Senate rejects effort to block Bahrain arms sale

Senate rejects effort to block Bahrain arms sale
© Greg Nash

The Senate has rejected Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump's sanctions Rand Paul rips Lindsey Graham: 'Wrong about almost every foreign policy decision' MORE’s (R-Ky.) effort to block a $300 million arms sale to Bahrain.

The Senate voted 77-21 Thursday to table a resolution that would have blocked the artillery sale, effectively killing the effort.

Paul sought to make the vote about the Yemen civil war. U.S lawmakers have been increasingly opposed to U.S. military involvement in the war because of the civilian death toll.

Bahrain is a member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on which the bulk of the death toll is blamed.

“I rise today to call for an end to the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen,” Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Your tax dollars are supporting this war, so I think there ought to be a debate. So that’s what I stand up today to do, is to force a debate on whether or not we should be involved with aiding and abetting the Saudi coalition in this war in Yemen.”

The Pentagon and Saudi Arabia announced last week that the U.S. military would no longer provide aerial refueling to coalition aircraft. But critics of U.S. involvement in the war want all support, including arms sales, to end.

The Trump administration notified Congress on Sept. 28 that it intends to sell Bahrain 120 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System pods and 110 Army Tactical Missile System pods.

The notification said the artillery is needed to improve Bahrain’s “security for its critical oil and natural gas infrastructure.”

On Thursday, the White House said it “strongly opposes” Paul’s effort, saying the weapons are necessary to defend against Iran.

“The utilization of this ground-based system would enhance Bahrain’s ability to protect itself against threats to territorial sovereignty, particularly from Iran,” the statement of administration policy said. “Furthermore, this system will bolster a Bahraini defense infrastructure that supports United States activities and priorities related to countering Iran’s regional destabilizing activities and anti-piracy efforts in the Arabian and Red Seas.”

Though Paul’s effort to block the Bahrain sale failed, senators have said they are confident they could block the next arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The administration has not notified Congress of a sale to the Saudis, but a precision-guided munitions sale has long been in the works.

In addition to concerns about the death toll in Yemen, arms sale to Saudi Arabia have come under fire as lawmakers look for a way to punish the kingdom over the killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced it is sanctioning 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing. President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE has rejected the idea of ending arms sales over the issue, arguing that puts U.S. jobs at risk while the Saudis look elsewhere for the weapons.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHouse to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senators ask Treasury to probe Brazilian meatpacker with major US footprint MORE (D-N.J.), whose hold on sales to the Saudis has so far prevented the notification from coming, said he opposed Paul's resolution because the Bahrain sale had nothing to do with Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

"Bahrain is a critical ally to us," Menendez said on the Senate floor. "It hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, providing a vital naval base from which the U.S. protects its national security interests in the Gulf and throughout the region, and its willingness to host our naval forces also places Bahrain at greater risk from attack from Iran or terrorists seeking to do harm to the United States."