted to waging war against straw men at the expense of pro-democracy protesters,” Republican National Committee spokesman Ben Voelkel said in a statement.
The sanctions bills in Congress instruct President Barack Obama’s administration to compile a list of human-rights abusers in Venezuela’s government. Those blacklisted would be banned from entering the U.S., and assets they hold in American banks would be frozen. The House approved the package months ago.