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 RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses MSNBC's Chris Hayes knocks senators for ducking out of impeachment trial: 'You can resign' 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.
 
 
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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.
 
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Senate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner 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.
 
 
"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 YoungRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner 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."