Senators to rebuke Trump on Saudi Arabia arms sales by offering 22 measures

President Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 20, 2018, in the Oval Office.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce 22 resolutions of disapproval in reaction to the Trump administration’s move to override that many congressional holds on more than $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, according to a person familiar with their intentions.

An emergency declaration issued May 24 allowed President Trump to circumvent the normal process for congressional approval, letting the disputed sales go through immediately “in the national security interests of the United States.” The move angered lawmakers, who vowed to take legislative action to block the arms sales.

“The Trump administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time.


Menendez will be joined in the bid to reverse the administration action by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is usually one of the president’s staunchest allies, as well as Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, according to the person, who asked not to be identified before the move is announced.

For more than a year, Menendez had a hold on $2 billion in precision-guided munitions kits for Saudi Arabia and an additional $1-billion sale to the United Arab Emirates over concerns about civilian casualties from the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Other lawmakers have placed holds on other Saudi arms sales over the kingdom’s responsibility for the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The planned resolutions, reported Tuesday evening by the Washington Post, come as lawmakers weigh whether to pursue resolutions of disapproval on other topics where Trump has exercised executive powers aggressively.

Those include his decision to impose tariffs of as much as 25% on goods imported from Mexico in an effort to stem the tide of migrants coming over the southern border. Senate Republicans emerged from a closed-door briefing Tuesday at the Capitol frustrated by the administration’s proposal, which critics say would cost jobs and raise consumer prices in the U.S.

In announcing the override of congressional holds on the arms sales last month, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Iran’s “malign activities” in the region necessitated the decision to sidestep congressional approval. He said the weapons sales “must occur as quickly as possible in order to deter further Iranian adventurism in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.”

Congress is typically notified by the administration of arms sales that exceed a certain threshold before the sales are completed. If the top Republican or Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs or Senate Foreign Relations Committees has concerns, the lawmaker can place an informal hold by refusing to consent to the notification process. This is intended to allow time for those concerns to be worked out between the parties.