President Trump’s extraordinary, exclamation-point-sprinkled press release announcing that the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would not affect the strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been denounced by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
The president’s bipartisan critics claimed that Trump erred in his calculus that taking action against the oil-rich nation was simply not worth sacrificing the economic benefit of the alliance, despite the message it might send to other dictators. Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan laid out that argument in a statement Tuesday.
“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships. He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Ryan wrote in a statement, adding, “President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so.”
In his press release, the president said “the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States,” and he warned that punishing the country for Khashoggi’s killing could jeopardize those transactions. On Wednesday, he thanked Saudi Arabia for lowering oil prices.
Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
Early reaction from lawmakers to Trump’s compliant posture toward Riyadh tended to side with Post publisher Ryan. Here’s a sampling.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been a key Trump ally, but the president’s statement proved too much even for him, although he put the blame on national security adviser John Bolton. (Most other observers, noting the copious use of exclamation points in the statement and its focus on the economic benefits of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, detected the handiwork of Trump himself.)
I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First. I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
Over the weekend, Paul had argued that Khashoggi’s killing couldn’t be ignored.
“I think the evidence is overwhelming that the crown prince was involved,” Paul said Sunday on “Face the Nation,” adding: “And so no, I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug.”
“The President’s and Secretary of State’s Khashoggi statements to date are inconsistent with an enduring foreign policy, with our national interest, with basic human rights, and with American greatness.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the soon-to-be-former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed dismay over the president’s decision to stand by Riyadh’s royal family.
I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/MQ4JsoQtqk
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) November 20, 2018
Another staunch Trump ally, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, argued that the reported role of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman in Khashoggi’s death was a red line.
“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” Graham said in a statement. “While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic.”
Not all Republican members of Congress have been so forthcoming with their reactions to Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have so far remained silent on the issue. But as of Wednesday afternoon, a diligent search of the internet failed to find any prominent Republicans in elective office who publicly backed Trump’s stance.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted the president’s acquiescence to the Saudi royals and also couldn’t resist a dig at his use of punctuation.
“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t”?!
You can’t just throw in some exclamations (!!!!), yell that the world is dangerous, and call it a press release.
That’s not how a U.S. President responds to the murder of a journalist and American resident. https://t.co/cfGPgSSngt
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 20, 2018
Nancy Pelosi, the likely incoming House speaker, drew attention to Trump’s business ties with the kingdom.
“I think we should follow the money when we look at what the attitude of the president is to Saudi Arabia,” Pelosi said Tuesday at an event in New York, adding, “his hotels and all the rest and God knows what else.”
In a joint letter that specifically mentioned the Saudi crown prince, Corker and Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the president they are still waiting for his determination on “whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression.”
One of two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018, Minnesota Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar framed her opposition to Trump’s policy in ethical terms.
Once again, our President proves that you can’t buy a moral compass.
And Saudi Arabia proves that you can, on the other hand, buy a President. https://t.co/NC3X7umsGG
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 20, 2018
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin called on Congress to take action to punish Saudi Arabia.
“Congress will need to act where President Trump is refusing. We will send the right signal to the world that despite our current president, America will continue to be a beacon of justice and defender of human rights,” Cardin said in a statement.
Never shy about stating her opinion, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard recast the president’s doctrine.
Hey @realdonaldtrump: being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not “America First.”
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) November 21, 2018
California Rep. Eric Swalwell took issue with the president’s calculation that oil prices matter more than human rights.
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) November 21, 2018
Like Schumer, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blasted both the form and content the president’s initial statement.
Today President Trump, in a rambling and dishonest statement, tried to defend the despotic Saudi regime and cast doubt on the CIA’s conclusion that the crown prince was personally involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 20, 2018
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