A bipartisan coalition of senators on Wednesday introduced 22 separate resolutions of disapproval aiming to reaffirm the role of Congress when it comes to approving the sales of arms to foreign governments.
The effort, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), follows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last month that President Donald Trump was waiving congressional authority to complete 22 arms deals, worth about $8 billion, that would benefit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries.
The Trump administration has argued that an increased threat from Iran necessitated invoking the president’s emergency powers under the Arms Export Control Act to approve the arms deals to Saudi Arabia, a key ally in the Middle East. Members of both parties in Congress, however, objected to the selling of arms due to the ongoing Saudi Arabian military campaign in Yemen that has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths and mass starvation. Lawmakers have also faulted Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his country’s involvement in the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“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. We are taking this step today to show that 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,” Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Under the Arms Export Control Act, lawmakers have the authority to force a vote on a joint resolution of disapproval against a proposed arms sale. The Senate already passed one such resolution of disapproval against the U.S. support for the war in Yemen last year in a 56-41 vote. Trump vetoed the measure.
In 2017, the Senate narrowly voted to support a $510 million sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, defeating a resolution to block the sale in a 47-53 vote.
There may be more support for blocking the Trump administration’s sales of arms to Saudi Arabia this year. Graham, a close ally of the president, said Wednesday it was time to rein in the administration’s Middle East policy.
“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in a statement on Wednesday. “I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the Administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress.”
Graham previously opposed efforts to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Paul, one of the leading opponents of the arms sales to the Saudis, said there is a “growing resistance to allowing the government to operate by” national emergency.
“You’re going to see the biggest vote you’ve had,” Paul added.
Successfully blocking a proposed arms sale will require two-thirds of the chamber ― 67 votes ― to override a presidential veto, a much tougher task.
Still, 22 separate votes ― which could take up to 10 hours each, according to Murphy ― would eat up a lot of precious floor time in the Senate and derail Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) agenda.
Murphy also said Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia likely would have survived if he had not relied on an emergency declaration and simply stuck to the normal congressional approval process.
“This is so unnecessary. He might actually end up getting a sale rejected by doing it this way,” Murphy said.