Senate rejects effort to block Saudi arms sale
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The Senate on Tuesday narrowly rejected an effort to block part of President Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  

Senators voted 47-53 on advancing the resolution, falling short of the simple majority needed to move forward. GOP Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans urge probe into Amazon government cloud-computing bid: report Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill MORE (Ky.) Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTo meet the US innovation challenge, keep NSF's mission intact America can build back better through fair and open competition GOP senator supports 'diplomatic boycott' of 2022 Olympics in Beijing MORE (Ind.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.) voted with most Democrats to advance it.

Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding Republicans fret over divisive candidates Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (Mo.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonCrist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump, Cheney trade jabs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Biden sales pitch heads to Virginia and Louisiana MORE (Fla.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money: Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium | Biden says he's open to compromise on corporate tax rate | Treasury unsure of how long it can stave off default without debt limit hike DC mayor admitted to Democratic governors group amid statehood fight Biden says he's open to compromise on corporate tax rate MORE (W.Va.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (Va.) voted against moving the measure.

The motion faced an uphill climb in the Senate, despite growing concerns about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen's civil war. 

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Top Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won Biden: GOP in the midst of a 'mini-revolution' Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (R-Ky.), signaled ahead of the vote that they were opposed to the motion, arguing that reneging on the arms agreement would undercut a key U.S. ally. 

“As we know, some have raised the issue of Saudi conduct of that war [in Yemen], but blocking this arms sale will diminish Saudi capability to target with precision. ... Part of the training provided to Saudi Arabia will be on subjects such as avoiding civilian casualties,” McConnell said. 

He added that Saudi Arabia is involved in “two important struggles”: fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Blocking the deal, McConnell said, would send the wrong signal. 

Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member MORE (R-Tenn.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney What's really going on down in Georgia Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairmen of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, respectively, also opposed blocking the deal, saying they had urged Saudi Arabia to improve its ability to avoid civilian casualties with its airstrikes. 

"It's hard for me to understand why people would oppose the selling of precision guided missiles," Corker told reporters, stressing they help lower unintended casualties.

McCain said blocking the deal would be “crazy.” 

“I've been putting pressure on them for years and years and years, and they have made some improvements. ... They’ve got a long way to go,” he told reporters in a recent interview. 

But supporters of the motion argued that the vote was needed, even if it failed, to send a sign of growing frustration with Saudi Arabia. 

"Saudi Arabia is causing a humanitarian crisis with a war in Yemen. It funds extremism worldwide. Abuses human rights. Stop arming them now," Paul tweeted on Tuesday. 

The Kentucky Republican also spoke from the Senate floor next to a poster of a child he said died in Yemen's civil war.  

The Guardian reported last year that one-third of Saudi bombings hit civilian sites in Yemen, though the Saudi government disputed the claim as "vastly exaggerated." 

Paul and Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyUS, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks Democrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Conn.) and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart Franken#MeWho? The hypocritical silence of Kamala Harris The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination falls Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' MORE (D-Minn.) are using a frequently overlooked provision in the Arms Export Control Act that allows them to force a vote if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee doesn’t take up their motion within 10 days. 

The senators want to block the proposed sale of equipment and weapons systems used by the Royal Saudi Air Force, according to their motion. Murphy previously told reporters that it would account for roughly $500 million of the entire $110 billion sale. 

Murphy predicted ahead of the vote on the motion that it would be "very close" but sounded skeptical that they would be able to block the sale. 

"We're going to get a handful of Republican votes and we're working on the last few Democrats," Murphy said. 

Both Murphy and Paul pledged after Tuesday's vote to continue speaking out on Saudi Arabia, with Murphy warning that, without changes, "the votes will continue to head in the way they have since the fall."

"I think Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the military escalation that both President Obama and President Trump have pursued within the Middle East," Murphy told reporters during a conference call.

But Paul declined to say if he and Murphy would try to block other parts of the arms sale, or other arms sales, noting they needed to talk and see if conditions within Yemen changed.

"I think also there needs to be a period of time to see if there is a change in Saudi warfare tactics," Paul told reporters during the call.

A previous attempt to block an arms sale last year fell short, garnering only 27 votes.

Supporters of the motion picked up new backers on their latest effort, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHow to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs On The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan MORE (D-N.Y.), who announced this week he would support blocking part of the deal. 

"The human rights and humanitarian concerns have been well documented and are important: of equal concern to me is that the Saudi government continues to aid and abet terrorism via its relationship with Wahhabism and the funding of schools that spread extremist propaganda throughout the world," Schumer said in a statement.

This report was updated at 3:37 p.m.