/House blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE in rebuke to Trump

House blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE in rebuke to Trump

Eliot Engel

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel called the president’s emergency declaration “an extraordinary abuse of power.” | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The House voted on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s emergency weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, delivering a rebuke to U.S. strategic allies over their involvement in Yemen’s civil war and alleged human rights abuses.

Trump has already threatened to veto all three resolutions, which passed the Democrat-led House with minimal Republican support.

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But with Wednesday’s votes, lawmakers in the House and Senate — which approved the bills last month — again registered their disapproval of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Trump administration’s perfunctory response to it.

The votes also exposed Democratic and Republican lawmakers’ ongoing clashes with the president over his efforts to subvert congressional authority on foreign policy and national security issues, in addition to bipartisan anger over U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s bloody civil war.

“A phony emergency — an emergency designed to make yet another end run around Congress, to undermine the separation of powers, to trample on this body’s constitutional duties,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I’m sick and tired of it,” Engel added, calling the emergency declaration “an extraordinary abuse of power.”

Trump will veto the measures when they reach his desk — the third, fourth and fifth vetoes of his presidency. His veto will likely be sustained, as neither chamber would have enough votes to override it. A key Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) led the Senate effort to block the weapon sales.

In May, Trump invoked his emergency authority to sidestep Congress’ ability to review arms sales, moving to approve more than $8 billion in weapon transfers — including precision-guided munitions — to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, in addition to the CIA, have blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s grisly murder last October inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, fueling bipartisan angst over Trump’s cozy relationship with the kingdom and his resistance to implementing human-rights sanctions.

But Trump and his foreign policy team have argued that supporting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies is critical for countering Iran’s malign influence in the region. Tehran is backing Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been blamed for violence against civilians.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the House’s actions on Wednesday “dangerous.”

“One of the ways we can push back against Iran’s murderous aggression, is by empowering our partners in the region,” McCaul said. “Unfortunately, this irresponsible resolution handcuffs our ability to do so.”

But amid Trump’s refusal to punish Saudi Arabia and his decision to ignore a law requiring an investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, support for Riyadh on Capitol Hill has waned significantly. In May, Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz testified on Capitol Hill and pleaded with lawmakers to take action.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have kept up the pressure on the Trump administration, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who on Wednesday sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking the bureau to investigate Khashoggi’s murder.

They’ve also tried to stop the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, and earlier this year both chambers voted to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war, with lawmakers arguing that the crown prince and his leadership cannot be trusted.

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