Professor Greg Weeks (UNC) suggests that President Obama could have used the horribly-named “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” to sanction Venezuelan officials without going through the foderol of calling the country a national security threat.
Well, no, he couldn’t.
Section 5 of the Act does not independently authorize the President to do anything. Rather, it authorizes “The exercise of all powers granted to the President by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.” [Italics mine.]
Which means that President Obama still had to jump through all the hoops laid out by the Emergency Economic Powers Act, including the declaration of a national security threat.
Basically, the President had three options. (1) Don’t impose sanctions. (2) Break American law. (3) Declare Venezuela to be a threat to national security. He went with option (3).
Maybe option (1) is a better idea. (I know y’all have opinions!) But option (2) sounds like a really really bad one. Which left us with option (3) and a highly amusing kerfuffle, which although big on the Internet, really was brought to my attention the old-fashioned way.