MAY 25, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Trump administration on Friday notified Congress it plans to sell $8.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates without congressional approval — a move that has incensed members from both parties who have sought to cut off military aid for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.
The decision covers 22 pending transfers of munitions, aircraft parts, and other supplies “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Normally such sales are subject to congressional approval. But Trump is using a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act that allows him to bypass the process in case of emergency. The move is similar to Trump’s declaration of a border emergency this year, which allowed him to divert military funds to pay for border barriers.
Pompeo, who cited previous instances in which the arms sales authority was used by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, said the step was critical to help allies maintain their armed forces in a period of “increasing regional volatility.” And he lashed out at Congress for delaying the shipments.
“These national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit,” Pompeo said.
But he insisted that the decision would be “a one-time event.”
“This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress,” he insisted.
Nonetheless, the move was deeply unpopular on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have sought to halt arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. The coalition has been blamed for rising civilian deaths in that country.
Trump recently vetoed legislation that would restrict American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
In a statement Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) confirmed that the relevant committees had been notified of the pending sales.
“There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” Murphy said. “This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”
Murphy said he’s looking into new legislation to restrict the sales. “We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests,” he said. “If we don’t stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to.”
Several other members of Congress have announced their intention to block any further weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Every bomb sold to Saudi Arabia is another bomb for Saudi bomber jets to drop on Yemeni hospitals, weddings, markets, and school buses,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), an outspoken opponent of America’s involvement in Yemen, said in a statement. “Any claim from President Trump that selling weapons to Saudi Arabia constitutes an ‘emergency’ is a farcical attempt to obscure the shameful reality that ‘made in the U.S.A’ bombs are killing innocent civilians and fueling the world’s worst humanitarian emergency in Yemen.”
Pompeo insisted, however, that the administration sees little choice but to bypass Congress. “The United States is, and must remain, a reliable security partner to our allies and partners around the world,” he said. “These partnerships are a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy, which this decision reaffirms.”