Senate Votes to Block Trump-Backed Saudi Arms Sales

Donald Trump holds up a chart of military hardware sales as he meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House on March 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Donald Trump holds up a chart of military hardware sales as he meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House on March 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers voted Thursday to halt the Trump administration’s push to circumvent Congress and expedite $8.1 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries by declaring an emergency.

Trump is expected to veto the package of resolutions of disapproval and Thursday’s votes were far short of the two-thirds of the chamber needed to overrule the President. Still the demonstration is a symbolic showing of the opposition — including from within Trump’s own party — to the administration’s relationship to Saudi Arabia, following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told his fellow lawmakers that passing these resolutions would not only send a strong message to the Trump administration but set an important precedent going forward.

“If the Senate wants to show the world that, even if you are an ally you cannot kill with impunity, this is the moment. It’s also the moment to tell the UAE that you can’t take our weapons and sell it or give it to others who we consider people on the terrorist list,” he said.

“Stand up for the proposition that we won’t let any allies, just because they’re an ally, kill, with impunity, a journalist—something that we cherish under our Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the freedom of expression under the First Amendment. And stand up for the proposition that we won’t let our bombs fall upon innocent civilians and have the moral responsibility which will be a blemish on our history for years to come,” Menendez said.

The Trump administration declared last month an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.

In a letter last month to congressional lawmakers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he “determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan “in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region,” according to a copy obtained by CNN.

Pompeo’s notification came on the same day as Trump’s announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that “today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran.”

Thursday’s vote came hours after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it had shot down an “intruding American spy drone” after it entered into the country’s territory Thursday. A US official confirmed to CNN a drone had been shot down, but said the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most vital shipping routes. Congressional leaders will have a White House Situation Room briefing later Thursday.

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