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 TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 PaulHouse chairwoman diagnosed with 'presumed' coronavirus infection Capitol officials extend suspension of tourist access until May Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus MORE (Ky.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (S.C.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate GOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Trump, GOP scramble to keep economy from derailing 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 LeeSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine 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 CollinsGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill McConnell says T bill is 'emergency relief' and not a 'stimulus' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election MORE (Mont.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet MORE (Alaska) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: 'Absolutely irresponsible' Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 MurphyMaxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act 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) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees 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 RubioTrump seeks to sell public on his coronavirus response Rubio knocks coverage of US coronavirus cases as 'grotesque' and 'bad journalism Lessons from the front line — Florida's fight with sea level rise 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 Scott GardnerRomney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Markets expected to plunge amid partisan squabbling 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 RomneyGranting cash payments is a conservative principle 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package Scarborough rips Trump for mocking Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'Could have been a death sentence' 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 McConnellThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden spar over coronavirus response Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Schumer praises choice of Defense inspector general to oversee corporate lending fund 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 McCarthyOvernight Health Care: More states order residents to stay at home | Trump looks to sell public on coronavirus response | Judges block Ohio, Texas abortion bans | Dems eye infrastructure in next relief bill Asian American lawmaker warns of fear of racism over coronavirus stigma Democrats eye major infrastructure component in next coronavirus package 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.”