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GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language

GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language
© Aaron Schwartz
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischWill Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Idaho) pulled his Saudi Arabia bill off the panel's agenda Thursday after Democrats muscled through changes that included a tougher crackdown on Riyadh.
 
Risch made the announcement after Democrats, who were joined by Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Ky.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country The Memo: Harris moves signal broad role as VP Former US attorney asks for probe of allegations Graham pressured Georgia official MORE (R-S.C.), succeeded in adding provisions to Risch's measure that would temporarily suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and slap sanctions on the royal family.
 
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"It's no longer my bill. I will be withdrawing my bill," Risch said during the Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, stressing that his decision wasn't "sour grapes." 
 
"This was a fair fight. Everybody had their say. Everybody knew what they were doing here," Risch told reporters after the meeting.
 
Risch's Saudi Arabia policy bill would force a “comprehensive review” of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, in addition to denying or revoking 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 Democrats argued the measure lacked mechanisms that would force the administration to crack down on Saudi Arabia over the years-long Yemen civil war and the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.
 
 
"This is one where we got to do what we got to do," Kaine said during Thursday's meeting.
 
 
"The president seems incapable of condemning the crown prince's actions," he said. "When the president won't act, we must."
 
Menendez has put forth competing legislation.
 
His bill would require sanctions within 30 days on anyone involved in Khashoggi's death, including “any official of the government of Saudi Arabia or member of the royal family” determined to be involved. The measure also would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
 
The decision by Risch to withdraw his own legislation, effectively ending any chance that the Senate will vote on Saudi-related bills, caps days of tensions among members of the Foreign Relations Committee about how far to push the administration to crack down on Saudi Arabia.
 
Democrats had been expected to try to force the Menendez bill, which he co-wrote with Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ind.), onto Risch's legislation, but it was unclear how the GOP chairman would respond.
 
Risch, after the meeting, signaled that the Senate's work on Saudi legislation was effectively over.
 
"It can't become law, we're all spinning our wheels here," he said. "This is over. … It is what it is."
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to pass Menendez's bill as a stand-alone measure, but Risch vowed after the meeting that it wouldn't get a floor vote.
 
"The objective was to give the committee the alternative of either doing something where they could participate in the formulation of foreign policy or set that aside and just do messaging," Risch said. "They chose to do the messaging … but that cedes the formation of policy totally to the second branch of government."