The latest development in the ongoing tussle between the White House and Capitol Hill is a bipartisan bill introduced by two senators yesterday which seeks to punish the Saudi Arabian government for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. The Bill was introduced just two days after the Senate failed to overturn Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution passed by both chambers of Congress blocking the sale of arms to the Kingdom.
The tug of war between President Trump and members of Congress over Khashoggi’s murder has taken many twists and turns over the past ten months. Trump has defied lawmakers persistently — including those from his own party — as well as US intelligence by continuing to give his backing to the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who is widely suspected of authorising the murder.
The bill introduced by Senators Christopher A Coons (Democrat) and Lindsey O Graham (Republican) would require the director of national intelligence to identify Saudi officials involved in killing Khashoggi and compel the Trump administration to impose visa sanctions on those individuals and deny them entry into the United States. “This bill is another important message to the Saudis that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi will not go unpunished,” said Graham. “If you played a role in the murder, you have no business travelling to the United States. This bill accomplishes that goal.”
In direct criticism of the President, Coons said: “We cannot let our foreign policy be dictated solely by narrow economic and security concerns. Our values are equally if not more important than our interests.” He added that America has a long history with Saudi Arabia but the President has failed to hold the country’s senior leadership to account for the horrendous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. “This legislation will ensure the United States doesn’t turn a blind eye to egregious violations of human rights.”
Khashoggi’s murder has been a major divisive issue within Washington. Trump’s decision to stand by an unelected, authoritarian Crown Prince even if it means going against the overwhelming majority of elected representatives in his own country has baffled commentators and analysts, including many of his own supporters. Lawmakers, including some Senate Republicans, say that there was no legitimate reason to bypass Congress just to back the Saudi government.
On Monday, five Republicans voted to override the presidential veto, siding with their Democrat colleagues in a 45-40 vote. Fifteen senators abstained. Despite winning the vote, however, the Senate fell short of the two thirds majority required.