GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship

GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship
© Stefani Reynolds

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenate vote on Trump's new NAFTA held up by committee review Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (R-Idaho) introduced legislation Wednesday to force the Trump administration to undergo a "comprehensive review" of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

"This legislation calls for a comprehensive review of U.S.-Saudi relations," Risch said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

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The bill requires the Trump administration to submit a report to Congress within 270 days that reviews the foreign policy goals of Saudi Arabia and if they align with the United States, the level of risk to the United States created by Saudi Arabia's actions and an evaluation of Saudi Arabia's record on human rights.

It would also deny or revoke visas to members of the Saudi royal family who serve in the Saudi government in positions equivalent to a deputy secretary or agency chief. But, the bill would let President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE waive that provision if he deems it's in the national interest.

Risch's bill comes as lawmakers have struggled to find legislation to address Saudi Arabia that could both pass Congress and win over the White House.

The Senate has passed resolutions this year to block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia and force Trump to yank U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

But Trump vetoed the Yemen resolution and is expected to also veto the attempt to block the arms deal. Congress did not have the votes to override his Yemen veto, and will again not have the votes to override him on the arms deal.

On Yemen, Risch's legislation requires the administration to provide a briefing to lawmakers about the progress made toward ending the war and would slap sanctions on individuals who are knowingly blocking humanitarian aid.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been a point of contention between Trump and lawmakers in the wake of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi embassy in Turkey last year.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been going south for a long time,” Risch told The Washington Post. “The Khashoggi event shocked a lot of people and brought a lot of people to the realization that the Saudis were not in tandem with us as they had been in the past.”

“The objective here is to maintain the relationship and at the same time bring [the Saudis] to the realization and change of conduct that needs to be done if the relationship is to be continued,” Risch added. “It can’t continue in the direction that it’s going. I have met with the Saudis and told them that they are only one Khashoggi-type of event away from having to find a new partner.”

Risch is expected to give his bill a markup in committee as soon as next week, where he'll need a majority to beat back a Democratic counterproposal and advance his bill to the full Senate.

In addition to Risch, Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE (R-Fla.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne Shaheen2020 forecast: A House switch, a slimmer Senate for GOP — and a bigger win for Trump Lewandowski decides against Senate bid Biden would consider Republican for VP 'but I can't think of one right now' MORE (D-N.H.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Democrats scramble to rein in Trump's Iran war powers MORE (D-Del.) are backing the legislation.

A majority of the panel is also backing legislation from Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner Senate GOP's campaign arm hauls in million in 2019 Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' MORE (R-Ind.) that includes automatic sanctions and a temporary suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Risch praised his colleagues on Wednesday, saying he "sought broad input" and that Democrats have been "very helpful in trying to craft legislation."

"[But] I urge us all to seek measured solutions to these difficult challenges and avoid inadvertently strengthening our adversaries or damaging our partners and allies," he said during Wednesday's committee hearing.

Updated: 12:19 p.m.