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 RischThis week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran 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 TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA 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 RubioLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist House passes bills to boost small business cybersecurity MORE (R-Fla.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment MORE (D-N.H.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship MORE (D-Del.) are backing the legislation.

A majority of the panel is also backing legislation from Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House Senate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Congress needs to repeal the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force 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.