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Biden faces criticism for failing to sanction Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi's killing

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President Biden is facing growing criticism for failing to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This comes as sources tell CBS News the State Department will highlight a "reset and recalibration" of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes joins CBSN with details on that, plus Mr. Biden's upcoming meeting with the president of Mexico and the latest on his COVID relief plan.

Video Transcript

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: President Biden is facing growing criticism for failing to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. This comes after the US released a new intelligence report Friday directly blaming him for proving Khashoggi's murder in 2018. The Washington Post contributor was considered a fierce critic of the kingdom and frequently condemned the country's human rights abuses.

Following the report, the Biden administration did, however, impose sanctions on key Saudi officials linked to the Crown Prince, but activists say that is not good enough. Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed some of the criticism during an interview yesterday.

JEN PSAKI: Well, first, Anna, historically, and even in recent history, Democratic and Republican administrations, there have not been sanctions put in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations and even where we don't have diplomatic relations. And we believe there is more effective ways to make sure this doesn't happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement, where there is interest, national interest for the United States. That is what diplomacy looks like. That is what the complicated global engagement looks like, and we have made no secret and been clear we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage and with direct actions.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: All right, so for more on this, let's bring in CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Nancy Cordes. So Nancy, walk us through what actions specifically the administration has taken against Saudi Arabia since the report was released and explain why President Biden chose not to sanction Mohammed bin Salman directly.

NANCY CORDES: So a couple of actions were taken on Friday, Vlad. The State Department announced that it would ban 76 Saudis from entering the United States they dubbed it the Khashoggi ban. And the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on a paramilitary group within Saudi Arabia that was involved in the killing of Khashoggi accor-- at the direction of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And even Democrats argue that while they felt that those were some good first steps, they wanted to see more, and specifically, they wanted to see more accountability from bin Salman himself.

And that is where things get really tricky because what are the options for this administration? Can you actually sanction a Crown Prince whose finances are tied in with the rest of the royal family, even with some state owned enterprises? That's very difficult, logistically could cause some really sticky diplomatic situations. And beyond that, it's very likely that he will be the King of Saudi Arabia sometime soon, and this is a very important strategic ally for the United States, very important to have that relationship with Saudi Arabia to keep Iran in check.

And so it's a very delicate situation, and there is some frustration, however, from Democrats and Republicans alike, who heard what President Biden said when he was on the campaign trail, who talked very tough about holding MBS to account, and they feel that that hasn't really happened. So according to my sources this morning, we are going to hear more from the State Department about how they plan to reset and recalibrate this relationship, this very complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia. But they're not really going to be announcing any new punitive measures, any new accountability for MBS himself, and that is sure to frustrate some members of Congress who want to see more action.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Want to switch gears a little bit, Nancy. President Biden is set to meet with Mexico's president, President Obrador, today. What's at the top of their agenda?

NANCY CORDES: Well, there are a few things on their agenda. In fact, the Mexican president has already told reporters that he wants to talk to President Biden about a big new immigration program whereby 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican immigrants could actually come to the United States for a year to work legally here. That would involve Central American immigrants as well. So that's something he's going to be bringing up. We also understand that he may talk to President Biden about his desire for more US vaccine supply. Obviously, that would be something that would be very important to an ally.

And then the White House is saying that this meeting is really a chance for President Biden to normalize the US relationship with Mexico, which was obviously somewhat strained over the past four years, often diplomacy conducted by tweet when it came to President Trump and his demands that Mexico pay for the wall and so on and so forth. And obviously, that never came to pass. So this has been a pretty unusual relationship for these two continental allies over the past four years, and the White House sees this as the beginning of turning the page with the Mexican government, especially for a president who has very big immigration plans, reform plans of his own.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: And Nancy, we also want to ask you about the latest developments on the Hill when it comes to President Biden's COVID relief package. The House passed the bill over the weekend. I recall getting my news alert message, and I looked at my watch, and I was like, for a second, I thought this was like old news, that it had passed earlier. But no, in fact, it was sort of a middle of the night passage similar to going to the cash machine at 3 o'clock in the morning after a night out. So what can we expect-- when can we expect the legislation to pass amid all this minimum wage controversy?

NANCY CORDES: So there's been kind of a hiccup in the past 24 hours, which was that Senate Democrats who are writing their own bill, very similar to the House bill, but different in a couple of key ways, they had to basically shelve a new provision that they were working on to try to force large companies to pay workers more. That was going to be a replacement for a minimum wage hike that was deemed not relevant for a bill that was going to be passing via reconciliations, budgetary maneuver that I won't bore you with, but they need to do it this way in order to get-- in order to be able to pass a bill with only Democratic support if need be.

So they were working on this plan B. It was a tax measure that was going to basically penalize large companies that didn't pay their workers a certain amount, let's say 10, 11, 12, $13. Those companies would have to pay a penalty. But late last night, sources told us that that it was no go, first of all because it was just taking too much time to bring it together, and remember that the House and Senate are trying to pass this bill by mid March when federal unemployment benefits run out. That's why you got that alert on your phone, Vlad, in the middle of the night on a Friday night because they are trying to just jam this through as quickly as possible.

So they felt that it would take too long. And beyond that, the White House was kind of tepid about this new proposal. They thought it was-- never been tried before. They were worried about the ramifications. So that has now been put on ice. But the problem now is the House Bill does have a minimum wage hike, $15 an hour. The Senate bill doesn't have anything to do with the minimum wage, and even if it passes, they're hoping to get it on the floor as early as this week. It's obviously going to have to now go back to the House. You need the House and Senate to pass the same bill and. The question is, will progressives in the House balk if there is no minimum wage hike in the new House and Senate package? That's something we still don't know.

What we also don't know is how the congressional leaders will try to deal with this going forward. Are they going to try to do a separate stand alone minimum wage hike and push that through? Will they try to attach it to infrastructure bills that are coming down the pike? All that remains to be seen.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So then is this kind of in a roundabout way connected to the president's support or the support that he voiced for workers in Alabama voting to unionize, particularly when it comes to Amazon? I just thought to myself, you know, part of his campaigning was about raising the minimum wage. If he can't actually get that done with this, then maybe at least he can sort of make a gesture indicating support for workers who might want a better wage for themselves.

NANCY CORDES: You know, Anne-Marie, I thought the exact same thing. I think that you are correct that this is meant to send a signal that, hey, something that was very important to me, hiking the minimum wage, it may not happen in this big COVID relief bill. But I'm still out there supporting workers, and I'm still trying to help people get a fair shake. And this-- I can't stress how unusual this video and this tweet is that the president put out, basically showing support for a group of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, who are in the middle of their process of trying to unionize.

They're voting right now over the course of seven weeks, and they've gotten a lot of pressure from Amazon officials not to vote to unionize. They are getting inundated with texts and signs, pressure from this massive company not to unionize because they would be the first Amazon workers in the United States to do so, and obviously, it would set a precedent.

So the president came out and said he stands with the workers. He said no company should put pressure on workers not to unionize, and this is something that presidents normally stay out of. They don't typically get involved in specific union arguments and union decisions. So it is notable that he is doing this, and I don't think that it is entirely an accident, Anne-Marie, as you said, that this is coming out just as it looks like the final nail has been put in the coffin of a minimum wage hike, at least when it comes to this particular COVID relief bill.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: And Nancy, before we let you go, former President Trump as you know made his first public remarks since leaving office. He spoke at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, yesterday. There was a straw poll, Nancy, taken during CPAC, and former President Trump came out with about 55% of folks who would like to see him run for office in 2024. Am I wrong in thinking that that number seems soft? I mean, it should be higher, given the number of Republicans who continue to show fealty to former President Trump. 55% seems kind of low. You'd expect it to be like 95%.

NANCY CORDES: I agree, and you know, it was really interesting, Vlad. There were a lot of-- the CPAC attendees were asked whether they support President Trump or like President Trump. I forget the exact wording. And that number was much higher. But when they were specifically asked who they want to be president, then his numbers dropped. So I did think that that indicated some softening for the former president. Anyone who is expecting that he would actually go ahead and announce officially that he is running again for president in 2024, they may have been disappointed because he didn't do that. He kind of played coy and said, oh, I wonder who's going to run in 2024, certainly leaving the door wide open for that possibility and calling out anyone who has ever crossed him in the Republican Party by name. But in terms of laying out what his actual political future is, he left us all guessing, which is something he really likes to do.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: It's very true. Nancy, thank you very much.

NANCY CORDES: You're welcome.