The House passed two measures Monday aimed at cracking down on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including a bill to impose sanctions on the people who ordered or carried out the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But depiste the strong bipartisan backing of the House, the measures face a difficult road ahead in the Senate, where Republican leaders are sparring with members of their own party and Democrats over how forcefully to punish Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s killing, the humanitarian disaster in war-torn Yemen, and a documented practice of jailing and torturing activists.
The House unanimously passed a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for detaining and allegedly abusing female human rights activists who have protested current and past restrictions on women driving and traveling without a male guardian. It overwhelmingly passed the Khashoggi bill, by a vote of 405 to 7, which would force the director of national intelligence to identify the perpetrators of his killing and deny or revoke any visas to those individuals.
The Khashoggi bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), closely resembles part of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch’s (R-Idaho) recently introduced proposal to deny visas to Saudi officials responsible for Khashoggi’s slaying. Both efforts are in keeping with the spirit of last year’s attempt by former senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to invoke the Global Magnitsky Act and force President Trump to name and sanctions officials involved in Khashoggi’s killing. Trump never responded, despite being legally bound to deliver a report within 120 days.
In the Senate, however, Democrats and a few Republicans want to go further than Risch’s bill and favor incorporating a moratorium on selling nondefensive weapons to Saudi Arabia — a move they say will send a stronger message of the United States’ frustration with the royal family’s actions, and also help mitigate the negative effect that the Saudi-led military coalition operating in Yemen’s civil war is having on the humanitarian disaster by allegedly targeting civilians in strikes.
Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen have drawn the attention of a bipartisan majority of both the House and the Senate, which since Khashoggi’s killing have passed resolutions to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led military effort. Trump vetoed the attempt, and lawmakers did not have the votes to override the veto.
Later this week, the House will take up another set of measures seeking to restrain Saudi Arabia’s military capacity, with votes on measures to block a set of arms sales the Trump administration approved by emergency fiat in May, over congressional objections. The Senate has already passed the measures, which would prevent the completion of sales of missiles, munitions, and surveillance drones, among others, mostly to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
While the measures are expected to pass the House, they are not expected to secure enough support to overcome a threatened veto.