In Rare Rebuke of Trump's Policies, U.S. Senate Passes Resolution to Block Saudi Arms Sale

The White House had threatened to veto measure, supported by some of the president's fellow Republicans

File photo: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, March 20, 2018.
AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a resolution on Thursday opposing President Donald Trump's plan to complete weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries.

The 53-45 vote is a rare rebuke of the White House by some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress.

The bipartisan resolution places an emphasis on Saudi Arabia’s human rights violation and on its involvement in Yemen's civil war. 

Earlier, the Trump administration threatened to veto the Congressional resolution. 

The White House released a statement saying, “Apart from negatively affecting our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the joint resolution would hamper our ability to sustain and shape critical security cooperation activities and would significantly hinder the interoperability between our nations."

The White House also said that “Saudi Arabia serves as a bulwark against Iran and its proxies’ malign activities in the region. If the president were presented with S.J. Res. 36, his advisors would recommend he veto it.”

The vote was 53-45 for the first of 22 resolutions of disapproval the Senate was to consider related to Trump's decision last month to sidestep the congressional review process and complete more than $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a deal had been reached from the Senate floor Wednesday to allow for a vote Thursday. 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.

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.