Democrats warn Trump may soon push through Saudi arms sale

Democrats warn Trump may soon push through Saudi arms sale
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Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned Wednesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE may soon push through an arms sale to Saudi Arabia in a way that prevents Congress from blocking it.

“I have had some rumblings that they’re considering some other provision of law to try to do the sale, a provision that I believe is not legal, a provision that would not stand up, and doing that and breaking through a congressional notification will have very significant consequences,” Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee, told The Hill on Wednesday afternoon.

Menendez declined to say what recourse he would try to pursue.

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Menendez’s comment comes after Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Overnight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure MORE (D-Conn.) tweeted earlier Wednesday that he is “hearing that Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act and notice a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia (the ones they drop in Yemen) in a way that will prevent Congress from objecting.”

“Could happen this week,” Murphy continued. “If he does this, it's because Trump knows he would lose a vote on the sale —Congress and the American public object to selling these bombs to the Saudis. But it's not too late - Ds and Rs should stand up right now and tell the President not to set this dangerous precedent.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque Progressive group backs Democratic challenger to Sen. Risch Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election MORE (R-Idaho) declined to comment on his Democratic colleagues' warnings.

A State Department spokesman said that “as a matter of policy we do not comment on potential or pending arms sales before they are formally notified to Congress.”

Menendez has had a hold since April 2018 on a sale of precision guided munitions kits to the Saudis over concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen's civil war. A Saudi-led military coalition that the United States supports with arms sales has been blamed for the majority of civilian deaths in the war.

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The hold is an informal process the administration could break, but lawmakers have also warned that the administration does not have the votes to get an arms sale through Congress because of anger over the Saudis’ killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump, though, has resisted pressure to punish the Saudis over Khashoggi's death, in part arguing U.S. companies will lose out on business from arms sales. Trump has touted an agreement with the Saudis for $110 billion in arms sales as a signature achievement.

Under the law governing arms sales, lawmakers have 30 days to vote to block a sale once Congress is formally notified about it.

The Arms Export Control Act also says that a sale can go through immediately if the president certifies there is an emergency. The emergency provision has been used at least twice before, in 1990 and 2006.

It is the emergency provision Murphy said the administration will seek to use for the sale to the Saudis.

“To state the obvious, there is no new emergency reason to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop in Yemen,” Murphy tweeted. “The Saudis been dropping the bombs on civilians, so if there is an emergency, it's a humanitarian emergency caused by the bombs we sell the Saudis.”