In the latest Congressional attempt to check President Donald Trump’s foreign policy powers, a bipartisan duo in the Senate introduced a resolution on Monday that will force a vote on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the broader U.S. relationship with the Kingdom.
Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Todd Young introduced a joint resolution that, if passed, would force Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to produce a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record before proposed arms sales can be finalized.
Last week, the Trump administration angered lawmakers from both parties by attempting to sidestep Congress and approve $8.1 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan citing the president’s “emergency” powers.
In response, a bipartisan group of Senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez proposed 22 separate Joint Resolutions of Disapproval in an effort to block each unauthorized weapons sale.
Murphy and Young’s resolution is based on a clause in the Foreign Assistance Act, which grants Congress the right to demand information on the human rights records of countries that will be recipients of Americans weapons.
“The process we are setting in motion will allow Congress to weigh in on the totality of our security relationship with Saudi Arabia, not just one arms sale, and restore Congress’s role in foreign policy-making,” Murphy said in a statement.
The Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that the administration must provide Congress a report within 30 days and that Congress can then vote to terminate or restrict all pending or future assistance to the country.
3/ In this case, Saudi Arabia just lied to our face for 2 weeks (until they got caught) about the Khashoggi killing and they refuse our pleas to stop bombing civilians in Yemen. They are our least – not most – trusted ally right now.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 8, 2019
Citing the supposed “malign influence” of Iran in the Middle East, the Trump administration attempted to expedite the arms sales and bypass Congress by invoking an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.
Reasserting War Powers
But particularly following the murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October, many representatives from both parties have conveyed a desire to reassert Congress’ role in foreign policy decision making, particularly on matters related to Saudi Arabia.
While Trump condemned the killing – reportedly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – he specifically cited weapons sales to the Kingdom as a reason his administration declined to take punitive action.
Members of Congress, including many from Trump’s own party, directly challenged the administration’s approach, arguing the assassination was a brazen and unacceptable move that must not go unpunished.
“If you give this guy a pass after he disrespected you, you will look weak,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also called the crown prince “nuts,” told Trump in November.
In a historic moment in April, Congress passed a War Powers Resolution with bipartisan support directing the administration to end its military support for a Saudi-lead coalition waging a war in Yemen.
The passage of the resolution marked the first time Congress had ever invoked the 1973 War Powers Act in an effort to end U.S. military participation in an unauthorized war. Though the resolution was vetoed by Trump, the bill’s Senate sponsor Bernie Sanders said the vote was a “historic” step in a broader effort to “reassert the constitutional authority of the United States Congress on issues of war.”
In a statement on his newly proposed resolution, Young cited the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen – considered to be the worst in the world by the United Nations – as a reason why Congress must provide oversight on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
“The ongoing humanitarian crisis and complicated security environment in Yemen requires our sustained attention and we cannot permit U.S. military equipment to worsen the situation on the ground,” he said.
The U.S. has played a key role in supporting the Saudi-coalition, which has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian homes and infrastructure with American-made weapons systems.
Murphy and Young’s resolution is “privileged,” meaning the representatives can force a vote on it in both chambers of Congress after ten days.