- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A bipartisan group of senators Wednesday moved to condemn the Trump administration’s recent emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguing that the controversial weapons deals are misguided and erode trust and cooperation between Congress and the White House.

The move was the latest sign of a growing rift between Congress and the White House on relations with Riyadh, with lawmakers escalating their opposition in the wake of the killing last fall of dissident U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The seven senators — Republican Sens. Todd Young of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jack Reed of Rhode Island — introduced 22 separate resolutions of disapproval, one for each of the 22 individual arms sales to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates undertaken by the administration.

In a joint statement, the senators blasted both the concept of selling arms to a nation with a human rights record like Saudi Arabia’s and the manner in which Mr. Trump sidestepped Congress to complete the deals.

“The Trump administration’s effort to sell billions of [dollars of] U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is yet another example of an end-run around Congress and a disregard for human rights,” Mr. Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the president or the secretary of state to further erode congressional review and oversight of arm sales.”

Citing heightened threats from Iran, the administration last month invoked provisions in the Arms Export Control Act that allow the president to waive congressional review of foreign arms sales. The administration argued that funneling arms to regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE was vital to keeping Tehran in check.

But the move sparked an immediate backlash from lawmakers of both parties, though Wednesday marked the first time they committed to taking real action to formally condemn the White House.

The Senate resolutions, which are likely to pass the chamber with strong bipartisan support, represent a major rebuke of the administration’s stance toward Riyadh. They follow April’s clash in which Mr. Trump issued only the second veto of his presidency to strike down a resolution calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Repeated reports of civilian casualties and humanitarian crises from the Yemen clash have fueled frustration in Congress and put the White House on the defensive.

Even Republican allies of the president, such as Mr. Graham, warned that the administration is heading down a dangerous path.

“Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Graham said. “I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress.”

But Saudi Arabia has emerged as a linchpin of the Trump White House’s Middle East strategy, from its role in moderating world oil prices and boosting an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan to containing Iran and its proxies in the region. In justifying the move last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that delays in arms transfers would put America’s allies at risk, and stressed that working around Congress will not become the norm.

“Delaying this shipment could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for our key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility,” he said. “I intend for this determination to be a one-time event.”

A fresh example of Saudi usefulness to the U.S. emerged in recent days, as Riyadh — at the urging of the U.S. — reportedly using its influence to end a harsh military crackdown against peaceful protesters in Sudan.

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