“I think we need to tackle what more we need to do” to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the operation that killed Khashoggi, said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a prominent member of the Foreign Relations Committee who counted the murdered journalist as one of his constituents. Kaine bluntly said he was “not happy” to learn that the crown prince was not among the Saudi agents the Biden administration sanctioned last week.
Kaine also pushed to repeal the 2001 and 2002 war permits that the presidents of both parties used. to justify US military action linked to terrorist threats. Democratic Party vice-presidential candidate in 2016 criticized Biden’s strikes in Syria and the potential for a more active and active conflict with Iran that could escalate into a full-fledged war.
“Congress is supposed to be the decision maker here on the start of” strikes, Kaine said. “I shouldn’t have to speculate – [the Biden administration] should come and lay out the rationale. “
Biden and those close to him have often said foreign policy is his “first love.” Former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is known to respect the role of Congress in shaping American foreign policy. By not imposing sanctions on the crown prince, however, the president is practically urging members of Congress to push him to go further.
The Crown Prince “is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and if you don’t have any consequences here, it’s open season on reporters,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Who wrote the law requiring the publication of the American intelligence report which blamed the crown prince. Wyden is also pushing National Intelligence Director Avril Haines to declassify additional documents about the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder, although he did not give further details.
Democrats see a contradiction in Biden’s willingness to release the intelligence report naming the crown prince as he refuses to directly target the Saudi leader with sanctions or other punishments. Some Democrats even want the Biden administration to stop engaging with the crown prince altogether until the kingdom demonstrates improvement in its demeanor on human rights issues.
It took congressional action just to push the executive to name the crown prince in its assessment of those involved in Khashoggi’s murder. Given this dynamic, further action from Capitol Hill will likely be needed if Democrats are to reshuffle U.S.-Saudi relations in a more dramatic way that Biden has indicated he is ready for.
Their recent criticisms aside, of course, Democrats are much happier with Biden’s posture early in his presidency than it was with that of former President Donald Trump, whose erratic foreign policy forays have frustrated lawmakers. But Democrats are attacking Biden in the hope that he will keep his election promises, which included imposing strict sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder as well as reducing US involvement in the Middle East.
“I might have liked better [actions], but it’s different day and night than working with the Trump administration, ”Kaine said of Biden’s approach.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Biden said he ordered the strikes in Syria in retaliation for attacks by Iranian-backed militias against US forces in the region, calling the response an act of “self-defense.” “. The administration is informing senators this week of both the national security implications and the legal justification for the strikes, lawmakers said.
The White House has defended the decision not to directly sanction the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder, saying it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions on a leader the United States must continue to partner with for security in the region.
But beyond the Middle East, Democrats had also hoped for better communication with the executive after years of often non-existent dialogue with Trump. No lawmaker has perhaps been more critical of these Trump-era trends than House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Who questioned the legal rationale strikes last week in Syria and called the Congressional notification process insufficient.
“On the powers of war, there is blame on both sides for the past 10 years,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), A new member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “We need to have a vigorous debate on something so fundamental. We just didn’t get it.
Making things more difficult for Biden, several Congressional Democrats – from the level of leadership to the grassroots – have championed these causes for decades, under presidents of both parties, and see his fledgling presidency as a new opportunity for them.
Among them is Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), the only one to vote against the 2001 war authorization following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Lee was among the first to speak out against Biden’s strikes in Syria and recently drafted language in the official Democratic Party platform that called for the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 permissions. She said the military actions of Biden last week had only boosted her efforts and she had made no apologies for taking on members of her own party.
“I think President Biden is going to have to listen and explain what happened,” Lee said in an interview. “I know he sent letters. But I also think that this only underscores the urgent need to repeal these blank checks for endless wars. I will continue until we do.
Democrats were encouraged that the Biden administration failed to justify the strikes in Syria by invoking the war authorizations of 2001 and 2002, which were used by the presidents of both sides to justify military action in the Middle East.
The issues behind these early divisions between Biden and his fellow Democrats also created an unlikely alignment between party lines. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has supported Biden’s strikes in Syria and said the president has legal justification for launching them. It was a mirror image of steps taken by several prominent Republicans in 2018 and 2019 to criticize then-President Trump’s refusal to condemn and punish Riyadh more vigorously in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.
Congress has made bipartisan progress in recent years to address some of these lingering foreign policy issues. Both houses have already passed resolutions on the War Powers Act cutting U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen civil war, but Trump has vetoed those measures.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), A Biden ally who has supported Kaine’s efforts to repeal old permits, has said he supports the president’s airstrikes in Syria, but Congress should reaffirm its authority over the use of military force. This is especially true, Coons added, as Iran continues to become more involved in the region through its various proxies.
“I think there is important and unfinished work to be done to reconsider and update the authorizations that are now 20 years old, and to realign them with what we are currently doing in the world,” Coons said.