Dems unveil 'simple yet urgent' bill blocking US arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations on March 27, 2018 in New York. (Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images)

A pair of congressional Democrats on Tuesday officially introduced their promised proposal to immediately halt all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia for a year.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), follows the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, or OPEC+, agreeing to slash oil production to boost prices.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other critics of the move have framed it as Saudi Arabia siding with Russia several months into Russian President Vladimir Putin's deadly and dangerous invasion of Ukraine—a position echoed Tuesday by the bill's sponsors.

"Saudi Arabia's disastrous decision to slash oil production by two million barrels a day makes it clear that Riyadh is seeking to harm the U.S. and reaffirms the need to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship," declared Khanna.

The legislative proposal comes over seven years into the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which had created what is widely considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Earlier this month, negotiators failed to extend a truce that began in April.

"There is no reason for the U.S. to kowtow to a regime that has massacred countless civilians in Yemen, hacked to death a Washington-based journalist, and is now extorting Americans at the pump," Khanna said, referencing the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS.

"My bill with Sen. Blumenthal to halt U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia will force MBS to reconsider his efforts to jack up global oil prices," the congressman continued. "There must be consequences for fleecing the American people in order to support Putin's unconscionable war."

Blumenthal similarly said that "this simple yet urgent measure would halt U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia after their deeply offensive, destructive blunder: siding with Russia at this historic moment."

"Saudis must reverse their oil supply cuts, which aid and abet Russia's savage criminal invasion, endanger the world economy, and threaten higher gas prices at U.S. pumps," the senator argued. "We cannot continue selling highly sensitive arms technology to a nation aligned with an abhorrent terrorist adversary."

"I'm proud to sponsor this bicameral legislation to send a strong message to the Saudis as our country works to rebalance this one-sided relationship," he added. "I urge my colleagues to support this essential bill and will fight for its swift passage."

Long before the recent OPEC+ decision, peace groups and some progressives in Congress were calling for an end to U.S. complicity in the Saudi coalition's war. While Biden pledged last year to cut off support for offensive operations in Yemen, he has come under fire for all that he's allowed to continue, including arms sales, and for his summer meeting—and fist bump—with MBS.

The new bill was introduced after Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) vowed Monday to block all future U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia as backlash over the OPEC+ decision, saying that "as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not greenlight any cooperation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough."

Asked about Menendez's remarks during a Tuesday interview with CNN, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that Biden is "obviously disappointed by the OPEC decision" and ready to work with lawmakers to determine future U.S.-Saudi relations.

"I think the president's been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to reevaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit," Kirby said. "And certainly in light of the OPEC decision, I think that's where he is, and he's willing to work with Congress to think through what that relationship ought to look like going forward."

Along with calls for cutting off weapons to Saudi Arabia, the OPEC+ move has sparked demands for Congress to ban oil exports.

"Political leaders here at home must understand that the solution is not to increase drilling," Food & Water Watch managing director of policy Mitch Jones—whose group advocates for a rapid, just transition to clean energy—said last week. "Corporations are exporting record quantities of gasoline, and making record-setting profits as a result."

Critics of Big Oil—including Khanna—have accused fossil fuel giants of war profiteering and using their massive profits to enrich shareholders at the expense of not only consumers but also the planet.