WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified lawmakers Friday that President Donald Trump is invoking his emergency authority to sidestep Congress and complete 22 arms deals that would benefit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, despite lawmakers’ objections.
Both Republicans and Democrats urged the Trump administration this week not to take the rare step of exploiting a legal window to push through deals, worth about $8 billion, according to congressional aides, that lawmakers have blocked from being finalized.
Pompeo’s notification letters effectively give the Trump administration a green light to conclude the sale and transfer of bombs, missile systems, semi-automatic rifles, drones, repair and maintenance services to aid the Saudi air fleet, and a controversial sale of precision-guided munitions that lawmakers fear Saudi Arabia may use against civilians in Yemen’s civil war.
Sen. Robert Menendez — ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had been blocking the precision-guided munitions sale — said Friday that Trump had “failed once again to prioritize our long term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho, said that he was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”
Traditionally, the administration must notify Congress when it contemplates a new arms sale, giving lawmakers the opportunity to review deals and block those they find objectionable. In each of his letters, Pompeo stated that he had “determined that an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States and thus, waives the congressional review requirements” — without noting the nature of the emergency or offering details. He added that the government had “taken into account political, military, economic, human rights, and arms control considerations.”
But lawmakers have frequently questioned the Trump administration’s approach to national security policy and its track record on human rights. In particular, Trump and Congress have long been at odds over his unapologetic embrace of Saudi leaders, despite U.S. intelligence showing that the crown prince was behind the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military coalition operating in Yemen — a move that Trump vetoed, with the support of most of the GOP. But many key Republican lawmakers who balked at curtailing U.S. engagement through a war-powers resolution have still advocated halting nondefensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies until the country does more to improve the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
“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,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of Congress’ chief advocates for extraditing the U.S. from the Yemen conflict. “This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.”