On 18 March, the senators – a group that included Sullivan of Alaska and Ted Cruz of Texas – held a rare call with Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Cramer called the conversations “brutal” as each senator detailed the damage to their states’ oil industries. “She heard it from every senator; there was nobody that held back,” Cramer recalled.
The Saudi embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Cramer said the princess relayed their comments to officials in Saudi Arabia, including the energy minister. The senators told the princess that the kingdom faced rising opposition in the Senate to the Saudi-led coalition that is waging a war in Yemen against Houthi rebels.
Saudi and U.S. officials have said the Houthis are armed by Iran, which Tehran denies. The backing of Senate Republicans over Yemen had proved crucial for Saudi Arabia last year.
The Senate upheld Trump vetoes of several measures seeking to end U.S. weapons sales and other military support to Saudi Arabia amid outrage over the Yemen conflict, which has caused more than 100,000 deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis.
Cramer said he made a phone call to Trump on 30 March, about a week after he and Sullivan introduced their bill to pull U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia. The president called Cramer back the same day with Energy Secretary Brouillette, senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the call, the senator said.
“I said the one person that you don’t have on the call that can be very helpful is Mark Esper,” the defence secretary, Cramer recounted, saying he wanted Esper to address how U.S. military assets in Saudi Arabia might be moved elsewhere in the region to protect U.S. troops.
The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on whether Esper was involved in discussions of pulling military assets out of Saudi Arabia.