The House of Representatives voted to block some of President Donald Trump’s emergency weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, delivering a strong rebuke to the White House that is almost sure to draw more presidential vetoes.
Lawmakers passed three separate resolutions to stop the sale of billions of dollars of precision-guided weapons to the two countries, which have been hailed by the Trump administration as critical allies in the Middle East despite outcry over their alleged human rights abuses. The votes were largely along party lines, with only four Republicans and one Independent joining the chamber’s Democrats, and they have already been passed by the Senate. But the president has already said he will veto the measures.
“If the administration wants to sell these weapons, they should follow the law — not misuse it — and come to Congress,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday, per The New York Times. “Even if this administration will not stand up for the values, the Congress should. And the Congress will.”
In May, Trump approved more than $8 billion in weapons sales to the Saudis and the Emiratis, sidestepping Congress and declaring a national emergency amid heightened tensions with Iran. Washington and Tehran have been increasingly at odds after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposed a series of crippling sanctions on the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sales would help deter Iran and support “stability” in the Middle East, noting the congressional run-around was meant to be a “one-time” event.
But the move infuriated lawmakers who have long protested the Saudis’ role in a bloody, yearslong civil war in Yemen that has resulted in heavy civilian casualties. They also pointed to a lack of punishment for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which American intelligence agencies say was ordered by the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said at the time. “There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there.”
The Senate supported 22 resolutions to block the sales in May — one for each deal approved by the White House — but only three were taken up by the House this week as they were expected to be the first to completed and those related to the Yemeni conflict, Reuters reported.
The New York Times notes that Congress has never successfully blocked an American president from selling arms to a foreign government, but the White House usually works in conjunction with lawmakers to craft deals if they raise concerns.
Each of the resolutions would require its own veto, and they would be the third, fourth and fifth of Trump’s presidency. The vetoes will likely stand as Congress does not appear to have the votes to overturn them.
Trump’s last veto came in April over a resolution meant to end U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen. He called the measure an “unnecessary” and “dangerous attempt to weaken” his constitutional authorities.
Also on Wednesday, both the Times and CNN reported that the Pentagon was preparing to send around 500 troops to Saudi Arabia amid the escalating tensions with Iran. Trump has ordered thousands of troops to the region in hopes of deterring Tehran.