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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Republican lawmakers warn against more military coordination with Russia Biden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now 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 PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines 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.
"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.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-Va.) argued that if Trump was unwilling to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who most lawmakers believe signed off on Khashoggi's killing, Congress had to act on its own.
"This is one where we got to do what we got to do," Kaine said during Thursday's meeting.
Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee, added that Congress needed a bill that would have "serious consequences."
"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 YoungHow to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill 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."