(Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans seeking a way to punish Saudi Arabia over its human rights record without provoking a veto by President Donald Trump are trying a new strategy: denying visas for members of the kingdom’s royal family.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, plans to unveil legislation on Wednesday that includes a measure to bar members of the royal family who work in the Saudi government from entering the U.S., according to a person familiar with the legislation. If signed into law, hundreds of people could face the restrictions.
“This legislation is an effort to move the U.S./Saudi relationship in a different direction and I am hopeful to have the support of my colleagues in doing so,” Risch said in a statement. “We are all in agreement that we need to see a change in Saudi conduct going forward, and this bill would have a real impact in doing that.”
The bill has at least one Democratic co-sponsor: Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and the committee plans to vote on it this month, along with a bill from the panel’s ranking Democrat, Bob Menendez, to bar some arms sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions over the killing of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi. That measure is co-sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally who nevertheless has urged the administration to take a tougher stance with the Saudis.
The travel restrictions in Risch’s bill would remain in place until the kingdom shows progress on human rights. Demonstrable progress, as evaluated by a team of U.S. government agencies led by the State Department, could include the release of dozens of jailed dissidents, the person said. The measure is designed to put pressure on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, although he would not personally be denied a visa since heads of state and the Saudi ambassador would be exempt.
Risch has been trying for months to craft legislation that could be signed into law by Trump. The bill has the tacit support of the White House, as members of the senator’s staff have had discussions with their counterparts with the administration, the person said.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately provide a response to a request for comment about the measure.
Risch usually backs the Trump administration on foreign policy, and he didn’t join the handful of Republicans who voted with Democrats last month to disapprove of the administration’s move to force the sale of $2 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia against Menendez’s opposition.That resolution was adopted in the Senate but fell short of the margin needed to override a presidential veto. The Democrat-led House is expected to vote on the measure this month.
The Trump administration has cited threats from Iran as justification for rebuffing congressional concerns and invoking emergency powers to sell arms to the Saudis. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a Wednesday hearing that supplying arms to allies is “also in the interest and furtherance of our values,” according to his prepared remarks.
Both houses of Congress voted to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen over concerns about civilian casualties. Trump vetoed that legislation.