A group of Republican senators from oil-refining states urged President Trump on Thursday to refrain from banning oil imports from Venezuela because of the potential harm it would pose to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the rest of the country.
"We are concerned that unilateral sanctions could harm the U.S. economy, impair the global competitiveness of our businesses, and raise costs for our consumers," warned Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi in a letter.
"It is critical to consider the role that the U.S. energy industry and refining sector play in our economic and national security interest," the senators wrote.
Refiners in their states depend on crude oil from the South American country, which is the only member of OPEC in the Western Hemisphere.
"Oil refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast that process the heavier grades of Venezuelan crude represent a significant portion, nearly 10 percent, of U.S. [oil] imports," they wrote. "Blockading imports could inflict great harm on this industry and burden U.S. taxpayers with the cost."
The Trump administration has leveled numerous sanctions in recent weeks on members of the country's government, including President Nicolas Maduro, for actions meant to weaken the country's democratic institutions.
The Maduro regime is reportedly looking to find other markets to make up for the billions of dollars in revenue it receives from the U.S. from crude oil sales. The Energy Department says Venezuela in recent years has looked for closer ties to China, while also signing collaboration agreements with Iran.
The senators fear that placing sanctions on the Maduro government's oil would force Venezuela to move closer to China and Russia.
"According to reports, Russian-controlled Rosneft recently abandoned interests to acquire Venezuelan owned Citgo in order to avoid U.S. sanctions," the senators wrote. "Instead, Russia is negotiating to exchange its 49.9 percent stake in Citgo for interests in oil fields and a fuel supply deal. While maneuvering to circumvent existing U.S. sanctions, Russia continues to consolidate control over the country's natural resources and could one day acquire control over Citgo's U.S. energy infrastructure. Broad sanctions could hasten Russian consolidation of Venezuelan and Citgo oil assets that include U.S. infrastructure."
China has invested in Venezuela for years, they wrote. "According to reports, China lent Venezuela $63 billion from 2007-2014, representing over half of China's loans to the entire continent."