Updated Jul 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden downplays Saudi fist bump as Bernie Sanders, Ilhan Omar criticize trip

Joe Biden
President Biden walks off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Biden chided reporters late Saturday for asking about his fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday, which has garnered widespread backlash.

Driving the news: U.S. intelligence concluded MBS was responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 — an allegation Saudi Arabia denies.

Biden on Friday said he raised Khashoggi's murder at the start of his meeting with MBS and that he "indicated" that he believed MBS was responsible for it.

  • The Saudi foreign minister later said he did not hear Biden blame MBS for Khashoggi's murder, Reuters reported.

State of play: "Why don't you guys talk about something that matters? I'm happy to answer a question that matters," Biden said when asked by a reporter whether he regretted the fist bump, per a White House pool report.

  • Asked whether the Saudi foreign minister was telling the truth about his meeting with MBS, Biden replied, "No."

What they're saying: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that he believed Biden should not have gone to Saudi Arabia.

  • "You have the leader of that country who was involved in the murder of a Washington Post journalist. I don't think that that type of government should be rewarded with a visit by the president of the United States.
  • "If this country believes in anything, we believe in human rights, we believe in democracy. I just don’t believe we should be maintaining a warm relationship with a dictatorship like that," Sanders said.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) told MSNBC's "Velshi" on Sunday that Biden "going from calling MBS a pariah to fist bumping him was really disappointing."

  • "This whole trip sends the wrong message to human rights defenders and to the values that we say we have in upholding human rights," she added.
  • Omar noted that Biden ran on a foreign policy agenda of centering on human rights. "We have to stop ... saying we are going to do one thing on foreign policy and then doing the opposite."
  • "It messes with our credibility, it sends the wrong message. And I think it changes the way people view us around the world."
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