Senators Looking to Block Trump’s Arms Sales to Saudis
22 ‘resolutions of disapproval’ for 22 arms deals
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(June 5, 2019) — A bipartisan group of senators are planning the introduction of 22 “resolutions of disapproval” related to President Trump’s recently approved arms sales to Saudi Arabia, intended to cover each of the individual arms deals involved.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said the move shows the Senate isn’t going to stand idly by “while the president erodes Congressional review and oversight of arms sales.” A number of lawmakers oppose all arms sales to the Saudis since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Three Republicans (Sens. Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and Todd Young) are said to be on board with the resolutions, If combined with all Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, would make this a 50-50 split. One more Republican would mean it would pass.
President Trump sought to circumvent the Congressional opposition, by declaring a fake state of emergency that would justify bypassing the Congressional oversight of the matter.
Trump has long insisted that the arms sales to the Saudis are economically important, and has suggested he didn’t want to jeopardize them for the murder of one journalist. That didn’t sit well with some in Congress, and the attempt to bypass them entirely seems to be going over even worse.
Republican, Democratic Senators Seek to Block Trump Saudi Arms Sales
WASHINGTON (June 5, 2019) — Republican and Democratic US senators said on Wednesday they would introduce legislation to block President Donald Trump’s plan for $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without congressional review.
Backers said the introduction of the 22 “resolutions of disapproval,” one for each of the 22 arms deals cleared by the Trump administration, was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”
The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
“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,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority in the Senate but some have been pushing back lately against his proposals. On Wednesday, hope grew for a deal to avoid US tariffs on Mexican goods after many Republicans opposed the idea because of its potential impact on cross-border trade and US businesses.
Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who also is a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, led the push for the resolutions.
Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said in a statement. “Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia.”
Graham said he expected “strong bipartisan support” for the resolutions.
Many lawmakers say the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.
Two other Republican senators — Rand Paul and Todd Young — and three Democrats — Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed — also joined the announcement.
Declaring the emergency, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.
The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the review process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.
Separately on Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee announced a June 12 hearing titled “What Emergency? Arms Sales and the Administration’s Dubious End-Run around Congress,” with testimony from Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Announcing their plan to introduce the 22 resolutions, the senators said Trump’s “unprecedented” action is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said resistance to the arms sale plan could be a sign that some Republicans were willing to constrain the president after backing almost all of his policies.
“Let’s hope that these murmurings among Republicans … are real and they will actually stand up to him,” Schumer said.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that lawmakers were working on responses to the administration’s action and could file legislation within days. A separate set of legislative responses is being considered in the House.
The Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and House.
Opponents of the sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE said strong bipartisan support for disapproval resolutions would send a forceful message to the administration — as well as defense contractors and the three countries — that Congress was unhappy about the process and could retaliate.
They also said it was possible, given the level of congressional anger over Trump’s use of the emergency declaration, that some of the resolutions would garner the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House needed to override a Trump veto if necessary.
Additional reporting by Makini Brice.
Progressives Want the Must-pass Defense Budget to Tie Trump’s Hands with Saudi Arabia
There’s a fight brewing to hold Trump’s unfettered alliance with Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war accountable
(June 4, 2019) — Progressive lawmakers and activists are plotting their next move to hold President Donald Trump accountable over his relationship with Saudi Arabia, hoping to tie the president’s hands with the national defense funding bill.
The open question is, does the larger Congress, which only a few months ago took a historic vote to rebuke Trump’s foreign policy, still care about the war in Yemen?
In April, Congress passed a historic War Powers Resolution directing Trump to remove troops involved in “hostilities” in Yemen, a Saudi-led war that’s killed more than 50,000 and left tens of millions in need of humanitarian aid. Trump vetoed it, committed to the US’s long-standing alliance with the Saudis — not to mention his personal relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (the same MBS who called for Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing).
Now, as the House prepares to tackle the annual national defense budget — a massive spending bill that will likely amount to more than $700 billion in military funding — progressives see an opening to force Trump’s hand in the Middle East.
On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 40 activist groups sent every House lawmaker a letter demanding they include provisions to ban the transfer, sale, or export of any defense materials that would be used in the war in Yemen for a minimum of two years, and end all US aid — from intelligence to logistical support — to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the war.
The defense bill is seen as a must-do in Congress; it has passed despite deep partisan divisions every year for more than 50 years. Activists say it’s necessary to use the NDAA as a vehicle to take action on Yemen, because the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Since his veto, Trump’s administration has escalated tensions with Iran and sidestepped Congress to unilaterally authorize $8 billion in arms sales, including to Saudi Arabia and its allies. For four years, the United States has been providing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, arms, and ammunition, and, until late last year, fuel for their warplanes. The planes that bombed a school bus, killing at least 40 children last August, did so with an American-made bomb.
Passing the War Powers Resolution with a bipartisan coalition was a monumental moment. It took incredible lobbying from anti-war activists, as well as internal pressure from progressive leaders like Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), to not only win over conservatives but also Democrats’ own leadership.
Now that group is hoping they can build the same energy behind the defense bill.
“We are trying to stiffen the resolve of members of Congress as we approach the consideration of the national defense budget,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, the co-director of Just Foreign Policy, a progressive foreign policy group. “We have the momentum here. What remains to be seen is whether [Congress] has the resolve to do what it takes.”
Congress Has Options. Will It Take Them?
The US was involved in the Saudi-led war before Trump took office. But by rejecting congressional attempts to end that involvement, he has cemented American fingerprints on one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world: According to the most recent United Nations report, 80 percent of the Yemeni population — 24 million people — is in need of humanitarian assistance.
Lawmakers, however, have a couple ways they could still weigh in on the use of the American military’s resources in this conflict.
Congress’ opposition to Trump’s policy around Yemen really caught bipartisan steam last year — closely tied to the shock and outrage over the killing of Saudi journalist, dissident, and American resident Jamal Khashoggi and Trump’s sympathetic response to Saudi interests.
Trump has repeatedly emphasized his support for MBS, calling him a “great ally.” In March, reports showed that the United States approved six secret authorizations to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear power technology, which both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have warned could aid a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Trump’s administration and Republican leadership campaigned hard against the War Powers Resolution. But in the end, anti-war activists and progressive lawmakers won the fight in Congress, passing lawmakers’ first rebuke of the executive branch’s involvement in foreign wars since 1973.
Now, they want to do the same to defeat Trump’s veto. The letter to lawmakers is asking for provisions almost identical to those in the War Powers Resolution on Yemen, as well as a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Todd Young (R-IN) that would ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia. That proposal, from 2018, also codified the Trump administration’s decision to stop refueling Saudi warplanes.
“These aren’t muscles Congress is used to flexing: Without constant pressure from activists they might succumb to the inertia that’s defined Congress’ posture on the matters for the last of couple decades, born from a mix of capture, wrongheadedness, and obliviousness to their own power,” David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, said.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office has said the war in Yemen remains a top priority, but it’s less clear what House Democrats’ strategy will be. Her office did not respond for comment on using the National Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to act on Yemen.
“We continue to consider all viable options to end this humanitarian crisis,” Pelosi’s spokesperson said previously. Khanna, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said progressives will be leading the charge on the NDAA process.
There’s also a push for Pelosi to take Trump to court over his veto of the War Powers Resolution. A group of constitutional scholars backed a letter saying Trump’s unilateral decision to involve the United States in a war that Congress has expressly rebuked is unconstitutional.
Of course, there are uphill battles on all fronts. For one, Congress tying Trump’s hands on the defense funding bill would be a bold move that will undoubtedly run up against the interests of Congress’ many defense hawks. And it would have to pass the Republican majority in the Senate.
As for a court case, there’s always the possibility that the Supreme Court wouldn’t take on the case. For now, activists are focusing on building the same coalition that passed the War Powers Resolution just two months ago.
“It’s really critical that they push it all the way because we are in this moment where clearly the executive branch is wanting to overreach,” El-Tayyab said. “Congress should set a precedent for future administrations. We think it’s critical.”
Trump Declares Fake Emergency to Sell Arms to Saudis and UAE
Declaration allows sales to bypass Congressional objections
(May 24, 2019) — In a move predicted earlier this week by members of Congress, President Trump has declared a “national emergency” for the sole reason of circumventing Congressional restrictions on arms sales, and using it to rush shipments of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Under the Arms Export Control Act, Congress is supposed to get a 30 day notice ahead of any sales, and can then block shipments. Concerns about war crimes in Yemen mean Saudi arms would be likely to face some effort to block them.
But the law has a loophole in it, which allows the president to declare an “emergency” of any sort he wants, with no oversight on that declaration, and then send the arms over without Congressional notification.
This is a notoriously cheap way to circumvent Congress on arms exports, but several Senators said they expected Trump to make such a move as soon as next week. It appears he decided to get out in front of that move with a declaration on Friday going into the holiday weekend.
Officially, the “national emergency” is tensions with Iran, though several in Congress have pointed out that the US has had nonstop tensions with Iran for decades, and that’s not a reason to suddenly declare a new emergency.
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