Senators reach deal to vote on blocking Saudi arms sale

Mohammed bin Salman

FILE – In this May 14, 2012 file photo, Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks with a Saudi prince in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. An independent U.N. human rights expert investigating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Wednesday June 19, 2019, recommended an investigation into the possible role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, citing “credible evidence.” (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate will vote Thursday on more than a dozen resolutions aimed at blocking the Trump administration’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, setting up a new challenge to President Donald Trump’s steadfast alliance with the kingdom.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced a deal had been reached from the Senate floor Wednesday. McConnell said two of the 22 resolutions would be debated and receive separate votes while the others would be voted on as a package. The arrangement prevents the large number of resolutions from tying up Senate business for weeks.

The Trump administration’s close ties to the Saudis have frustrated members of Congress for months. Long concerned by high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, lawmakers were outraged by the killing of U.S.-based Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year.

The move to block the sale was launched earlier this month by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was joined by several prominent Republicans, creating bipartisan pushback to Trump’s foreign policy after the White House used an emergency declaration to approve the arms sale without congressional review.

Menendez said, “It’s well past time for the Senate and the entire Congress to stand up and push back.”

“If you set the precedent that you can just have arms sales go under this false emergency procedure, you will have no say in arms sales,” he said.

Menendez also said separate legislation will be taken up in the Senate to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for human rights violations.

In May, the Trump administration invoked an emergency provision in the Arms Export Control Act to push through $8 billion worth of arms sales to the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sales were necessary to counter “the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The move was intended to bypass congressional review but instead triggered even greater backlash. Congress has never before tried to block a sale pushed through by the White House with an emergency declaration, and while the current bills have broad support, it is unclear if they will pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the behavior of the Saudis is “troubling.”

“Some of the things that have happened cannot go unnoticed,” he said. “There are certainly going to have to be repercussions.”

He predicted the House and Senate will be able to pass a human rights bill that Trump will sign.

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