Saudi Arabia has employed the former chairman of the United States' House Armed Service Committee to join its team of lobbyists to face-off against President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Republican Howard "Buck" McKeon will offer powerful influence in the midst of uncertainty as Trump comes to power.
On his lobbyist registration forms, McKeon said that he will “provide consulting and government relations counsel” and “undertake specific advocacy requests with regard to legislative and public policy matters” on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
He served as a representative from California in the U.S. Congress from 1993 to 2015. He chaired the Armed Service Committee between 2011 and 2015, overseeing more than $10 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. His tenure saw arms sales to the kingdom nearly double.
McKeon was also ranked as one of the top five recipients of defense contractor money in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the International Business Times.
He received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions from defense contractors throughout his political career, including significant contributions from companies that sell to Saudi Arabia such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
The kingdom has seen significant setbacks to its lobbying efforts this year, particularly with the passage of Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The congressional legislation allows for families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
Trump vocally supported the legislation during his political campaign.
Saudi Arabia has also faced criticism from the U.S. congress for its ongoing war in Yemen, although the U.S. has provided the kingdom with vital logistical and military support. Weapon sales to the kingdom from the U.S. were also at an all-time high under President Barack Obama's administration.
Trump has been a vocal critic of lobbying in Washington D.C. and has vowed to reform the system.
But, since being elected president, the proposals his team have put forward seem to offer little to truly shake things up. While his administration will ban members from its team from lobbying for five years and forbid them from ever lobbying for foreign governments, this does little to change the current reality in Washington D.C.
Overall, it's unclear what a Trump presidency holds for Saudi Arabia specifically. While the president-elect has voiced strong opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, a positive position from the Saudi perspective, he has also voiced support for Russia's policy in Syria and reluctance to support rebels opposing Syria's President Bashar Al Assad, a position bitterly opposed by Riyadh.
Trump has also repeatedly said that the U.S. needs to block all oil imports from Saudi Arabia and strive for complete energy independence.
But, the president-elect has already backtracked on a number of campaign promises since being elected. McKeon and the kingdom's other lobbyists will now need to navigate the often contradicting and changing positions of Trump's administration as they represent the kingdom's interests.