The Senate on Thursday voted to block the administration’s planned $8.1 billion in arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, with the White House announcing its intent to veto the action.
The disapproval measures followed the administration’s decision in May to issue an emergency notice bypassing the congressional review period for the proposed weapons deal, which includes the sale of rockets, missiles and aircraft support.
Lawmakers voted 53 to 45 to block two of the 22 potential sales, with seven Republicans breaking from the president to vote with their Democratic colleagues. The Republicans included Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
A third measure to stop the remaining 20 sales was approved by a vote of 51 to 45, with Murkowski supporting the sale and Lee not voting.
The measures were led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who before Thursday’s vote said the deals were “based on a false emergency and without congressional consent.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in late May detailed the administration’s intent to use a provision in the Arms Export Control Act to move the deal forward without congressional approval citing an increasing threat from Iran to the partner nations (Defense Daily, May 28).
A bipartisan group of senators almost immediately expressed concern over the decision with Menendez announcing measures to block the sales and Graham, a close ally of the president, adding, “Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia.” (Defense Daily, June 5).
Lawmakers have previously called for halting arms deals with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the October 2018 murder of Washington Post author and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, and reports tying Riyadh to bombings of civilians in Yemen.
The White House issued a notice following Thursday’s vote stating the administration’s intent to veto the measures and reiterating intent to move forward with the arms deal to the three countries.
“The transfer of Paveway precision-guided capability to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia directly supports the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic stability in the Middle East,” officials wrote. “Apart from negatively affecting our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the joint resolution would hamper our ability to sustain and shape critical security cooperation activities and would significantly hinder the interoperability between our nations.”
House members have also indicated plans to introduce similar measures, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) previously releasing a statement condemning the move “because Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. continue to wage a war in Yemen that, coupled with the nefarious activities of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, has caused a humanitarian disaster.”