Key Senate chair urges US to freeze cooperation with Saudis

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called Monday for freezing all U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia, delivering one of the strongest expressions yet of U.S. anger over Saudi oil-production cuts that serve to boost Russia in its war in Ukraine.

In a statement, Menendez specifically called for cutting off all arms sales and security cooperation — one of the underpinnings of the more than 70-year U.S. strategic partnership with the oil kingdom — beyond the minimum necessary to defend Americans and American interests.

As committee chairman, Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, vowed he “will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough.”

His statement comes four days after Saudi Arabia and Russia led OPEC nations in announcing a 2 million barrel a day cut in oil production. That delivered more woes for US motorists already grappling with record-high gas prices.

And California is dealing with its own roadblocks to lower prices at the pump.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he will call a special session of the state Legislature in December to pass a new tax on oil company profits to punish them for what he called “rank price gouging.”

Gas prices soared across the nation this summer because of high inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing disruptions in the global supply chain.

California has the second-highest gas tax in the country and other environmental rules that increase the cost of fuel in the nation’s most populous state. Still, Newsom said there is “nothing to justify” a price difference of more than $2.50 per gallon between California’s gas and prices in other states.

“It’s time to get serious. I’m sick of this,” Newsom said. “We’ve been too timid.”

The Saudi- and Russian-led cuts help prop up high oil prices that are allowing President Vladimir Putin to keep paying for his eight-month invasion of Ukraine. The production cut also hurts U.S.-led efforts to make the war financially unsustainable for Russia, threatens a global economy already destabilized by the Ukraine conflict, and risks saddling President Joe Biden and Democrats with rising gasoline prices just ahead of U.S. midterms.

The oil industry has pointed to California’s environmental laws and regulations to explain why the state routinely has higher gas prices than the rest of the country. Kevin Slagle, vice president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said Newsom and state lawmakers should “take a hard look at decades of California energy policy” instead of proposing a new tax.

“If this was anything other than a political stunt, the governor wouldn’t wait two months and would call the special session now, before the election,” Slagle said. “This industry is ready right now to work on real solutions to energy costs and reliability — if that is what the governor is truly interested in.”

Several states chose to suspend their gas taxes this summer, including Maryland, New York and Georgia. Newsom and his fellow Democrats that control the state Legislature refused to do that, opting instead to send $9.5 billion in rebates to taxpayers.

It’s unclear how the tax Newsom is proposing would work. Newsom said he is still working out the details with legislative leaders, but on Friday said he wants the money to be “returned to taxpayers,” possibly by using money from the tax to pay for more rebates.