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GOP senators open door to tougher response on Saudi Arabia


Two key Republican senators, Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania AG: Senate Judiciary Committee should investigate clergy abuse Senate to get briefing on Saudi Arabia that could determine sanctions Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill MORE (R-S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate to get briefing on Saudi Arabia that could determine sanctions Democrats take Bloomberg run seriously, but with skepticism about his chances Corker mocks White House as ‘public relations firm’ for Saudi crown prince MORE (R-Maine), are opening the door to a tougher response on Saudi Arabia as President TrumpDonald John Trump95-year-old charged as accessory to 36,000 deaths at Nazi concentration camp Former Reagan secretary of state says U.S. should work to end violence driving migrants to U.S. Puerto Ricans may have elected Rick Scott and other midterm surprises MORE declines to crack down on the kingdom in light of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Graham and Collins on Sunday both suggested Congress might need to take tougher action after the CIA found it has “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, whose death has incited an international diplomatic crisis.

Trump last week issued a statement casting doubt on the CIA’s conclusions, saying “maybe” the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder or “maybe he didn’t.” Trump in the statement lauded the kingdom as a “steadfast partner.”

The CIA report’s findings have not been made public but multiple lawmakers have been briefed on its contents.

“If the evidence is sufficient to conclude with high probability that [bin Salman] was complicit in this murder, then I will take steps to do a sense of the Senate resolution making that statement,” Graham told Axios in a phone interview.

Graham has positioned himself as a Trump ally in the Senate. But his comments published on Sunday suggest he’s willing to break with the president over the issue of Khashoggi, who was apparently brutally killed by Saudi agents in Istanbul. 

Khashoggi was a U.S.-based writer who often spoke out against the Saudi regime.

Graham told Axios that he and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty MORE (D-N.J.) will push for harsher sanctions against Saudi Arabia as punishment for the murder. The South Carolina Republican added that he hopes to sanction bin Salman himself.

Collins, a moderate member of the GOP, said it is a “grave mistake for the President to ignore the CIA’s widely reported assessment on the Khashoggi murder.”

“If the President does not reconsider what actions our government should take toward the Saudi Government & MbS, Congress must act instead,” Collins tweeted on Sunday

Members of both parties have widely criticized Trump’s decision to double down on the diplomatic and financial ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in light of Khashoggi’s assassination. 

Lawmakers have also started to speak out more frequently against the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s presence in Yemen. International human rights monitors have called Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced and starving and thousands killed in a bloody civil war that involves multiple countries. Investigations have found that U.S. weapons have been used to kill civilians in the country, including children.

Collins is one of the co-sponsors of the Saudi Accountability and Yemen Act, which would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, prohibit U.S. aircraft from refueling Saudi planes in the Yemen conflict, mandate sanctions on people responsible for Khashoggi’s death and require a report on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Graham said his resolution would scrutinize bin Salman for his “very erratic and disruptive” behavior. 

“What I would also do in my resolution is also look at other behavior of MBS that has been very erratic and disruptive: the handling of the Yemen war, the bizarre episode with the prime minister from Lebanon and the embargo of Qatar without any consultation,” Graham told Axios. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate to get briefing on Saudi Arabia that could determine sanctions Romney to host PAC fundraiser: report Incoming Dem lawmaker on Trump’s Saudi Arabia defense: ‘You can’t buy a moral compass,’ but you can ‘buy a President’ MORE (D-Tenn.) last week criticized the White House for moonlighting “as a public relations firm” for the crown prince. 

Corker and Menendez, the top-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, also sent a letter to Trump late Tuesday asking the administration to investigate whether the crown prince was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. 

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