GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, as well as other politicians, stood in opposition Tuesday to remarks from President Trump, who expressed his intent to maintain a relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s death.
Rubio, R-Fla., took to Twitter after a statement with Trump’s comments was released, saying that U.S. “foreign policy must be about promoting our national interest,” which he contended included the defense of human rights.
“HR violations lead to mass migration, help extremism flourish & often result in new governments hostile towards the U.S. because we supported their oppressors,” Rubio tweeted.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina echoed Rubio’s comments, saying he didn’t believe it was in the country’s “national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder” of Khashoggi.
“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” Graham said in a statement. “While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic.”
In the president’s statement, which began by discussing a threat posed by Iran and the economic benefits of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, Trump indicated that he didn’t know whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew about Khashoggi’s murder in October inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that intelligence officials have concluded that bin Salman ordered the killing.
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said in the statement.
“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump continued. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”
The president talked about a $450 billion investment that Saudi Arabia made to the U.S., a portion of which he said would “be spent on the purchase of military equipment” from a variety of U.S. contractors.
Paul, a Republican lawmaker from Kentucky who labeled Trump’s statement as being “Saudi Arabia First” and “not America First,” took issue with the military contract.
“We should, at the very least, NOT reward Saudi Arabia with our sophisticated armaments that they in turn use to bomb civilians,” Paul tweeted.
Paul also said he disagreed with the decision to not “punish” the country.
“The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate,” Paul tweeted. “I disagree.”
The decision was also condemned by Democrats, such as Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said that anyone that helped facilitate Khashoggi’s murder “must be held accountable."
“Human rights is more than just a phrase, it has to mean something,” Feinstein tweeted. “And that means standing up and condemning a brazen murder by a foreign government.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw, John Roberts and Jason Donner contributed to this report.