Senators make bipartisan push to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Senators are making a new bipartisan effort to block the Trump administration’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a sign that Congress remains unsatisfied with the United States’ relationship with the kingdom amid a civil war in neighboring Yemen and the killing of a Saudi journalist last year.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) are using a provision in the Foreign Assistance Act to request a report from the administration on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which could eventually trigger a vote to halt billions in arms sales which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is moving forward despite congressional opposition.

“Our arms sales to Saudi Arabia demand congressional oversight,” Young said. “This bipartisan resolution simply asks the secretary of State to report on some basic questions before moving forward with them. 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.”

Murphy and Young both serve on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Young chairs the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, an organization generally supportive of the president and his policies.

The resolution goes first to the Foreign Relations Committee, though senators can vote to bring it out of committee if Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) declines to move forward. Aides involved in the effort predict enough support for the resolution to clear committee and pass the Senate, where it needs a simple majority to pass but can be vetoed by President Donald Trump.

A State Department spokesperson said the agency has followed the law by invoking its emergency authority to proceed with the transfers and that the move was “needed to help our partners better defend themselves and to reinforce recent changes to U.S. posture in the region to deter Iran.” The arms sales are moving forward, the person said.

“Delaying these shipments could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance concerns for our key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility,” the official said. “We intend for this determination to be a one-time event. This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress.”

Murphy and Young are among a bipartisan coalition of senators who support reducing the United States’ role in Yemen and stopping arm sales to Saudi Arabia after the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Murphy said the Trump “administration has effectively given a blank check to the Saudis — turning a blind eye to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and allowing their ballistic-missile program to expand.

“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’ role in foreign policy making,” Murphy added.

The move runs parallel to an effort led by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to block 22 recent arms sales, an effort which is supported by both Murphy and Young. Despite congressional resistance, Pompeo has notified Congress that the Trump administration is declaring an emergency to move forward with those sales.

Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition involved in Yemen’s civil war this year, but it could not override Trump’s veto. Though GOP leaders oppose holding such votes, the law lets Congress force them regardless, allowing members of both parties to continue battling with the administration’s foreign policy.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine