The Biden administration is facing criticism from Republicans for its outreach to Venezuela, an oil-rich country that had previously been cut off from diplomatic relations, as the U.S. has banned energy imports from Russia.

By negotiating with Caracas to plug the gap left in U.S oil stocks, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., contended that President Joe Biden was substituting trade with one dictator "just to give it to another."

"Wouldn't it be nice if you had companies like Chevron and others that care about the environment instead of buying oil from Putin?" McCarthy said on CNBC on Wednesday when discussing the need to ramp up domestic oil production. "I don't think we should replace [Russian oil] with Iranian or Venezuelan oil and pay other dictators."

McCarthy’s simultaneous critique of U.S. foreign oil imports and outreach to Venezuela lines up with criticisms levied by Republicans at Biden over his handling of Russia and its war in Ukraine. But whereas the call for energy independence is trumpeted by Republicans as a response to Biden’s foreign and climate policies, the invocation of Venezuela carries extra political weight.

For years, the U.S. and Venezuela maintained an acrimonious relationship. The relationship plummeted further when the Trump administration refused to recognize the disputed results of the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election that saw Hugo Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro reelected to a second six-year term. In response, Washington imposed heavy sanctions on Venezuela, including on its oil exports.

But in an attempt to head off any rise in energy prices by replacing Russian imports with Venezuelan ones, Biden’s team has taken its first step into a political minefield.

As the Republican Party embraces an antisocialist platform for the upcoming midterm elections in November, railing against Venezuela’s regime is a strong campaign pitch for candidates and incumbents alike. This is especially the case in south Florida where Republicans have deepened their inroads with Cuban and Venezuelan communities.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., slammed the White House for engaging in dialogue with Maduro’s government. Rubio, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is up for reelection in November, argued that Venezuela was untrustworthy and incapable of filling the oil gap.

"We don’t need oil from a terrorist Ayatollah in #Iran or narco-terror #MaduroRegime in #Venezuela,” Rubio tweeted on Tuesday.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., also weighed in, posting Sunday on Twitter: "The only thing the Biden admin should be discussing with Maduro is the time of his resignation. @NicolasMaduro is a genocidal tyrant just like Putin. The U.S. cannot depend on one murderous dictator over another & can NEVER recognize his sham government as legitimate in any way."

A U.S. delegation traveled to Venezuela last week to meet with Maduro and other Venezuelan officials to discuss potentially easing oil sanctions on the country. In exchange, Venezuela would agree to increase its oil exports to the U.S. and Maduro would engage in new talks with the Venezuelan opposition.

On Monday, Maduro delivered a televised address where he mentioned that an agenda was agreed on related to "issues of interest" to Venezuela without providing specifics. In a move interpreted as a sign of goodwill, Caracas released a pair of U.S. prisoners who for years had been held on flimsy charges.

Even with promises from Maduro to negotiate with the opposition, Biden risks undercutting a policy adopted under the Trump administration that recognized opposition leader Juan Guiado as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. In a statement, Guiado did not disavow the choice to engage with Maduro, but he said that any sanctions relief should be conditioned on "real progress" in talks with the opposition.

"Relieving sanctions on the dictatorship should only be done with irreversible steps towards freedom and redemocratization," Guiado posted Wednesday on Twitter.

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