WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers, including some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, are introducing legislation to block his plan to sell $8.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, they announced Wednesday.
A bipartisan group of senators is introducing 22 separate joint resolutions of disapproval to protect and reaffirm Congress’ role in approving arms sales to foreign governments.
The range of sales involves Paveway precision-guided munitions and F110 engines for F-15 jets for Saudi Arabia; APK WS laser-guided rockets and Patriot missiles for the UAE; and Paveway II precision-guided munitions for Jordan. New details of the sales were published in the Congressional Record on Tuesday.
The Republican co-sponsors include South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham ― an ally of the president and chairman of the panel that oversees State Department funding ― and Sens. Rand Paul and Todd Young. The other co-sponsors are Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and the top Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez; the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, and the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Arguing an increased threat from Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency on May 24 to waive the congressional review process for those sales ― a move that infuriated lawmakers because it upset the practice of congressional holds and raised concerns a future administration might similarly bypass Congress.
Members of Congress have opposed such sales for months over concerns about civilian casualties in the Saudi air campaign in Yemen and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Graham in Wednesday cited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
“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. “I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the Administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress. I expect and look forward to strong bipartisan support for these resolutions of disapproval.”
Some of the weapons would not be delivered for months or years, undermining Pompeo’s assertion of an emergency, Leahy said.
“The law provides Congress 30 days to review the sale, but apparently that is too long for the secretary, even though the bulk of these weapons will not be delivered for many months or years,” said Leahy, of Vermont. “This administration’s credibility when it comes to arms sales, human rights and the rule of law is in tatters.”
Menendez, one of the lawmakers who has impeded sales to Saudi Arabia for months, called on Pompeo to “withdraw his emergency certification, immediately submit these sales for the normal congressional review and engage with senators to address our concerns.
“Regrettably, Secretary Pompeo’s abuse of this emergency authority has broken the arms sales process,” said Menendez, of New Jersey.
The 1976 Arms Export Control Act provides the special procedures whereby lawmakers can introduce a privileged joint resolution of disapproval against a proposed arm sale. In the Senate, a resolution can be discharged from the committee of jurisdiction, forcing a vote on the Senate floor.
Reuters reported that lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House were considering a bill that would require the 22 licenses approved by the administration to be pulled back and resubmitted through the regular notification procedure, including a 30-day congressional review.
House members also may seek to rewrite the Arms Export Control Act to impose tighter restrictions on the use of the “emergency authority” provision, tightening the loophole the Trump administration used to justify the sale so it could only be used for “true emergencies,” aides said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.