Senate to Vote on Disapproval of Saudi Arms Sale, McConnell Says
(Bloomberg) -- The GOP-led Senate will vote on measures that could stop the Trump administration from pushing through arms sales to Saudi Arabia over congressional objections, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, potentially tying up Senate floor time and putting some of the president’s closest allies at odds with part of his foreign policy.
Some Republicans have criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to push ahead with $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Mideast countries despite congressional opposition. They have also urged stronger consequences for the kingdom’s role in the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
McConnell said he is “as offended as everyone is by the behavior of the Saudis on the Khashoggi case,” but he warned against “fracturing the relationship we have with the Saudis -- one of our best allies against our Iranian enemies.”
With Senator Mike Lee joining Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Todd Young in cosponsoring 22 resolutions to disapprove of the sales, McConnell acknowledged that the vote will go ahead. However, McConnell said he supports the underlying arms sales and predicted that the Senate will not have enough votes to override a Trump veto of Congress’s attempt to stop them.
Lawmakers, even Republicans, have been unsettled over Trump’s repeated use of emergency declarations to bypass Congress on matters of foreign policy, government spending and potentially trade and immigration. The disagreement over selling defense systems to Saudi Arabia -- a traditional U.S. ally -- is further complicated by increased tensions in the Middle East as the Trump administration warns that regional forces associated with Iran have stepped up their threats.
The Democratic-led House will hold a Wednesday hearing to discuss the arms sale, with testimony from R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary for political-military affairs. Cooper will cite signs of Iranian aggression as justification for approving these deals, according to excerpts of his prepared testimony.
“These sales and the associated emergency certification are intended to address the military need of our partners in the face of an urgent regional threat posed by Iran; promote the vitality of our bilateral relationships by reassuring our partners; and preserve strategic advantage against near-peer competitors,” Cooper’s advance statement says.
This argument has failed to convince Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who introduced the resolutions last week to gut the emergency declaration the Trump administration is using to push the arms sales forward without congressional approval. The resolutions need 51 votes to be discharged from the Foreign Relations Committee, so just four Republicans can force a vote if the Senate’s 47 Democrats support the measures.
Each resolution provides for 10 hours of debate, and that could tie up the Senate floor for 220 hours if senators can’t agree to handle the resolutions as one block, according to Menendez.
“Unless we have an agreement on some kind of consent for an amalgam of all of these, each one has 10 hours,” he said. “I’m not necessarily looking for that, but we’ll see.”
A Senate vote on whether to discharge the resolutions from the committee could come as soon as Monday or Tuesday of next week, depending on a procedural ruling from the Senate parliamentarian, according to a Democratic aide with knowledge of the situation.
Menendez said that he didn’t know whether he would have enough votes to override a veto by Trump.
“Let me get through passage first,” he said.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican not among the bill’s current cosponsors, also said he opposes the administration’s disregard for Congress’s hold on the arms sale. He said he will “potentially” join the four other GOP senators to oppose Trump’s move, and he said lawmakers should consider changing the emergency powers that allow a president to get around Congress.
“The problem I have is with the process by which it was done, trying to get around the congressional role in it,” Rubio said. “It’s deeply problematic. It sets a terrible precedent that we’re going to have to do something about.”
Maine Senator Susan Collins, another Republican, also said she is inclined to back the resolutions of disapproval, citing in part the failure of the administration to deliver a report to Congress on the Khashoggi killing.
But not all Republicans are lining up to take on the administration. Senator Jim Risch, the Idaho Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would be inclined to vote to allow the sales to go through under the emergency declaration.
“I’ve reviewed them and I’m not persuaded by the arguments against them,” Risch said.
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