Defense

Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would restrict the president's ability to approve emergency sales without a congressional review period.

The bill advanced by voice vote with some Republicans expressing opposition to the legislation.

The bill, dubbed the Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act, comes as a response to President Trump's decision to use the emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act in an attempt to muscle through 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies without the typical congressional review period.

"This bipartisan bill directly addresses these abuses by restricting these emergency authorities to only our closest security treaty allies and security partner countries," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee's ranking member and sponsor of the bill.

"These changes do not affect the 22 sales, which we dealt with by the resolutions of disapproval last week. But it will hopefully prevent us being faced with future uses of this nature, regardless of whether a Republican or a Democrat is occupying the White House," he added.

Despite advancing out of the Foreign Relations Committee, the bill faces an uphill climb to get a floor vote without the support of the committee's chairman, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Republican leadership.

Under normal procedures, the arms sale law requires a 30-day congressional review period before a sale is finalized.

But citing threats from Iran, the administration invoked a provision of the law allowing sales to go through immediately in emergency cases for the 22 sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Still, last week, the Senate approved resolutions to the block the deals. A resolution that would block two sales passed 53-45, while another that would block the other 20 sales passed 51-45.

The House is expected to follow suit, but Trump is expected to veto the resolutions, and neither chamber is expected to have enough votes to overturn the veto.

As part of the deal to bring the arms sale resolutions to a vote, Risch agreed to hold the markup on the SAFE Act as well as another markup on a separate piece of Saudi Arabia legislation expected after the July Fourth break.

Menendez's bill, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), would specifically limit emergency arms sales to NATO allies and Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Additionally, an emergency could be declared only to respond to a physical threat and if 75 percent of the weapons are available to deliver within two months.

Lawmakers in both parties oppose the arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its conduct in the Yemen civil war, where a Saudi-led coalition has been blamed for the majority of civilian deaths, and the Saudi regime's killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered last year in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

"The president wanted to give arms to Saudi Arabia, and most of us didn't because the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia did something so outrageous it was even hard for me to ignore it. It was clearly not in line with appreciating the relationship, so what we're trying to do is say these are the folks that we have confidence in," Graham said. "The reason we're doing this bill is because the administration wanted to give Saudi Arabia weapons and we did not."

Risch said at the top of the markup that he opposed the bill, though he said he "understand[s] the motivation."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also expressed opposition because it leaves out other partner countries such as Ukraine and Taiwan.

"If I were Taiwanese and this became a law," Romney said, "I would say, 'How come America's not willing to send us weaponry ... and why are we treated differently than four countries?'"

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