U.S. Senators Preparing Legislation Seeking to Block Trump’s Plan to Sell $8b in Weapons to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan

Members from both parties in Congress are preparing legislation seeking to block President Trump’s plan for $8.1 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, according to reports.

Last month, The Trump administration declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to several countries, citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters before leaving Riyadh in October 2018.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters before leaving Riyadh in October 2018.

“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. The emergency notification announced by Pompeo includes 22 sale agreements to three Gulf Arab allied countries: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan, and total $8.1 billion.

Members from both parties of Congress decried the move as a dangerous precedent.

Per a CNN report in May, Secretary Pompeo directly addressed lawmakers’ unhappiness in his statement, saying, “I intend for this determination to be a one-time event,” and noted that “at least four previous administrations since 1979” had used the measure empowering the executive branch to bypass Congress in emergencies, and said “this specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress.”

In response to the move, a bipartisan group of senators will try to force nearly two dozen votes rebuking the Trump administration’s decision. The first measures could be introduced within days, congressional aides said, according to Reuters.

The new legislation, which will be introduced by Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an otherwise staunch ally of President Trump, seeks to “leverage a provision in the Arms Export Control Act that allows lawmakers to introduce what is known as a privileged joint resolution of disapproval against a proposed sale of arms, in essence forcing a debate and a vote,” the New York Times reports. “Their plan is to introduce 22 such resolutions, one for each proposed arms sale. A simple majority of lawmakers would need to vote to allow the debate to proceed — and if the measures advanced, the group of senators could monopolize hours of floor time as soon as mid-June.”

The fight between Congress and the Trump administration over U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia shows the continuing impact the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul has had on U.S.-Saudi relations. Senator Graham, as well as many other top leaders on the Hill, have specifically cited the killing as one of the primary reasons for holding up U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia…I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said her “whole view of Saudi Arabia changed with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
“I will not support another Saudi arms sale, and I urge all of my Senate colleagues to stand up for congressional prerogative and block the President’s end-run around the law.”