A group of 21 House lawmakers introduced a bill that will immediately stop all military sales and support to Saudi Arabia’s government.
The bill, led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., came as President Trump said the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi was a failed operation and the administration has taken its initial steps in punishing the Saudis by deciding to revoke the visas of the suspects.
Stopping arms sales could have consequences for the U.S. defense industry, which considers Saudi Arabia a profitable overseas market. Trump, who initially pushed Saudi leaders’ claims of innocence as “credible” and rejected cutting arms sales, has $110 billion in prospective deals with the kingdom, which he organized last year.
In addition, the decision leaves Lockheed Martin Corp.’s potential $15 billion sale to Saudi Arabia vulnerable of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. The deal, started under the Obama administration and approved by Congress, remains under negotiation, according to U.S. officials.
On Lockheed’s earning’s Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Bruce Turner said the THAAD order was the “largest order that we have been waiting for,” but “has not taken place yet,” and he was “not sure when that will take place.”
Pressure within the U.S. Congress to punish Riyadh for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s apparent death at the hands of Saudi government operatives are increasing. American lawmakers are considering three avenues in response, including sanctions, stopping U.S. arms sales and cutting aid to Saudi-led military operations in Yemen.
Notable co-sponsors of McGovern’s House bill include House Armed Services Committee members, Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. The libertarian leaning Reps. Justin Amash, of Michigan, and Thomas Massie, were the only other Republican co-sponsors.
“Under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, I’ve called for a serious review of our arms sales to the Saudi government,” McGovern, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said in a statement. “With the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it’s time for the United States to halt all weapons sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia. Our democratic values are on the line here, and we need to step up as a country and do the right thing.”
Prior to the Khashoggi controversy, arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been frozen as Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez has maintained a hold on precision-guided munitions kits made by the Massachusetts-based Raytheon. Menendez, of New Jersey, is among lawmakers frustrated by that airstrikes attributed to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have resulted in a large number of civilian casualties.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a lead appropriator, told investigators on Monday that he feels “completely betrayed” by Riyadh. “The relationship is important, but our values are more important,” he said.
The SASC’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, last week said Congress should not approve any new offensive arms sales to Riyadh, and the U.S. military should stop refueling Saudi Arabian aircraft fighting in Yemen, one of the key ways the U.S. supports the kingdom in that fight.
At the White House, Trump awaited a briefing Thursday from CIA Director Gina Haspel, who has been in Turkey.
He had told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that the operation has been a disaster.
“They had a very bad original concept,” Trump said. “It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups. Somebody really messed up, and they had the worst cover-up ever.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move to revoke visas was just a first step.
Visa records are confidential and Pompeo was not more specific about who the revocations would affect, but the State Department later said 21 “Saudi suspects” would have visas revoked or would be declared ineligible to enter the U.S.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
The administration “will continue to hold those responsible accountable. We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, with violence,” he said. “Neither the president or I am happy with this situation.”
Still, Pompeo stressed the strategic importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
“We continue to view as achievable the twin imperative of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” Pompeo said.