- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday renewed efforts to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia after a tense few weeks of negotiating competing bills aimed at punishing the kingdom for what critics say are a continuing string of human rights violations.

The committee voted on the bills just hours after President Trump vetoed three congressional measures Wednesday night that would have blocked U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to protest their role in the brutal campaign in Yemen.

“The president and his administration have failed to meaningfully respond and so Congress, as a co-equal branch of government, must,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement.

Mr. Menendez argued the weapons have been “used to slaughter civilians in Yemen while preserving support for Saudi Arabia’s legitimate security concerns.”

Citing heightened threats from Iran, the White House in May invoked provisions in the Arms Export Control Act to bypass congressional review of foreign arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE. The administration said that funneling arms to regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was vital to keeping Iran and its proxies in check, while lawmakers argued that the multibillion dollar deals require congressional approval.

Despite the bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to block the sales, Congress is not expected to have the two-thirds majority needed to override Mr. Trump’s vetoes.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman James Risch told reporters after the meeting the Menendez bill is “going to be vetoed and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell does not run out the bills that are going to get vetoed.”

The new legislation, which was passed the committee by a 12-10 margin, was introduced by a group of senators that included Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Mr. Menendez told The Washington Times following the vote that even if the bill fails to become law, the anti-Saudi moves on Capitol Hill are sending “an incredibly important message.”

Since the killing of dissident U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October, lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with the administration’s hesitation to punish the kingdom and rein in de facto Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“There’s going to be continued efforts I’m sure by the administration to get them to change their behavior,” Mr. Risch said. “And if it doesn’t change, … they’re only one Khashoggi-type event away from totally severing the relationship and them having to find a new partner.”

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