BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing increased pressure to stop blocking a bill that would impose sanctions against human-rights abusers in Venezuela's government.
Landrieu's main Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, co-wrote an opinion piece Tuesday with Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio that criticizes Landrieu as siding with Venezuelan leaders who have jailed and killed protesters.
"Venezuelan regime officials have been oppressing innocent Venezuelans, pillaging that country's wealth, traveling to the U.S. to splurge, and then return to Venezuela to carry on with their repression. At the very least, it should be U.S. policy to not allow these practices to continue," the lawmakers wrote in a column for The Advertiser newspaper in Lafayette.
Meanwhile, the Independent Venezuelan American Citizens group held rallies at federal buildings in New Orleans and Baton Rouge to criticize Landrieu's position and to urge her to support the sanction legislation.
A Democrat seeking her fourth term, Landrieu said she supports sanctions against the Venezuelan government. But she said Rubio's bill is written too broadly and could threaten jobs at a major Citgo refinery in Louisiana, which imports oil from Venezuela.
"I am very concerned that Senator Rubio's bill would endanger 2,000 full time and contract workers at the Citgo oil refinery in Lake Charles. Once a simple sentence that protects these hard working Louisianians is added to the bill, I will be happy to support the legislation," Landrieu said in a statement.
Republicans hope the criticism strikes another blow against Landrieu, who is targeted by the GOP in their effort to gain six Senate seats this fall and retake control of the chamber.
Rubio and Cassidy said Landrieu has been assured the legislation wouldn't harm Citgo's operations in Louisiana, and they accused her of working with the "Venezuelan regime" to impede sanctions.
"While many honest, hard-working Americans are currently employed by Citgo, the reality is that a request by its officers to block or weaken this legislation is as good as a request from the highest levels of the Venezuelan government," they wrote.
Landrieu's office has circulated a July 29 letter from Citgo raising concerns about the sanctions and touting her support of the energy industry. The incumbent senator, who chairs the Senate energy committee, has spent her three terms in Washington defending the oil and gas industry, and she uses that record as a key plank of her re-election campaign.
Responding to a crackdown on opposition protests earlier this year, 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, but it has been beset by challenges in the Senate, as senators have raised, then dropped objections to the measure.
Rubio and other supporters of the sanctions bill were trying to pass the measure before the start of the August congressional recess, but Landrieu's objection stalled it.
Ernesto Ackerman, head of the Independent Venezuelan American Citizens group, said activists have been trying to reach out to Landrieu's staff to show that nothing in the legislation would affect Louisiana jobs.
"The sanctions have nothing to do with oil," he said.
Associated Press Writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.