Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale

The Senate voted to block President Trump’s Saudi arms deal on Thursday, paving the way for a veto clash with the White House.

The Senate voted 53-45 on resolutions to block two of the sales, with GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (S.C.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Senators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates MORE (Kansas), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Trump: 'Everybody knows who the whistleblower is' Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing MORE (Ind.) joining Democrats.

They voted 51-45 to block the additional 20 arms sales. Murkwoski flipped to vote for the sale, while Lee did not vote.

The 22 arms sales, estimated to be worth more than $8 billion, would provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

ADVERTISEMENT

But it sparked widespread backlash in Congress after Trump used an “emergency” provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to sidestep the 30-day notification to lawmakers about a pending sale.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE (D-N.J.), who sponsored the resolution, argued that Congress needed to send a message that U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia or the UAE are “not a blank check.”

“For months upon months, this administration has failed to demonstrate how equipping the Saudis with more weapons would improve the Saudis’ respect for human rights in Yemen or advance America’s own values and national security interests,” Menendez said.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers spar over upcoming Sondland testimony Johnson: Whistleblower 'exposed things that didn't need to be exposed' Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony MORE (D-Conn.) added that if lawmakers didn’t try to block the sale they were effectively allowing this administration and future administrations to ignore Congress on arms sales.

“If we don’t take a positive vote here, we are giving away this priority potentially forever, because you know, this emergency in the Middle East is not a new emergency,” he added.

Under the AECA, lawmakers can block an arms sale with only a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes normally needed to pass legislation in the Senate.

House Democrats have pledged they will also pass resolutions blocking the sale.

Neither chamber is expected to be able to muster the two-thirds votes necessary to override all-but-guaranteed vetoes from Trump in response.

The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a veto statement against all 22 resolutions of disapproval ahead of Thursday’s vote.

“The transfer of these capabilities and services to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan directly supports the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of friendly countries that continue to be important forces for political and economic stability in the Middle East,” OMB said in a statement.

But Thursday’s votes are an unprecedented move, reflecting growing frustration on Capitol Hill about the U.S.-Saudi relationship and coming 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Congress passed a separate resolution earlier this year forcing Trump to remove troops in or affecting Yemen unless they were fighting al Qaeda; Trump vetoed the resolution.

In addition to the arms sale votes on Thursday, Menendez announced that he had reached a deal with Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to hold a committee vote on legislation limiting which countries a president can use the “emergency” provision to sell arms to and a broader Saudi bill being worked on by Risch.

The administration has hit back at criticism from Congress over its tactics on the arms deal, arguing that a heightened threat from Iran is its justification in invoking the emergency.

“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, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

They’ve been backed up by most Republicans including Risch and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.), both of whom made the case for rejecting the resolutions ahead of Thursday’s votes.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on this floor that is averse to the idea that action needs to be taken, and obviously the relationship is not the same as it’s been for a long time. Having said that, on a transactional basis, there are a number of basis that we are allied with the Saudi Arabians on,” Risch said.

McConnell urged his colleagues to reject the effort to block the arms sale, arguing there were other steps lawmakers could take, including visiting the region or meeting with Saudi officials.

“Rejecting long-planned arms sales strikes me as an overly blunt tool with several unintended consequences,” McConnell said. “The dynamics at play are not black and white. We can best shape these dynamics by working closely with our partners to encourage them in the right direction rather than turning our back.”

— Updated June 20 at 1:15 p.m.