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Rubio: Response to death of Saudi journalist 'can't be symbolic'

Rubio: Response to death of Saudi journalist 'can't be symbolic'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Fla.) said Sunday that the U.S. must act forcefully against Saudi Arabia if the country is found to be responsible for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, warning that an inadequate response would undermine America's role as a human rights watchdog.

“No matter how important they might be to our Iranian strategy, our ability to be a voice for human rights… is undermined and compromised if we are not willing to confront something as atrocious as what’s allegedly happened here," Rubio said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"How can we criticize [Russian President] Putin for killing journalists if we allow an ally to do the same?" he added.

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Rubio said he doesn't believe the president should rule out any potential response to Saudi Arabia, including pulling out of weapons deals between the two countries.

"It can’t be symbolic. It can't just be words," Rubio said.

He added that the country should not continue to conduct "business as usual" with the Saudis when asked whether Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Pence, Biden wage tug of war over pandemic plans MORE should attend an upcoming economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

"I believe the Trump administration will do something," Rubio said. "The president has said that. But if he doesn’t, Congress will. That I can tell you." 

Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was not seen leaving. Khashoggi, an American resident, wrote for the Washington Post and was a frequent critic of Saudi leadership.

Turkish officials have said he was murdered there on orders from Saudi officials, and The Washington Post reported that there is audio and video that proves Khashoggi was tortured and killed. 

Saudi officials have denied the claims. 

Trump has expressed concern about Khashoggi’s disappearance, and vowed there would be “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia was found to be behind the journalist’s death. 

He has, however, stopped short of saying Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing, and voiced reluctance to altering the weapons deals between the U.S. and the Saudis.

Senators last week invoked sanctions law that requires the president to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance.