US Senate to vote on blocking Saudi arms sale in rebuke to Trump

The disagreement over selling defence systems to Saudi Arabia is further complicated by increased tensions in the Middle East.
The disagreement over selling defence systems to Saudi Arabia is further complicated by increased tensions in the Middle East.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States Senate will vote on Thursday (June 20) on resolutions to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries under an agreement between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mr Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr Menendez announced the agreement on the Senate floor on Wednesday. Four Republicans are co-sponsoring the 22 measures, which would provide enough support to pass them if all 47 Democrats agree.

Some Republicans have criticised President Donald Trump's decision to push ahead with US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion) in arms sales to the Middle Eastern countries, and have urged stronger consequences for Saudi Arabia's role in the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Mr Menendez introduced the resolutions to stop the arms sales despite the emergency declaration the Trump administration used to push the deal forward without congressional approval. The resolutions would have to be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president to go into effect.

Lawmakers have been unsettled over Mr 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 defence systems to Saudi Arabia - a traditional US 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.

Mr McConnell supports the arms sales and has warned against "fracturing the relationship we have with the Saudis - one of our best allies against our Iranian enemies". The agreement between Mr McConnell and Mr Menendez is intended to avoid tying up the Senate floor with long hours of debate over the resolutions.

 
 
 

Co-sponsoring the measures are Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - both allies of Mr Trump - as well as Mr Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mr Todd Young. Still, backers are unlikely to gain enough votes to override a Trump veto.

Mr Graham predicted on Tuesday that the resolutions won't have a veto-proof majority but said the effort was "worth engaging in".

"We're not seeking the President's approval here," Mr Graham said. "We have an honest disagreement."

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch said his panel will vote next week on legislation to restrict the President's ability to use an emergency declaration to expedite arms sales.

Mr Risch also said he would add elements of a Bill introduced by Mr Menendez and Mr Graham censuring Saudi Arabia to legislation he is drafting that will attempt to address lawmakers' concerns with the kingdom. The Idaho Republican said he hopes the Bill will gain the support of the Senate and the President.