President Donald Trump waves after speaking to the media before leaving the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, to travel to Florida, where he will spend Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Republicans divided over Trump’s posture toward Saudi Arabia

Many Republicans have denounced Trump’s decision not to levy harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

President Donald Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia has exposed a foreign policy rift in the Republican Party, as some of his GOP colleagues warn that not punishing the kingdom for its role in killing a U.S.-based columnist will have dangerous consequences.

Many Republicans — even Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, who share their views on the matter with the president — have denounced Trump’s decision not to levy harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the death and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday he was “astounded” by Trump’s statement and likened it to a press release for Saudi Arabia.

“It is a delicate situation when we have a long-term ally that we’ve had for decades, but we have a crown prince that I believe ordered the killing of a journalist,” Corker told Chattanooga TV station WTVC in his home state of Tennessee. “We don’t have a smoking gun. Everything points to the fact that he knew about it and directed it.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s decision, saying the U.S. has already placed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of involvement in the Oct. 2 killing of The Washington Post columnist, who had been critical of the royal family.

“We’ve sanctioned 17 people — some of them very senior in the Saudi government,” Pompeo said Wednesday in a radio interview with KCMO in Kansas City, Missouri. “We are going to make sure that America always stands for human rights.”

Graham, R-S.C., isn’t convinced. “When we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset,” he said.

Read more: Trudeau pushes for more Saudi accountability in Khashoggi killing

Read more: Trump defies calls to punish crown prince for writer’s death

Members of both parties have accused Trump of ignoring U.S. intelligence that concluded, according to one U.S. official, that it was likely the crown prince ordered the killing. Several lawmakers have indicated that the U.S. has no “smoking gun” that proves he was responsible, but they have called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to publicly share what they told the president about the slaying.

In his statement Tuesday, Trump argued that punishing Saudi Arabia by “foolishly cancelling” Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. would only benefit Russia and China. Critics, including high-ranking officials in other countries, accused Trump of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

It’s “America First,” Trump said.

That unleashed a tweet Wednesday from Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii who wrote: “Being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Trump also said the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia’s help to counter Iran in the region, fight extremism and keep oil prices steady. The U.S., Russia and the Saudis have boosted oil production in anticipation of sharply lower exports from Iran due to U.S. sanctions reinstated after Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump publicly thanked Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for plunging oil prices. However, OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing countries, could announce production cuts at its Dec. 6 meeting in Vienna, nudging prices upward.

“Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” he wrote from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he’s spending Thanksgiving.

Criticism of the president will likely resume after the holiday when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill early next week.

“Congressional Republicans will have to do a gut check,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Wednesday. “The Republican Party has believed for more than 50 years that morality was one of the reasons why the United States won the Cold War. And the president walked away from that.”

Some lawmakers are already fighting back. Twenty-two members of the Senate — 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats —have triggered investigations into Khashoggi’s death and specifically whether the crown prince was responsible. The investigations were requested under provisions of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The act requires the president to report back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within 120 days — in this case by Feb. 7 — on whether the crown prince was responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression and the administration’s decision on whether sanctions are warranted.

Moreover, three Democrats and three Republicans, who say sanctions, which include a ban on travel to the U.S., imposed so far are insufficient, have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018. Among other things, the bill calls for suspending weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and imposing mandatory sanctions on all those responsible for Khashoggi’s death and those blocking humanitarian access to Yemen.

Democrats going against the president is expected, but Republican outrage will be more difficult for Trump to shrug off.

Before leaving for the holiday, Paul, R-Ky., lamented to The Associated Press that Trump didn’t accept the counsel he received from both him and Graham — two Republicans often at odds on foreign policy.

Graham has said the crown prince is “irrational” and “unhinged” and warns there will be strong, bipartisan support in Congress for harsher sanctions against Saudi Arabia and members of the royal family.

Paul typically eschews U.S. intervention abroad, but views Khashoggi’s death as one in a long line of malign activities by Saudi Arabia topped by its war in neighbouring Yemen where civilians are being killed by Saudi airstrikes.

“He’s been hearing from both myself and from Lindsey Graham — two different sides of the foreign policy spectrum — and yet we get this,” Paul said about Trump’s statement in support of Saudi Arabia. “We really have to reconsider what we’re doing.”

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Maria Danilova and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

William Griffin arrested in Houston homicide

RCMP have now arrested William Griffin, the man wanted in connection to… Continue reading

Family of Terrace man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Coast Mountain College’s indigenization efforts recognized at international symposium

Collaboration and community are key to Indigenous reconciliation in education, CMTN says

B.C. First Nation Chief Ed John faces historic sex charges

John served as minister for children and families under then-premier Ujjah Dosanjh

VIDEO: B.C. couple creates three-storey ‘doggie mansion’ for their five pups

Group of seven, who Kylee Ryan has dubbed as the ‘wandering paws,’ have a neat setup in Jade City

MacKinnon powers Avs to 5-4 OT win over Canucks

Vancouver battled back late to pick up single point

Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Candice Servatius, who is an evangelical Christian, is suing School District 70

Family of B.C. man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Princeton couple pays for dream vacation with 840,000 grocery store points

It’s easy if you know what you are doing, they say

B.C. municipality wants ALC to reconsider their decision in regard to pipeline work camp

The ALC had rejected the construction of the Coastal GasLink work camp behind the Vanderhoof airport in October

Chilliwack family’s dog missing after using online pet-sitting service

Frankie the pit bull bolted and hit by a car shortly after drop off through Rover.com

B.C. wildlife experts urge hunters to switch ammo to stop lead poisoning in birds

OWL, in Delta, is currently treating two eagles for lead poisoning

Most Read