The Senate effort to halt the Trump administration’s $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates may be picking up steam, as at least four Senate Republicans have joined with Democrats to force debate on the issue.
Senator Mike Lee has announced he will cosponsor the 22 separate joint resolutions of disapproval on the arms deal, joined by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Todd Young.
Senators Robert Menendez, Lindsey Graham, Chris Murphy, Rand Paul, Patrick Leahy, Todd Young, and Jack Reed introduced the resolutions in an effort to protect and affirm Congress’s role of approving arms sales to foreign governments. The union of this unlikely group of senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties means that the resolutions will likely come to the floor, grinding other business to a halt as the clock runs on each one, and as each of the two dozen votes are debated.
The Trump administration ran afoul of the Senate last month when it issued an emergency order to deter the “malign influence” of Iran and expedite the arms sales.
“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.
In a letter to lawmakers, 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, according to CNN.
Several members of the Senate beg to differ.
Trump improperly used an emergency declaration to create an end-run around Congress, the original Senate co-sponsors argued in a statement. And while in some extraordinary circumstances the president has the authority to declare an emergency, the current conditions do not meet the statutory requirements.
“The manner in which the administration has moved forward with these sales is unprecedented and is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between the Congress and the executive branch that results in the approval of billions of dollars of arms sales annually,” the Senate co-sponsors’ press release reads.
While Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul have consistently opposed arms deals with the Saudis, Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham was once a loyal defender of the regime. His support for this measure shows the Senate’s growing concern over a bevy of Saudi human rights abuses, including the ongoing war against Yemen that’s killed or injured at least 17,000 civilians and the Saudi assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“For far too long, Saudi Arabia has acted with impunity,” said Senator Paul in a statement. “Whether creating humanitarian disasters, spreading radical Islam, or making journalists disappear, their flagrant behavior around the world is simply unacceptable. Congress must once again rise in a bipartisan fashion to send a loud message against this administration sending more arms unilaterally to the Kingdom.”
“We will not stand idly by and allow the president or the secretary of state to further erode congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” said Menendez in a statement. “Regrettably, Secretary Pompeo’s abuse of this emergency authority has broken the arms sales process. The best thing the Secretary of state can do right now is withdraw his emergency certification, immediately submit these sales for the normal congressional review and engage with senators to address our concerns.”
American arms sales to Saudi Arabia are nothing new. During Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. offered the Kingdom over $115 billion in weapons and other military equipment and training. That’s the largest offer of any administration in the history of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, a report authored by William Hartung at the Center for International Policy found.
Barbara Boland is The American Conservative’s Foreign Policy & National Security reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @BBatDC.