WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators will force 22 votes aimed at rebuking the Trump administration for its planned sale of American weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The unusual move, announced Wednesday morning by seven lawmakers – including one of President Trump’s closest allies in the Senate – will not block the $8.1 billion deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But it will be a highly public demonstration of lawmakers’ anger over the Trump administration’s decision to side-step Congress and push through the arms sale by declaring a national security emergency.
And it will showcase the growing unease among lawmakers in both parties with the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post columnist.
“The Trump administration’s effort to sell billions of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is yet another example of an end-run around Congress and a disregard for human rights,” Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is usually a vocal defender of the president, said he expects broad support for the measures, which will involve a “vote of disapproval” for each of the 22 weapons transactions.
“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said, referring to the crown prince and defacto ruler of Saudi Arabia. “Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia.”
Lawmakers have also expressed alarm over the Trump administration’s decision to allow U.S. companies to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the Administration has approved such transfers on seven occasions, including one just 16 days after Khashoggi’s murder.
“The alarming realization that the Trump administration signed off on sharing our nuclear know-how with the Saudi regime after it brutally murdered an American resident adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior,” Kaine said in a statement Tuesday after receiving new information from the White House about the nuclear transfers.
The arms-sale standoff began last month when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers the administration planned to go through with the weapons deal despite Congress’ objections. Congress normally has sign off on such deals, but Pompeo cited a provision in the 1976 Arms Control Act that allows the president to sidestep Congress in an emergency.
Pompeo said threats from Iran, a foe of both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, justified the decision to evade congressional review.
“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,” Pompeo said in announcing the decision.
Opponents of the arms sale say the weapons will be used to kill civilians in the Yemen war, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a proxy fight with Iranian-backed rebels. The day after Pompeo announced the new arms sales, the United Nations reported that 12 civilians had been killed, including seven children, in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition.
Overall, the war has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, including widespread starvation and disease.
“Selling more bombs to the Saudis simply means that the famine and cholera outbreak in Yemen will get worse, Iran will get stronger, and Al Qaeda and ISIS will continue to flourish amidst the chaos of the civil war,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is also backing the legislative rebuke.
“Saudi Arabia treats us like the junior partner in this relationship, chopping up U.S. residents and torturing others, all the while demanding we remain silent and sell them more weapons,” Murphy added in a reference to the gruesome way Khashoggi was reportedly killed.
In addition to Graham, Menendez and Murphy, the other lawmakers pushing the disapproval measures are: Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Todd Young, R-Ind., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. All sit on key committees that have some jurisdiction over foreign policy and the State Department.
More: Trump administration plans to sell new weapons to Saudis despite lawmakers’ objections