The U.S. Congress has passed a series of resolutions seeking to block the Trump administration from carrying out arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries without Congressional approval.
In a move that angered lawmakers from both parties, the administration attempted to sidestep Congress in May by approving $8.1 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and other allies, citing a supposed “emergency” threat from Iran.
Under the Arms Export Control Act, all weapons transfers to foreign governments must be authorized by Congress, except in the case of an emergency.
Both chambers of Congress, however, have rejected the administration’s justification for the move.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted in favor of three joint resolutions of disapproval of the sales. The House vote comes after the Senate passed the same resolutions in June, along with 19 others that were also designated as emergency transfers by the Trump administration.
Democrats in the House voted unanimously for the resolutions and were joined by four Republicans. The three measures passed by the House pertain mostly to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Though Trump is likely to veto the measures, the votes mark the latest Congressional challenge to the administration’s foreign policy, particularly its close relationship with Saudi Arabia and its support for the kingdom’s ongoing campaign in Yemen, which has led to what the U.N. deems the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The passage of the resolutions is also another significant victory for a group of bipartisan lawmakers that are seeking to reassert Congress’ role in the making of U.S. foreign policy.
Last week, Senators from both parties expressed outrage over the attempt to greenlight the sales without their approval during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring Assistant Secretary of State R. Clarke Cooper.
Democrat Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the committee and the original sponsor of the resolutions, told Cooper the State Department has “shown only disdain for Congress” and its Constitutional war powers.
“The Secretary of State’s message to us is clear; Congress can review arms sales, just don’t take too long or ask tough questions. Otherwise, I’ll just ignore the law and cut you out of the process entirely,” the Senator said.
Menendez accused the administration trying to advance the financial interests of America’s powerful defense manufacturers, even though the weapons would be used “presumably with the same atrocious results and human suffering” for the people of Yemen.
“If you look at these sales, it appears the administration had other motives,” he said. “When pressed … you and other administration officials said the sales were for ‘sustaining the global supply chain’ and ‘preventing loss of sales to pere competitors.’”
Following the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Trump defended his administration’s inaction by citing billions of dollars in planned weapons sales to the kingdom that he did not want to put in jeopardy.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz warned Cooper that it’s not just Democrats who are upset about the administration’s handling of the sales.
“The process that the State Department followed for these weapons sales, not to put too fine a point on it, was crap,” he said. “The simpler process is to follow the damn law and respect it.”
If Trump does indeed veto the resolution, it would take two-thirds of both chambers to override it. But even if that effort were to come up short, there are other avenues through which Congress could prevent the weapons from being transferred.
In June, the House passed an amendment to this year’s defense appropriations bill proposed by Democrat Ted Lieu that also aims to block the sales.
The appropriations bill, along with the accompanying National Defense Authorization Act, are considered “must-pass” bills because the U.S. military cannot function without them after December, making them difficult for Trump to veto.
The House also passed an amendment from Democrat Ro Khanna that seeks to end all funding for U.S. support for the Saudi-coalition fighting in Yemen.
Whether or not those amendments make it to Trump’s desk depends on the outcome of negotiations between House and Senate leaders as part of the reconciliation process.