Pelosi: Congress will block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Pelosi: Congress will block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia
© Aaron Schwartz

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Mueller report fades from political conversation Five key players in Trump's trade battles MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday vowed that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE would have a fight on his hands as he presses to realize a sweeping arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at a forum in New York, the Speaker said the House would soon vote to block the transfer of weapons to Riyadh, which the administration says is vital to protecting U.S. interests in the region amid escalating tensions with Iran.

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"There will be a vote to remove any authority to make those sales to Saudi Arabia," Pelosi said Thursday night during an interview with Fareed Zakaria hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. "This is something that we will fight, and we'll have bipartisan support to fight."

The comments came a day after Senate opponents of the deal secured the 51 votes needed to block the transfer in the upper chamber, after four Republican lawmakers went against the president on the measure. But it's unlikely that either chamber could find the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, as was the case last month when the Senate failed to override Trump's veto of increased military assistance to Yemen.

The State Department last month invoked an emergency provision under the Arms Export Control Act to push through 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and other countries. The tactic allows the administration to sidestep Congress in finalizing a deal, worth roughly $8 billion, that includes Patriot missiles, drones, precision-guided bombs and other military support.

In the House, Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuCities are the future: We need to coordinate their international diplomacy George Conway opposes #unfollowTrump movement Puerto Rico resignations spur constitutional crisis MORE (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Wednesday to block the entirety of Trump's wish list of 22 arms sales. Another slimmer measure, targeting precision-guided bombs, was introduced by Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons Hillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement MORE (D-R.I.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border MORE (D-Va.) and Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Democrats call for Pelosi to cut recess short to address white nationalism House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-N.J.).

Opponents of the deal are wary of granting any new assistance to Saudi Arabia in light of Riyadh's involvement in the civil war in Yemen, which has killed countless thousands of civilians and created a dire humanitarian crisis. They're also loath to help the same Saudi leaders who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of a vocal critic of their reign, Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

Pelosi, noting that Trump's first trip abroad as president was to Saudi Arabia, wondered what's driving the president's alacrity to strengthen ties with Riyadh, even as he's sought to punish more traditional allies with tariffs. She's also warning that Trump's arms deal "includes nuclear technology that he is transferring to Saudi Arabia."

"Follow the money. What's going on here?" she said. "And there's a question of who is financially benefiting from the nuclear part of the sales to Saudi Arabia. ... The case against Saudi Arabia — in terms of Yemen, in terms of Khashoggi, in terms of so much — that they should not be receiving these weapons sales is very strongly bipartisan in the Congress."

The debate comes amid increased tensions between the United States and Iran. On Thursday, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, and hours later Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests Pompeo acknowledges 'places where ISIS is more powerful today' MORE accused the Iranians of orchestrating the "unprovoked" blasts, though he provided no evidence.

Those attacks came weeks after Trump heightened the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, ordering new deployments of bombers, missile batteries and a carrier group to the region to combat what the administration has deemed new threats from an ever-aggressive Iranian government.

Pelosi says she's been heartened by the noninterventionist position Trump has supported in the past — a message she reiterated Thursday night. But she also warned that the new saber-rattling with Iran creates "a very dangerous situation," and hammered the president for his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement, adopted by former President Obama in 2015. 

"You have to wonder why, if you do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and then you say, 'Well they could have a nuclear weapon in 10 years under this agreement.' Well, without the agreement they could have one in one year. So what's the logic except some other issue? That it was negotiated by President Obama?" she said.

"I'm not going to accuse anybody of instigating anything, but we're not having a policy that would smooth the waters, so to speak," she added. "I think he probably knows that there's no appetite for war among the American people."