A group of bipartisan senators has introduced a bill aimed at creating accountability in the US-Saudi relationship, despite past failed attempts to provide oversight of the Trump administration’s dealings with the Gulf kingdom.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch and committee members Sens. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat; Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican; and Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, introduced the Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act (SADRA) this week to mandate an executive review of the United States’ relationship with country. The bill comes amid continued scrutiny of the administration’s unwavering partnership with Saudi Arabia despite concerns over human rights, civilian casualties in the war in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“All of us in Congress agree that we need to see a change in Saudi conduct going forward,” Risch, an Idaho Republican, said in a statement. “The kingdom’s concerning conduct is not new, and it reached a turning point in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, which was a horrendous act for which we all seek justice. This legislation is meant to address the tensions between our two nations, reevaluate our bilateral relationship, and change Saudi conduct moving forward.”
The bill would require the secretary of state, in coordination with the Defense secretary, the director of national intelligence and the Treasury secretary, to prepare a comprehensive report and present it to Congress within 270 days. The report would need to examine foreign policy goals, risks, Saudi Arabia’s relations with other countries like China and Russia, and its human rights record.
The legislation would also revoke or deny visas to members of the Saudi royal family serving in the equivalent of executive schedule or senior executive service positions, including their spouses or children. It also calls for an end to the war in Yemen and a reduction of civilian casualties in that conflict.
“The United States cannot ignore the Kingdom’s actions, and this bill sends a clear, bipartisan message to Saudi Arabia’s leadership,” Shaheen said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation is a means toward forcing accountability and I hope it will come before the Senate floor for consideration.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have condemned the administration for its unilateral moves in support of Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, bipartisan senators rebuked a State Department official over $8.1 billion in emergency arms sales to a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, which were greenlighted without congressional approval.
“The process that the State Department followed for these weapons sales, not to point too fine a point on it, was crap,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that morning.
However, past legislative efforts to compel the administration to hold Saudi Arabia to account have been ineffective. The White House declined to meet a legally mandated deadline to tell Congress whether they believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
In mid-April, President Donald Trump vetoed a congressional resolution that would have sought to end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate at the time.
The President is also expected to veto a package of bipartisan resolutions passed in late June disapproving of the administration’s emergency arms sales to Gulf partners.
Faced with criticism, the administration has defended the necessity of its relations with Saudi Arabia, specifically highlighting its role in countering the influence of Iran in the region. Trump has also spoken highly of the country’s purchase of American military products. At the G20 summit weeks ago in Osaka, Japan, Trump called the Crown Prince “a friend of (his).”