President Biden has gone back and forth about whether he should visit Saudi Arabia after initially opposing meeting with the country’s crown prince — even as gas prices climbed to new record highs, according to a new report.
The internal debate about Biden’s Middle East travel plans has gone on for nearly a month, Politico reported late Sunday, with the White House declining to fix a firm date for the trip.
As recently as Friday, the president told reporters that he was “not sure” whether he was going to Saudi Arabia and added that he had “no direct plans at the moment” after both the New York Times and Washington Post reported that he would make a visit later this month.
During his presidential campaign, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the 2018 murder and alleged dismemberment of US resident Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for the Washington Post. The killing is widely believed to have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
According to Politico, Biden “angrily rejected” a potential meeting with MBS at first, saying the presidency “should stand for something.” However, the outlet reported that he has since climbed down from that stance, apparently realizing the value of a face-to-face visit in persuading Riyadh to boost oil production.
When asked Friday if he still considers Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” Biden told reporters he was “not going to change my view on human rights.”
“But as president of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can — peace if I can. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Biden did not indicate whether he would meet with the crown prince, saying, “Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. What I want to do is see to it that we diminish the likelihood that there’s a continuation of this — some of the senseless wars between Israel and the Arab nations. And that’s what I’m focusing on.”
As no dates have been set for a trip to the region, some White House aides have been questioning whether Biden will change his mind again, according to Politico.
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
On Thursday, a senior White House official told reporters in an email that “we currently have no travel to announce.” However, the initial reports by the Times and Washington Post seemed to be a quasi-official leak after the oil cartel OPEC agreed to boost oil production.
The move could help ease US inflation, which has soared in recent months. As of Monday morning, the average nationwide price of a gallon of gas stood at $4.865.
With the November midterm elections approaching, the Biden administration is seeking to quell voters’ concerns over the president’s job performance as staff departures continue and Biden’s frustration with aides grows.
Specifically, the president has reportedly become irritated with his job approval numbers sinking lower than those of former President Donald Trump. He has also become frustrated with staff about being kept out of the loop for months about the severe baby formula shortage, according to Politico.
“A lot of things are out of his control and we are frustrated and all Democrats — not just the White House but anyone with a platform — need to do a better job of reminding Americans of how terrible it would be if Republicans take control,” Adrienne Elrod, a senior aide on the president’s transition team and aide to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign, told the outlet.
Despite the concerns, the White House has publicly defended the administration’s internal workings.
“This depiction of the White House is simply divorced from reality,” spokesperson Andrew Bates told Politico.