House Dems introduce resolutions to block Trump’s Saudi arms sales

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House Democrats introduced several measures on Wednesday aimed at blocking President Trump’s emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.

One measure, led by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), would block all 22 arms sales the Trump administration recently approved, according to a House Foreign Affairs Committee press release.

“The emergency declaration is nothing more than an egregious abuse of power by an administration that doesn’t like being told ‘no,’ ” Lieu said in a statement.

“Our arms sale process was designed to include congressional review to ensure that U.S. interests and laws are always met with each sale. The Trump administration knows that these sales would not meet that standard, so they decided to declare a fake emergency in order to bypass Congress.”{mosads}

Other measures introduced by Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) specifically address the transfers of precision-guided bombs, according to the press release.

The press release refers to the resolutions as bipartisan. A congressional aide told The Hill that Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is co-sponsoring Lieu’s resolution.

The House effort comes after senators secured at least 51 votes on 22 resolutions to block the arms sales.

The introduction of the House measures also comes after a testy hearing in which Democrats demanded answers from the State Department on its thinking behind invoking an emergency to push the arms sales through.

“There is no emergency,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said at the hearing. “It’s phony. It’s made up. And it’s an abuse of the law. Once again, attempting to cut Congress out of the whole picture. This is not a dictatorship. We don’t rule this country by fiat.”

Late last month, the Trump administration notified Congress that it was invoking a provision of law that allows an arms sale to go through without a 30-day congressional review period in cases of emergency.

The administration is using the emergency provision to approve $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Lawmakers had been using an informal process to block the sales from going through amid concerns about civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the Saudis’ killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year in Turkey.

The Trump administration argues the emergency was justified because of an alleged heightened threat from Iran.

“It is this situation, this significant increase in both the intelligence of threat streams and clear, provocative and damaging actions taken by Iran’s government, that the secretary did determine it constituted an emergency,” R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Cooper also argued that the administration respected Congress’s role in the process, despite using the emergency to circumvent its hold on the sales.

“I value deeply Congress’ role in the review of the arms transfer process,” he said. “I do not view the secretary’s certification as setting aside this process. Indeed, by carving out a certain set of cases in the context of a statutory authority long granted by Congress, the secretary’s action is an affirmation of the value we place on our engagement with you on arms transfers and broader security assistance issues.”

That assertion infuriated Democrats.

“This is gaslighting,” Cicilline said. “You’re claiming that ignoring this provision is your way of affirming the role Congress plays. That’s an absurdity.”

Several Democrats also noted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made no mention of the emergency arms sales during a classified briefing on threats from Iran that happened three days before the emergency notification.

Most Republican members of the committee did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, Of those who did, a few expressed concern about the process and Saudi Arabia’s use of the weapons in civilian deaths in Yemen.

“I am also troubled by the numerous civilian deaths in this war, including from coalition airstrikes,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the committee. “I firmly believe we can support our strategic partners while also insisting that they prosecute that war more responsibly. For this reason, I am working with Chairman Engel on legislation conditioning certain future arms sales, with the goal of helping stop civilian deaths.”

McCaul also lamented that the administration’s use of an emergency “bypassed” congressional review of the sales. 

“As I said last month, the recent use of this emergency authority in my judgment was unfortunate,” he said. “Of note, some of these sales will not be ready for delivery for over a year. I would have preferred State to adhere to the formal statutory 30-day congressional review process to expedite these 22 arms sales, where a resolution of disapproval process could have been an option.”

Updated at 2:18 p.m.

Tags Abigail Spanberger David Cicilline Donald Trump Eliot Engel Justin Amash Michael McCaul Mike Pompeo Ted Lieu Tom Malinowski

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