WASHINGTON – The Senate is poised to vote Thursday on legislation to block the Trump administration from selling U.S.-made weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The unusual move, pushed by a bipartisan group of senators, highlights the growing rift between Congress and the White House over the Trump administration’s staunchly pro-Saudi policies, even as the kingdom has committed a series of high-profile human rights violations.
Thursday’s Senate vote will be on 22 “resolutions of disapproval” to block a pending $8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the $8.1 billion weapons deal last month – and said the administration would sidestep the normal congressional approval process by declaring a national security emergency. Pompeo said that threats from Iran, a foe of both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, justified the decision to evade congressional review.
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But the move sparked immediate blowback on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in both parties have questioned the legitimacy of Pompeo’s “emergency” declaration, and they argue that Saudi Arabia has become an unreliable ally, undeserving of U.S. weapons.
“Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., usually a staunch Trump ally, said earlier this month in announcing his support for blocking the arms sale.
Graham and others are particularly incensed about the alleged role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist killed last fall by a team of Saudi operatives.
Thursday’s vote comes in the wake of a startling new United Nations report on the Khashoggi case. The report concluded there is “credible evidence” that high-level officials in Saudi Arabia – including the crown prince – were involved in Khashoggi’s death.
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The Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudis it deemed to have played a role in Khashoggi’s death but officials have refused to take stronger action. Trump has condemned Khashoggi’s slaying, but questioned the CIA’s assessment that the crown prince directed the killing and argued that the slaying should not impact the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Lawmakers in both parties are also increasingly concerned about the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian disaster.
“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,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a recent statement supporting the legislative rebuke.
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The disapproval measures are likely to pass the Senate with a simple majority. But both chambers of Congress would have to approve the resolutions by a two-thirds supermajority to overcome a presumed veto by President Trump.