WASHINGTON ― Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) will support a motion to block President Donald Trump’s decision to sell over $500 million in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, his office told HuffPost Tuesday morning.
The revelation raises the prospect that other Republicans might also vote against the sale during a scheduled Tuesday afternoon vote and highlights the level of congressional bipartisan anger about the Saudis’ conduct in a U.S.-backed campaign in Yemen.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the resolution of disapproval against the munitions sale last month, after the Trump administration signaled that it would go ahead with it as part of a $110 billion weapons package for Saudi Arabia.
But a signal of disapproval from a lawmaker like Young is especially important: He’s a foreign policy traditionalist who sees the Saudis as important American partners, as opposed to Paul, who is a libertarian skeptical of all U.S. actions abroad and is largely isolated in the Senate. Young’s position is closer to that of Murphy, who has drawn attention for carefully argued critiques of Saudi Arabia that even veteran policymakers agree with and his acknowledgment of the Saudis’ concerns about regional rival Iran. His position on the vote, then, is far more likely to appeal to Republican senators like Marco Rubio (Fla.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and James Lankford (Okla.).
Occupying a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since his election last fall, Young has repeatedly called attention to the humanitarian effects of the Saudis’ actions in Yemen. United Nations observers say the Saudis are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths there.
The senator is especially concerned with the Saudis and their partner in the war, the United Arab Emirates, blocking the delivery of U.S.-provided cranes intended to rehabilitate a port essential for humanitarian and food supplies, he told reporters last month. He is also upset about reports of delays of aid through that port, Hodeidah, and the prospect that the Saudi-led coalition might try to seize the port from Iran-backed rebels.
Young has been deliberate in his criticisms. He believes Iran and its militia partners in Yemen, the Houthis, are responsible for much of the suffering there, he has repeatedly said, and he has not yet joined other lawmakers in saying there may be evidence that the Saudis have committed war crimes.
Young has repeatedly sought concrete improvements in the situation from Saudi Arabia, which sent its well-connected foreign minister to town Tuesday as part of its lobbying for the sale, and from the Trump administration, which has pushed hard to sell senators on the deal, he has said. His Tuesday announcement suggests that the answers he got were unsatisfactory.
The deal with Saudi Arabia has gained a striking level of opposition, including from top Democrats such as Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Jack Reed (R.I.). Opponents expect to secure far more votes for this resolution of disapproval than they did for a similar motion against an arms package for Saudi Arabia last fall ― and they believe they could even hit the magic number of 51.