Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Trump in the Oval Office. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A big reason for President Trump's accommodating stance toward Saudi rulers in the apparent killing of Jamal Khashoggi is rooted in a simple dynamic: Trump needs them.

The big picture: Rice University energy scholar Jim Krane has a helpful Forbes commentary on the "crude realpolitik" behind Trump's openness to the kingdom's denials of responsibility. It stems from the president's need for more Saudi barrels on the market to offset the effects of his Iran sanctions.

  • "[T]he decision to soft-pedal the Saudis plays well with the Trump administration’s worldview, where international norms mean little; even less when cheap Election Day gasoline is on the line," writes Krane.

Threat level: In a note this morning, a Verisk Maplecroft analyst looks more broadly at the Saudi posture, including their implicit threat a few days ago to wield oil as a weapon in response to potential punishment over Khashoggi.

  • "[T]he thinly veiled threat to drive up oil prices if the U.S., UK or France impose sanctions has raised the threshold for anyone considering punitive measures against Saudi Arabia," writes Torbjorn Soltvedt.
  • While oil production cuts are unlikely and would be "far up the escalation ladder," Soltvedt notes that in the event of a diplomatic crisis, the Saudis could take less dramatic steps like canceling arms deals or reducing intelligence sharing.

The bottom line: The Saudis' defiant responses have raised the stakes of punitive action over Khashoggi, and Trump's posture thus far suggests it's working. "By affirming King Salman’s denial of any knowledge of the matter an immediate escalation has been avoided," Soltvedt writes.

P.S.: One frame for looking at who's bailing on the Saudi's upcoming Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference — dubbed "Davos in the desert" — is to see how much risk is involved in the decision.

  • Your Generate host wonders whether as many big banks would have bailed if Saudi Aramco's plans for a massive IPO weren't shelved for a couple years at least.
  • One company that's not saying anything is Lucid Motors, the electric vehicles startup whose CTO is on the list of attendees. Lucid last month announced over $1 billion in funding from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that's co-hosting next week's FII. Lucid has declined repeated requests for comment from Axios.
  • Go deeper: We've got a running list of withdrawals

Go deeper

Twitter launches warnings on election misinformation and delays

Photo: courtesy of Twitter

Twitter will start pinning notices to the top of all U.S. Twitter users’ timelines warning that results in next week’s election may be delayed and that they may encounter misinformation on mail-in voting.

Why it matters: Delayed election results are expected across many states that are handling unprecedented amounts of absentee and mailed ballots, which President Trump has baselessly called "very dangerous" and "corrupt."

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
28 mins ago - Science

NASA confirms water exists on sunny parts of the Moon


Water on the Moon might be more easily accessible than previously thought, opening up new possible avenues for future human exploration, according to a new study.

Why it matters: NASA is aiming to send people back to the Moon as part of its Artemis program by 2024, with plans to eventually create a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. That sustainability relies on mining the moon for its resources, like water.

Updated 57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Pence no longer expected at Amy Coney Barrett's final confirmation vote

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence no longer plans to attend the Senate's final confirmation vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Pence aide confirmed to CNN and Politico on Monday. On Sunday, Senate Democrats claimed that his presence after possible exposure to the coronavirus would be a "violation of common decency."

Driving the news: Five of Pence's aides were recently diagnosed with COVID-19, including his chief of staff, who is currently quarantining. Pence has continued his campaign travel despite his possible exposure, which goes against CDC guidelines.