By Cristina Maza
On Wednesday, senators delivered a historic blow to the country’s relationship with ally Saudi Arabia, a country whose leadership has committed notable human rights violations, by voting to move forward a resolution that would end all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
But at least five of the Republican Senators who voted against the bill have received funding from lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia, a fact that illustrates how the kingdom uses its vast wealth to influence U.S. foreign policy.
Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Tim Scott of South Carolina received financial contributions from lobbying firms that worked for Saudi Arabia, according to a report by the Center for International Policy released last month.
The report names Blunt as one of the top 10 recipients of campaign contributions from firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2017, along with Democratic lawmakers like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Blunt’s campaign allegedly received $19,250 in campaign contributions from Saudi-linked firms last year.
President Donald Trump holds up a chart of military hardware sales as he meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20. The killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey has put unprecedented pressure on the traditionally friendly relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Senators Boozman and Crapo received $1,000 contributions from Squire Patton Boggs PAC, which was working for Saudi Arabia at the time, according to the report. And Boozman, Crapo, Burr and Scott all allegedly received donations of around $2,000 on days when they were contacted by Saudi lobbyists.
None of the senators immediately responded to requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia spent around $27 million on lobbying in 2017, according to some estimates. Department of Justice filings show that the Saudi government has spent almost $7 million on foreign agents in 2018.
The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey has put unprecedented pressure on the traditionally friendly relationship between the two countries and helped bolster efforts to stop the Saudi-led war, which has led to a cholera outbreak in Yemen and one of the largest famines in decades. Some lobbying firms, such as the Glover Park Group and BRG Group, have dropped their Saudi clients in the wake of the backlash over Khashoggi’s killing.
Senators voted 63 in favor and 37 against to move the resolution forward on Tuesday. The vote was a procedural step that will see the bill move forward in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has yet to act on Yemen.
“I commend the Senate for advancing a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. It’s insane that Congress has gone this long without taking formal action to curb U.S. involvement in atrocities committed in Yemen. Thank you to the 63 senators, who today took a step towards saying ‘enough is enough,’” Ted Lieu, Democratic Congressman from California said in a statement.
President Donald Trump, a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia who has touted the country’s lucrative purchase of arms from the U.S. and whose personal financial connections to the nation are under scrutiny, has threatened to veto the bill if it arrives on his desk.
On Wednesday, a prosecutor in Argentina accepted a request from the organization Human Rights Watch to prosecute Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for alleged crimes against humanity, a move that was spurred by the murder allegations. The crown prince will soon arrived in Argentina for the G20 summit, where he will likely be greeted by protests. It is unlikely that MBS, as he is known colloquially, will be successfully prosecuted before he leaves the country. But human rights advocates applauded the prosecutor’s decision to move forward with the request.