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Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale

Senators have locked in the votes needed for an initial move to block President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE’s Saudi arms sales, paving the way for a high-stakes veto showdown.

The Senate is expected to take up the 22 resolutions of disapproval as soon as next week, to block each of the sales, after Trump invoked an emergency provision under the Arms Export Control Act to push through the sales without a congressional review period.

Because lawmakers are challenging the sales under the same law, they need only a simple majority to send the resolutions to the president.

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With all 47 members of the Democratic caucus expected to support the resolutions, they needed to win over at least four Senate Republicans to have the simple majority needed to send the resolution to the House, where Democrats have pledged to follow suit with blocking the sales.

Three GOP senators — Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul says Fauci owes parents and students an apology over pandemic measures Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE (Ky.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel Democracy is the MVP in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (S.C.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (Ind.) — signed on as sponsors when the resolutions were rolled out last week. A spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGrassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R-Utah) has signed on as a co-sponsor, giving Democrats their crucial fourth vote.

The unprecedented move to block the sales reflects growing frustration on Capitol Hill about the U.S.-Saudi relationship and would come after two votes fell short in recent years to block arms deals with Saudi Arabia. One, in 2016, garnered support from only 27 senators. The other, in June 2017, had the backing of 47 senators.

Since then, U.S.-Saudi relations have soured further amid growing concerns about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the years-long Yemen civil war and the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Democrats could also pick up Republican support in addition to the four votes they already have.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (Mont.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Bipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (Alaska) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act: Save jobs and stabilize the aerospace industry Lobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (Kan.), along with Young, Paul and Lee, each voted with Democrats on a resolution to end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. If each of them votes for the resolution of disapproval on the arms sales, that would give supporters at least eight Republican “yes” votes.

Collins said she is “inclined to” back the resolution of disapproval to block the sale to Saudi Arabia.

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“On the Saudi ones, my inclination, unless the language has changed, is to support the resolution indicating disapproval given that the administration has failed to produce a report on Khashoggi’s death,” Collins said. “And also I think Congress should be playing a role.”

Murkowski, meanwhile, said she hadn’t made a decision, while Daines said he is supporting the sale.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed New Jersey to halt indoor sports, cap outside gatherings MORE (D-Conn.), part of the group sponsoring the resolutions, predicted that as many as 70 senators may vote to block Trump’s arms deal.

“We’ll be somewhere in between 55 and 70,” Murphy told The Hill on Tuesday.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared equally confident about the vote outcome.

“It’s just a question of process at this point,” he said.

Several GOP members of the Foreign Relations Committee have yet to say how they will vote.

“I have no problem with the sale of defensive weaponry. The problem I have is the process by which it was done, trying to get around the congressional role in it. I think it’s deeply problematic and it sets a terrible precedent,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs MORE (R-Fla.), a senior member of the panel.

Asked what that meant for the arms sale votes, he said he’s “potentially supporting the resolution” but also wants to look at making broader changes to how the administration is able to use the “emergency” declaration to sidestep Congress.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerMark Kelly to be sworn in as senator on Wednesday Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Colo.) said he is talking with the administration about what effect the arms sales have on countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary MORE (R-Utah), who has had high-profile moments of opposition to Trump, said that while he has concerns about the process, he supports the arms sales.

“I support the Saudi arms sale. I’m concerned about the process the administration has undertaken, and that’s something I’m taking a look at,” he said.

The 22 sales, which will also send weapons to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, include precision-guided bombs, Patriot missiles, mortar rounds, drones, fighter jet parts and other military support.

The administration has said there’s a heightened threat from Iran as its justification for invoking the emergency sales.

“These sales and the associated emergency certification are intended to address the military need of our partners in the face of an urgent regional threat posed by Iran; promote the vitality of our bilateral relationships by reassuring our partners; and preserve strategic advantage against near-peer competitors,” R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, will tell the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, according to excerpts released by the State Department.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he will support the arms sales, but he acknowledged it would likely come to a veto-override vote, similar to the vote to pull troops from Yemen. Trump vetoed the Yemen resolution, and Congress was unable to override the veto.

“I’m as offended as everyone is by the behavior of the Saudis in the Khashoggi case. On the other hand, I think [not] fracturing the relationship we have with the Saudis, one of our best allies against our Iranian enemies, is important,” McConnell said. “I, for myself, am going to support the sale, and therefore I will be voting against the resolution of disapproval and for sustaining the veto when it comes back.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcConnell: COVID-19 relief will be added to omnibus spending package Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon MORE’s (R-Calif.) office did not respond to a request for comment on his position regarding the arms sales.

But it’s unlikely that opponents of the arms sales will have enough votes to get the two-thirds necessary in each chamber to override an all-but-guaranteed Trump veto. If an override vote fails in the Senate, it would not be taken up in the House.

Graham said he expects a “good bipartisan vote,” but declined to tip his hand as to how many Republican senators he thinks he can bring with him.

“I don’t know, won’t know ’till we get there. But I think there’ll be strong bipartisan support,” he said when asked if he thought there would be enough support to override a veto.

Murphy added that he expects the administration will pull out all the stops to keep the Senate’s initial vote on blocking the arms sales below the 67-vote veto threshold.

“The administration will put the press on to make sure the number stays below 67,” he said. “I think we’ll have our work cut out for us to beat the administration.”