Oct 21, 2018

What we're watching: Congress reacts to the Saudis' Khashoggi story

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called for Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States to be expelled from Washington "until there is a completion of a third-party investigation" into the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The big picture: Republican and Democratic members of Congress appeared to largely be on the same page during Sunday's morning talk shows, agreeing that the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death was not satisfactory. They differed in what they believe the U.S. government should do in response, with some echoing Durbin's demands for harsh retaliation and others stressing the delicacy of the situation due to Saudi Arabia's importance as a strategic ally.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

  • Corker blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi's death on CNN's "State of the Union," saying, "If he's gone forth and murdered this journalist he's now crossed the line and there has to be a punishment and a price paid for that. And, again, I'm not rushing to judgment. Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it."
  • Corker added: "We obviously have intercepts from the past that point to involvement at a very high level. So let's let this play out. But my guess is at the end of the day, the United States and the rest of the world will believe fully that he did it. We'll see."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

  • On "Fox News Sunday," Paul said the United States "really needs to discontinue [its] arms sales to Saudi Arabia," adding that the country must have "a long and serious discussion about whether or not they want to be an ally or want to be an enemy."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

  • On ABC's "This Week," Schiff argued that the killing of Khashoggi "ought to be a relationship-altering event for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia" that should result in sanctions and the suspension of military assistance.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)

  • On CNN's "State of the Union," Sasse said "we don't do arm sales for the purpose of the profits from arm sales. We do arm sales because we want to be allied with different countries around the globe that believe in our values. ... Saudi's got a lot of explaining to do, and I think everything should be on the table."
  • Sasse added: "You don't bring a bonesaw to an accidental fist fight."

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

  • Tillis told NBC's "Meet the Press": "We've got to get to the bottom of this. In Saudi Arabia, you don't do something of this magnitude without having clearance from the top. We need to find out who that is and hold them accountable."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

  • Graham didn't appear on the Sunday shows, but he did talk Khashoggi on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Features with Maria Bartiromo": "I find it impossible to believe that the crown prince was not involved, so go after him and his inner circle. Save the alliance. I don’t mind military sales but I cannot do business with the current leadership. MBS — he’s done to me."
  • He discussed MBS' recent trip to the United States: "MBS talks about reforming the country in a way that I liked. I never felt more used in my life. I introduced him when he was in Washington."

Flashback: On Friday, President Trump called the Saudis' explanation "credible," telling a roundtable in Arizona that it was "a great first step" while reiterating Saudi Arabia's importance as a U.S. ally.

  • The president expressed more slightly more skepticism about MBS' involvement in an interview with The Washington Post that published late Saturday night: "Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point. ... I would love if he wasn’t responsible."
  • And Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News' Bret Baier on Sunday that the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was "a rogue operation" and "a terrible mistake."

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