The White House just released a fact sheet on the executive order on Venezuela, outlining sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials. This is how it begins:
President Obama today issued a new Executive Order (E.O.) declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.
Say what? Whether or not you support the sanctions, there is simply no way to argue this with a straight face because it is so demonstrably false. The United States needs to declare a national emergency because of corruption in Venezuela? Obviously not. Venezuelan corruption constitutes an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S. national security. Obviously not.
Interestingly, the legislation that Obama cites--the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014--actually provides an opposite clause, where the president can waive sanctions if he deems U.S. interests at stake.
So why is Obama doing it? My main reaction is that he has prioritized Cuba talks (which are a legacy thing) and he figures going overboard with Venezuela will help overcome resistance. I doubt he or anyone in his administration actually sees Venezuela as a threat.
Here are some examples of countries/people similarly targeted. It's a reminder of how emergency powers can be so abused that the terms "emergency" and "threat" lose their meaning entirely.
Update: I've now had several people tell me this language is just necessary for implementation. I don't think that changes much, though--words matter even if they're just there for bureaucratic reasons. Words send signals.