Bid to Stop Part of U.S.-Saudi Arabia Arms Sale Fails in Senate

  • Measure aimed to block about $500 million of $110 billion deal
  • GOP senator Paul, three Democrats co-sponsored resolution

Trump Says Saudi Arabia Will Help Stop Terrorism

The Senate defeated an effort to bar part of President Donald Trump’s highly touted arms deal with Saudi Arabia just weeks after the president visited the kingdom.

The resolution, blocked Tuesday on a 47-53 vote, would have barred about $500 million of the deal’s $110 billion in sales, issuing a rebuke of the president’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and its involvement in Yemen’s civil war. The measure was sponsored by Republican Rand Paul and three Senate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued against the measure, saying on the Senate floor, "Now is not the time to undermine one of our critical allies in the Arab world by disapproving part of an arms sale package that will improve Saudi capabilities."

Despite its steep odds against becoming law -- the resolution would have had to overcome a presidential veto -- the measure gained some steam Monday when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would support it. Schumer, a New York Democrat, had opposed Paul when he sought in 2016 to block a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other weapons to Saudi Arabia.

“The human rights and humanitarian concerns have been well-documented and are important: of equal concern to me is that the Saudi government continues to aid and abet terrorism via its relationship with Wahhabism and the funding of schools that spread extremist propaganda throughout the world,” Schumer said in a statement.

Notifying Congress

The resolution, S.J. Res. 42, was introduced by Paul on May 25, six days after the administration informed Congress about the deal. The president is required to notify Congress 30 calendar days before finalizing any large-scale weapons agreements, and Congress has that time period to try to block the deal.

"We should be saying to the Saudis, ‘If you want to do business with us, you’ve got to behave,’" Paul said on Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. "Why would we give weapons to a country that’s funding ISIS?"

"Seventeen million people in Yemen are on the verge of starvation," Paul said. "If we give the Saudis more bombs we’re going to have more starvation, and so I don’t want any part of that."

The Trump administration presented the arms deal as a highlight of his first trip abroad as president last month and as an example of his deal-making skills, though parts of the agreement were initiated during the Obama administration. Trump also praised and took credit for the decision of Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries to isolate U.S. ally Qatar over its funding of extremist groups.

Civilian Toll

Critics of the arms deal pointed to allegations that Saudi aircraft have killed Yemeni civilians with U.S. weapons while attacking rebel forces backed by Iran. The war has claimed thousands of civilian lives and put the country on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

The resolution would bar the portions of the sales package related to laser-guided bombs and retrofitting equipment, as well as related technology, services and data.

The resolution’s Democratic co-sponsors, Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, framed it as a condemnation of Saudi attacks on civilians. Murphy said the sale would “makes us complicit in this humanitarian and national security disaster” in Yemen.

“Our bipartisan resolution would block the latest weapon sale and help demonstrate that the U.S. won’t stand for what the Saudis are doing to innocent people,” Franken said in the co-sponsors’ statement.

In response to such allegations, Mike Miller, the State Department’s director of regional security and arms transfers, said last month that the agreement included funds for training "on methods to minimize the risk of civilian casualties."

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