Democrats rage against the Saudis over oil cuts and vow to block arms sales

In a statement Monday, Menendez said the decision helped “underwrite” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not greenlight any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reevaluates its position regarding the war in Ukraine,” Menendez said in a statement first obtained by POLITICO. “Enough is enough.”

Energy is a top source of revenue for Russia amid stinging sanctions imposed by the United States and NATO partners on the country in the hope that they would starve it of funds for Putin’s war against Ukraine.

The broadside is the latest call by top Democrats on Capitol Hill to reassess the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the cartel’s decision to cut its oil output, which U.S. officials worry will only worsen the energy crisis across Europe and raise gas prices at home. In addition to Menendez’s authority, Congress as a whole can vote to block certain arms sales.

“There is simply no room to play both sides of this conflict – either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping … an entire country off the map, or you support him.” Menendez added. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a terrible decision driven by economic self-interest.”

It wasn’t just Menendez who shook the Saudis. The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, the Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, charged Thursday that the Saudi kingdom “has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation,” citing Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record.

“From unanswered questions about 9/11, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the export of extremism, to questionable imprisonment of peaceful dissidents and conspiring with Vladimir Putin to punish the US with higher oil prices, the Saudi royal family has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation,” Durbin said. “It’s time for our foreign policy to envision a world without this alliance with these royal backers.”

And the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already said several legislative responses are under consideration, including a bill targeting OPEC for price-fixing and antitrust violations. The legislation, referred to as NOPEC, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year on a 17-4 vote.

“What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans,” Schumer said in a statement last week. “We are looking at all the legislative tools to best deal with this appalling and deeply cynical act, including the NOPEC bill.”

Lawmakers are also calling for a reduction in US forces in Saudi Arabia as a result of the cut in oil production.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (DN.J.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.) has unveiled legislation that would force the removal of U.S. troops and equipment from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates within 90 days.

The move will include the removal of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot missile and air defense batteries. The bill calls for moving forces and weapons to other Middle Eastern nations for the purpose of protecting American troops.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese criticized the production cut as a “short-term” move “while the global economy deals with the continuing negative impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”

“In the light of [Wednesday’s] action, the Biden administration will also consult with Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices,” Sullivan and Deese said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia’s standing on Capitol Hill has plummeted in recent years, even as former President Donald Trump sought to deepen U.S. security ties to the kingdom. Trump repeatedly advocated arming the Saudis and sought to use his government as a way to counter Iran in the region.

Democrats, however, have been mostly skeptical of the Saudis, and President Joe Biden’s decision to travel to Riyadh over the summer was met with outrage among some of his allies on the Hill. They have argued that the United States should not overlook democracy and human rights in countries that benefit from American aid.

“The president’s visit doesn’t seem to have gotten us, from the Saudis, what we need,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) recognized in a recent interview with CNBC. “I just don’t know what the point of the current alliance is if we have to work so hard to get the Saudis to do the right thing.”

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