Senators plot 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sales

Senators plot 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sales
© Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators plans to flood the Senate with 22 separate resolutions to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies that the Trump administration hoped to muscle through, they announced Wednesday.

Among the senators joining together to introduce the resolutions of disapproval is Trump ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.), who has split with the president over his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

ADVERTISEMENT

“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said in a Wednesday statement. “I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the Administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress. I expect and look forward to strong bipartisan support for these resolutions of disapproval.”

The others introducing the resolutions are Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Trump faces skepticism about Iran war authority from both parties MORE (D-Conn.); Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Washington braces for Trump's next move on Iran Overnight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination MORE (R-Ky.); Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (D-Vt.); Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ind.); and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Under normal procedures outlined in the Arms Export Control Act, lawmakers have 30 days to review and potentially block an arms sale once the administration formally notifies Congress about it.

But last month, the Trump administration notified Congress it was invoking a provision of that law allowing arms sales to go through immediately without the review period.

In doing so, the administration cited an alleged heighten threat from Iran to sell $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the UAE then transferring some to Jordan.

The sales had been long stalled amid bipartisan opposition fueled by concern about civilian deaths caused by the Saudi-led coalition's operations in the Yemeni civil war. Opposition only grew after the Saudis killed U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Istanbul.

Despite the administration using emergency powers, Congress can still block the sales until the weapons are delivered.

The law also makes resolutions of disapproval privileged, meaning the senators can force a vote on them.

The administration has argued that using emergency powers on arms sales is not unprecedented. The emergency provision has been used four times before, with the Trump administration particularly highlighting when President Reagan did so in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq War after Iran attacked Saudi oil tankers.

But lawmakers opposed to the move argue that it is unprecedented to use the provision how the administration has, saying President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE is attempting to circumvent Congress.

“The Trump administration’s effort to sell billions of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is yet another example of an end-run around Congress and a disregard for human rights,” Menendez said in a statement. “The best thing the secretary of State can do right now is withdraw his emergency certification, immediately submit these sales for the normal congressional review and engage with senators to address our concerns.

“Failing that, I am prepared to move forward with any and all options to nullify the licenses at issue for both Saudi Arabia and UAE and eliminate any ability for the administration to bypass Congress in future arms sales.”