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Opinion Trump and GOP leaders will bear responsibility if Saudi Arabia isn’t held accountable

President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29.
President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29. (Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/Getty Images)

A VOTE by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday showed that there remains strong and bipartisan congressional support for holding Saudi Arabia accountable for its disastrous intervention in Yemen, as well as for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By a vote of 13 to 9 , the committee approved a bill sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) that would suspend most U.S. military sales to the kingdom and impose sanctions on all those implicated in the killing of Khashoggi, a Post contributor who was dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October by a hit team dispatched from Riyadh.

The legislation passed over the objections of the committee chairman, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), who had offered an alternative bill he said could win the support of President Trump. But Mr. Risch’s bill, which did not touch on arms sales or the Khashoggi case, was judged too weak by several of his fellow Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.). Both supported the Menendez-Young bill.

The votes send a strong message that the murder of Khashoggi and Saudi war crimes in Yemen continue to complicate U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, in large part because of the refusal of Mr. Trump to hold the regime — and, in particular, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — accountable. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump isn’t getting the message: On Wednesday, he vetoed three previous congressional resolutions blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia. At the recent Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, he met Mohammed bin Salman for breakfast and declared that the crown prince is doing a “spectacular job” — notwithstanding findings by the CIA and a U.N. investigator that he is almost certainly responsible for the Khashoggi murder.

The new legislation would likely be approved by the full Senate if brought to a vote — which is why Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be inclined to bury it. Mr. Trump’s allies will also seek to block amendments recently added by the House to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which similarly would restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia and require sanctions for those involved in the Khashoggi murder.

The end result would be that Mohammed bin Salman would, for now, escape all U.S. sanctions for his brutal and reckless behavior, which includes the jailing and torture of women seeking greater rights, as well as the bombing of schools and hospitals in Yemen and the murder of Khashoggi. He may well be emboldened to undertake other adventures damaging to U.S. interests and to arrest or kill other Saudis who, like Khashoggi, advocate liberal reforms. If so, Mr. Trump and GOP leaders in Congress, who block action supported by a bipartisan majority, will bear a measure of responsibility.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Congress should show Trump that the Saudi crown prince is no ‘friend’ of America

The Post’s View: Yemen’s people need peace. They won’t get it unless there’s de-escalation in the Middle East.

Josh Rogin: Congress is determined to reset the U.S.-Saudi relationship

Jackson Diehl: Our new Saddam Hussein

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression