Is there any depth to which Sen. Jim Risch will not sink in order to avoid standing up to the president?
He seems to have found a new one.
The Trump administration intends to ship another $8 billion in arms to the Saudi regime, despite their use in shocking war crimes in Yemen.
The administration has used an absurd emergency declaration — both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge there is no emergency requiring the immediate shipment of arms to the Saudi dictatorship — to bypass the requirement that the administration come to Congress to get permission to sell arms to a foreign power.
Risch told Bloomberg: “I’ve reviewed (the emergency sales), and I’m not persuaded by the arguments against them.”
The Saudis claim that precision-guided munitions will allow them to avoid civilian casualties by targeting only militants. But the Saudi track record in Yemen includes using precisely such munitions to target the most vulnerable civilians with literal laser precision.
Less than a year ago, the Saudi-led coalition used one of our GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs to blow up a school bus filled with young boys between the ages of 6 and 11. Forty children were killed, and 56 were wounded by that single airstrike. The Saudi regime has also bombed hospitals, schools, weddings, funerals, food processing plants and water bottling plants.
This is how the Saudis use our precision arms in Yemen. This is what Risch could help stop — if he had the spine to do it.
But his record as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee so far gives little hope that he does.
Risch has behaved in a particularly feckless manner. A law called the Global Magnitsky Act allows Congress to require the executive branch to produce a report on human rights abuses by foreign powers within 120 days of a request, a first step toward sanctions. Risch’s predecessor, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., supported a resolution requiring the administration to determine who was to blame for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which nearly everyone on the committee believes was ordered by Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman. The resolution passed.
After 120 days passed, the administration simply refused to comply with the law, producing no report. Almost every single member of the Senate Foreign Relationship Committee expressed outrage that the administration was defying the law and Congress.
Except for Chairman Risch, whose silence was deafening. There is still no report.
Compare that to the record of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. He too is a close Trump ally, frequently praising the administration and defending it from criticism. But he nonetheless knows he sometimes must make a stand when something vital is at stake. That’s why he’s one of the lead sponsors of the bipartisan resolution to block this latest “emergency” arms shipment to the Saudis. Graham has gone even further, saying he’s ready to defend the U.S. Constitution by revoking the president’s power to declare an emergency and ship arms without Congressional authorization.
Meanwhile, Risch says all is well.
Risch has allowed his loyalty to Trump to degenerate into meek obsequiousness. He turned a blind eye when the Trump Administration acted lawlessly. He turned a blind eye to the torture, murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi. He turned a blind eye to Saudi war crimes committed with our weapons.
Risch, who faces his next election in 2020, knows that Trump is overwhelmingly popular with his Republican voter base. Perhaps that’s why he’s so reluctant to break with Trump in even the slightest way.
But Risch has underestimated those voters. They know the difference between a man who acts based on principle and a man who follows the polls down whatever dark path they lead.
A man of principle would vote to block further arms shipments to the Saudis, particularly done through a pretextual end-run around Congress and his own committee.