President Donald Trump is receiving criticism from South Florida lawmakers after he expressed his openness to meeting with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.
In an interview with Axios, Trump said he's turned down meetings with the 57-year-old United Socialist Party leader but remains open to the possibility.
"I would maybe think about that. … Maduro would like to meet. And I'm never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings," Trump said.
Trump also admitted to having second thoughts about his recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.
"I could have lived with it or without it, but I was very firmly against what's going on in Venezuela," Trump told Axios.
"Guaidó was elected. I think that I wasn't necessarily in favor, but I said — some people that liked it, some people didn't. I was OK with it. I don't think it was — you know, I don't think it was very meaningful one way or the other," Trump added.
In a statement Monday, Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, of Florida's 27th District, said Trump has "been charmed by the authoritarianism" of Maduro.
"The president’s admiration of the ruthless Maduro regime and its band of thugs is now one the greatest obstacles to restoring freedom to the long-suffering people of Venezuela. This is a sad day for the Venezuelan people, democracy, and America’s leadership in the world," Shalala said.
Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart had a different perspective.
"@RealDonaldTrump has been strong, clear, consistent in standing with the #Venezuelan people & their legitimate representative @jguaido. His administration has sanctioned dozens of Maduro-linked entities and operatives over the course of his administration," Diaz-Balart tweeted. "His DOJ has indicted #Maduro and his cronies for crimes related to corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism. No president has been tougher in opposing tyranny in our hemisphere than @realDonaldTrump."
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also spoke out Monday on Twitter.
"The central goal of U.S. policy in #Venezuela is the return of democracy. We have always been willing to facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy & constitutional order," Rubio wrote. "But we will continue to reject any effort to keep #MaduroRegime in power or use talks as a delay tactic."
Trump also took to Twitter Monday to clarify his comments.
"Unlike the radical left, I will ALWAYS stand against socialism and with the people of Venezuela. My Admin has always stood on the side of FREEDOM and LIBERTY and against the oppressive Maduro regime! I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!" Trump tweeted.