Democratic members of the US Congress are pressuring President Joe Biden’s administration to take stronger positions to punish Saudi Arabia for human rights violations, especially the Yemen war.
Biden Jr. pledged during his election campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” when he becomes president. Now the Democrats in Congress who had been lobbying for months to sanction the Kingdom for increasingly violent and impudent behaviour breathe a sigh of relief.
But after nearly three months in his administration, his allies in Congress are pushing Biden and his team to take a harder line against the Kingdom.
The New York Times said: Many Democrats expected Mr Biden to be more aggressive, eliminating the need for action by Congress.
Instead, they continued to press for tougher action.
“I don’t think they were aware enough of the fundamental shift that bipartisan congressmen want in US-Saudi relations,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California.
He added, “They are still stuck in an old paradigm where they don’t want to take corrective and effective steps, and I don’t understand what the constraint is.”
In March, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill by two former State Department officials during the Obama era that rules banning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the officials involved in Khashoggi’s killing are from entering the United States.
A separate group of more than 75 lawmakers wrote to the administration urging it to “use the full weight of American influence to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift its sea and air blockade in Yemen that has left the country in conflict with food and fuel crises.”
This push underscores the impatience of liberals in Congress with Biden’s foreign policy, a dynamic likely to fuel domestic debates among Democrats.
And that is as the administration approaches the deadline in May to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and begin resuming nuclear talks with Iran.
More than any other issue, the issue of how to modify Washington’s relationship with Riyadh prompted a uniquely broad coalition of Democrats to voice their concerns, with both vocal members of the party’s left-wing and its allies pushing for additional action.
Administration officials insist Biden has indeed acted decisively. He announced in February that he had ended US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
He removed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as terrorists and abolished the sanctions that some had feared would punish millions of more hungry civilians than the rebels.
In February, the administration released a long-awaited intelligence report holding Prince Mohammed responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.
“This war must end,” Biden said in February in his first major foreign policy speech since taking office, describing the conflict as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
But Congress members were frustrated by Biden’s refusal to directly punish the crown prince for his role in the Khashoggi killing, which the president concluded was a move whose diplomatic cost was too high.
He has prompted some of his closest and most powerful allies in Congress to call for additional action.
Rep. Gregory Mixes from New York said the release of the intelligence report on the killing “was a good step toward accountability.” “But more steps are needed.”
Representative Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat and co-author of a travel ban measure on Prince Mohammed, said he struggled to understand why the administration released a report focusing on the crown prince but did not punish him in the end.
Representative Tom Malinowski, another New Jersey Democrat who was the Obama administration’s top human rights diplomat, led the effort to write the bill.