Defense

House votes to block Trump’s Saudi arms sale

Congress and President Trump are headed for a second veto showdown over Saudi Arabia after the House approved three resolutions Wednesday to block emergency arms sales to the kingdom.

Wednesday’s votes on the Senate-passed measures send them to Trump’s desk, where he is expected to use his veto pen for a third time.

The House approved two of the resolutions 238-190 and the third resolution 237-190. For all three resolutions, four Republicans voted yes: Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Alex Mooney (W.V.). Newly independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) also supported the resolutions.{mosads}

Congress is not expected to have the votes to override Trump’s veto. But the faceoff shows how far apart Congress and the White House have drifted on Saudi Arabia, and lawmakers are vowing not to let up on holding Riyadh accountable.

“I’ve supported our partners and our partnerships in the Gulf region. I think they’re an important counterbalance to the threat Iran poses. And I recognize that our partners face real threats from Iranian-backed Houthis, who are themselves guilty of serious human rights abuses,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

“But that doesn’t mean we should just look the other way in the face of violence and slaughter of civilians perpetrated by our partners. It doesn’t mean we look the other way and let the president ride roughshod over Congress,” he continued. “So even if this administration will not stand up for the values, the Congress should. And the Congress will.”

Earlier this year, Congress approved a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war.

Trump used the second veto of his presidency to quash the Yemen resolution. The Senate, where the resolution originated, did not muster the 67 votes needed to override the veto.

Congress has been furious at Saudi Arabia over its killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Khashoggi’s death compounded existing anger at Saudi Arabia over the Yemen civil war’s civilian deaths, the majority of which have been blamed on Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.

Despite Congress already having registered its displeasure with the Yemen war powers vote, in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked an emergency provision of the law governing arms sales to approve 22 deals with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan without the typical 30-day congressional review period.

{mossecondads}The move infuriated lawmakers, who accused the Trump administration of attempting to bypass Congress. Lawmakers had been blocking the sales from moving forward because of concerns about the civilian casualties in Yemen.

The administration and its allies have argued the arms sales are necessary because of what they described as heightened threats from Iran.

“Right now, as I speak, Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said. “One of the ways we can push back against Iran’s murderous aggression is by empowering our partners in the region.”

In June, the Senate voted 53-45 to block two of the emergency arms sales, and 51-45 to block the other 20.

The House only voted on three of the arms sales in the interest of time since Trump is assured to veto them, Democratic leadership has said.

The three sales the lower chamber chose to vote on are the ones most relevant to the Yemen civil war, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.

Engel also said Wednesday that the three sales are the first of the 22 slated to be shipped out in the next two months.

The resolutions voted on Wednesday cover Paveway precision-guided munitions for the Saudis and Emirates, as well as fuzing systems to detonate the bombs.

The Paveway deal with the Saudis also includes the co-production of the so-called smart bombs, an aspect that has raised concerns among lawmakers who say it runs the risk of giving the Saudis access to sensitive technology to produce their own version of the bomb.

“The evidence is clear: the Saudi government continues to disregard the vital distinction between combatants and innocent civilians in Yemen,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said. “Not only is the administration trying to the Saudis more powerful weapons, but we are giving them the opportunity to build their own.”

The White House issued a veto threat ahead of the Senate’s vote on the resolutions, arguing that they would hinder “our partner’s ability to deter and defend against Iranian military aggression” and would “send a message that the United States is abandoning its partners and allies at the very moment when threats to them are increasing.”

With the veto unlikely to be overridden, lawmakers are already plotting next steps on Saudi Arabia.

The House earlier this week overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the director of national intelligence to determine who is responsible for Khashoggi’s death and impose visa restrictions on those people.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Okla.) has introduced a bill he hopes can both satisfy lawmakers’ concerns and win Trump’s signature.

Risch’s bill, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, would force the Trump administration to undergo a “comprehensive review” of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

But Risch’s bill could be amended with a competing bill from Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that is backed by a majority of the committee, raising questions about the viability of getting something signed into law. The competing bill includes automatic sanctions and a temporary suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The committee is scheduled to consider Risch’s bill Tuesday morning, Risch said Wednesday.

Updated 7:23 p.m.

Tags Abigail Spanberger Alex Mooney arms sales Bob Menendez Donald Trump Eliot Engel Jim Risch Justin Amash Michael McCaul Mike Gallagher Mike Pompeo Steny Hoyer Thomas Massie Todd Young Trey Hollingsworth yemen civil war

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