- President Donald Trump’s overall approach to Saudi jounrnalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and death is seemingly alienating him from some of his top Republican allies in the Senate.
- Key Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Bob Corker, have all condemned Saudi Arabia over the case. These Republicans have pushed for economic sanctions, among other repercussions.
- Trump has been criticised for being too “soft” on the Saudis and hasn’t committed to any form of punishment.
President Donald Trump’s overall approach to Khashoggi’s disappearance and death is seemingly alienating him from some of his top Republican allies in the Senate.
Saudi officials confirmed on Friday night that Khashoggi is dead.
Moving forward, Trump will likely find it far more difficult to push his agenda through Congress when it comes to Saudi Arabia, experts say.
Key Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have all condemned Saudi Arabia over the case and its broader record on human-rights issues. They have been part of bipartisan calls to impose economic sanctions and cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, critics feel Trump has been far too “soft” on the Saudis under the current circumstances.
Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider the Khashoggi case is “embarrassing to Trump and is causing a rift between the President and the foreign policy establishment in the GOP.”
Trump’s handling of the Khashoggi case has been widely criticised
Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Turkish officials alleged that Khashoggi was brutally killed in the consulate under orders from the highest level of the Saudi government.
Khashoggi, who was often critical of the Saudi leadership in his reporting, had been writing for The Washington Post and was a US resident with a green card.
Early in the case, the Saudis denied any culpability in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and at one point said that the journalist departed the consulate the same day he arrived, without providing proof of that claim.
Trump has defended the Saudis, suggesting “rogue killers” were responsible and describing criticism of the kingdom as another case of “guilty until proven innocent.” He’s also touted America’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, boasting about billions of dollars of US arms sales to the kingdom when questioned by reporters about the case.
The president seems strongly opposed to ceasing arms sales to the Saudis, claiming it would harm the US economy and be a “tough pill to swallow.”
The president on Thursday did say it “certainly looks” like Khashoggi is dead, but stopped short of blaming the Saudi government. He added that there would be “severe consequences” if it turns out the Saudis had anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance, but didn’t get into what those might be.
Top Senate Republicans had been ripping into Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s disappearance
Congressional Republicans have been far more direct than Trump as Khashoggi’s disappearance spiraled into a global crisis
Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently led a bipartisan group of senators in invoking the Magnitsky Act over the Khashoggi case, which paved the way for sanctions to be leveled against the Saudis.
Today, we sent a letter to the administration triggering an investigation and Global Magnitsky sanctions determination regarding the disappearance of Saudi journalist and @washingtonpost columnist #JamalKhashoggi. pic.twitter.com/reqXtmqfJt
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 10, 2018
Last week, Corker said he believed the Saudis had killed Khashoggi.
More recently, Corker on Thursday decried the Trump administration for its “clampdown” on intelligence regarding the Khashoggi case. The Tennessee Republican claimed a White House official prevented him from viewing intelligence related to the journalist’s disappearance.
“I don’t think the administration can allow this to squirrel around too much longer without taking a definitive position,”Corker told Politico.
Corker and Trump have butted heads over foreign policy in the past, so his criticism of the White House is not particularly surprising.
But the president’s general approach to the Khashoggi case also puts him at odds with three of his key allies: Graham, Rubio, and Paul.
Here’s what these three Trump allies have said about the Khashoggi case:
- As Trump touted denials from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman this week, Graham described the Saudi leader as “toxic” and said he’s “gotta go.”
- The South Carolina senator said the crown prince had Khashoggi “murdered,” adding that he plans to “sanction the hell out of” the Saudis.
- Rubio said the US will lose its “credibility on human rights” if it doesn’t punish the Saudis, and said the US government shouldn’t be so concerned with money from arms sales.
- Rubio accused Saudi Arabia of going “gangster on a writer” and being “disrespectful” to Republicans who’ve championed their interests, including Trump.
- Paul, who’s often been at odds with the GOP establishment on foreign policy, has long decried the US-Saudi partnership. He’s ramped up this criticism since Khashoggi went missing.
- “It’s time to rethink America’s relationship with the Saudi Kingdom,” Paul wrote in an op-ed for Fox News this week. “We can start by cutting the Saudis off. We should not send one more dime, one more soldier, one more adviser, or one more arms deal to the kingdom.”
Congress is not going to let Trump ‘sweep this under the rug’
Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of staff under former President Barack Obama, said it’s “not clear” the Trump administration “understands” how the president’s handling of the Khashoggi case could negatively impact his relationships on the Hill.
“It looks to me like the Trump administration is trying to manage the problem rather than engage in a search for the truth,” McKeon, who is now a senior director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, told Business Insider.
“The President has road-tested the ‘rogue actors’ theory on behalf of Riyadh,” McKeon added. “I don’t think the Congress is going to accept a result that appears to sweep this under the rug.”
McKeon said the situation could have a “significant impact” on the US-Saudi relationship, particularly in the short-term. “There’ll likely be a reaction” in Congress if Trump chooses not to act against the kingdom, McKeon said.
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