Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury finally moved ahead with sanctions on 17 Saudis connected to the Jamal Khashoggi murder on Thursday, a move that was tipped late last week around the same time the administration said it would end air refueling flights for the Saudi Arabian military campaign in Yemen.
As noted on Friday, the White House appears intent on avoiding a scenario where Congress tries to force the issue, where that means applying real pressure on Riyadh in retaliation for the extrajudicial killing of a journalist. Here’s what we said last week:
You can be absolutely sure that whatever Trump agrees to do here will be discussed with the Saudis ahead of time. Additionally, it’s nearly certain that any action this President takes against the Saudis will be designed to blunt the push for something more substantial from Congress. That is, Trump is likely going to try to argue that the steps he’s about to take are sufficient and the matter can be considered settled.
Throughout the Khashoggi drama, Trump has made it abundantly clear that halting Saudi arms shipments is a non-starter. Specifically, the President is pretty pleased with the $110 billion arms deal he cemented with the Crown Prince and has insisted that canceling that agreement would put American jobs at risk.
Well, at least some Senators appear to think that slapping sanctions on a group of Saudis who are already in jail anyway doesn’t go far enough, because on Thursday evening, Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Todd Young introduced legislation designed to hand oversight of U.S. policy regarding the war in Yemen to Congress. On top of that, the bill would demand “meaningful accountability” Khashoggi’s murder.
Specifically, “The Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act” would:
- Stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia;
- Stop U.S. refueling of Saudi Coalition Aircraft engaged in the war in Yemen;
- impose mandatory sanctions on individuals responsible for Khashoggi death;
- report on human rights in Saudi Arabia;
- impose sanctions for people blocking humanitarian access to Yemen or supporting Houthis in that country
“While the Trump administration’s announcement today of sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals is a welcome step, it is far from sufficient,” Menendez said, stating the obvious.
The legislation enjoys support from the likes of Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins, which means this has bipartisan support from two big names that Trump relied on to push the Brett Kavanaugh nomination through.
Menendez made it clear earlier on Thursday that he wasn’t particularly impressed with Mnuchin’s sanctions, considering they came hours after Riyadh indicated that the accused are already facing discipline and, in the case of five people, death.
“Saudi Arabia’s announcement of seeking death sentences for 5 suspects and absent a transparent investigation, this announcement looks like a coordinated attempt to sweep this case under the rug”, Menendez tweeted, adding that he “expects full accountability and will work to ensure it.”
Good luck, Bob. You’re going to need it. Because trying to force the Trump administration to cancel that arms deal or otherwise hold bin Salman accountable is going to be an uphill battle, to say the least.