Obama leading bipartisan delegation to Saudi Arabia

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (R-Ariz.) and several top former Bush administration officials are joining President Obama in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as part of a bipartisan delegation to pay respects to the family of the late King Abdullah.

Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of State under George W. Bush, and James Baker, who held that position in his father’s administration, are among the Republican officials in attendance. Ex-national security adviser Stephen Hadley will also be part of the presidential delegation.

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Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said that the U.S. wanted the delegation to be bipartisan and feature members of Congress because of the legislature’s interest in U.S.-Saudi policy. He said the White House believed the group “represented people who had been invested in the Saudi relationship for a long time and who had known King Abdullah well.”

A number of Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiProgressives call for impeachment inquiry after reported Kavanaugh allegations The promise and peril of offshoring prescription drug pricing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are also traveling with the president. Secretary of State John Kerry, national security adviser Susan Rice, and senior advisers John Podesta and Valerie Jarrett were among the White House staff in the delegation.

The White House sees the trip as an “opportunity to both pay respects to the legacy of King Abdullah, who was a close partner with the United States and also to touch base on some of the issues where we’re working together with the Saudis,” Rhodes said.

Aides have said they specifically hope to touch on counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the political upheaval in Yemen and the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

It does not appear that the president will raise human rights issues in his first meeting with the new King Salman. Obama sidestepped a question on the subject in an interview with CNN taped earlier Tuesday, and Rhodes would say only that “societies are more successful when they respect those type of universal values.”

“Places don’t change overnight, but I think with Saudi Arabia, what we’ve said we support is a reform process that does provide for greater respect for those types of universal values,” he continued. “King Abdullah took some initial steps in that direction in terms of more political participation for some people within Saudi Arabia, more access to education for women. But clearly, much more work needs to be done.”