WASHINGTON - Later this week, the U.S. Senate is expected to mount an effort to block an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as many American lawmakers continue to seethe over Riyadh’s human rights record, the war in Yemen and last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration sought to bypass congressional review of the weapons sale by tying it to a national emergency declaration to counter threats from Iran.
Passions over Saudi Arabia run high in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, says relations with the kingdom have deteriorated.
“The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working for America ... I am never going to let this go until things change in Saudi Arabia.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat, says the kidnapping and murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by Saudi special agents was a breaking point.
“What kind of ally kidnaps a resident of your country [Khashoggi] who was seeking our protection, brings him into a consulate, chops him up and makes him disappear? The nature of this alliance [with Saudi Arabia] has been exposed.”
Months after the Senate narrowly approved a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen’s bloody civil war, the chamber could vote against pending sales of U.S. bombs, guided munitions and military support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Trump administration’s attempt to fast-track the arms deal under an emergency declaration irks lawmakers of both parties.
“I am glad to know I am not the only one in this body disturbed by the president’s willingness to bypass Congress and sell this weaponry without any consideration of the recent events that have strained our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
While simple majorities are believed to exist to pass resolutions of disapproval, it is doubtful that two-thirds super-majorities could be mustered to override likely presidential vetoes of the resolutions.
Last week, the Senate declined to consider an effort to block arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar. Floor debate demonstrated that arms sales to the Middle East remain popular among significant numbers of Republicans, especially given a spate of troubling incidents in the Persian Gulf region.
“As Iran’s economy staggers under the weight of new American sanctions, the ayatollahs are lashing out and raging against the world. It is essential we support our Gulf partners during this dangerous time so they can defend themselves from Iranian aggression,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican.
Other Republicans argued that withholding arms sales will only serve to compel longstanding allies to purchase weaponry from America’s adversaries.