Senate Votes to Block Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia—But Trump Can Still Veto

June 20, 2019, 5:34 PM UTC

The Senate has voted to block the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia following months of controversy surrounding the murder of former Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, President Donald Trump is expected to veto the measure, in line with the administration’s relationship with Riyadh.

The vote of 53-45 meant some Republicans showed a rare moment of not supporting the White House after Trump’s decision last month to bypass the Congressional review process and complete more than $8 billion in arms sales in the form of precision guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others.

The number of votes prevents the president from using his emergency authority from completing the sales but fell short of the 67 votes to prevent a veto.

Still, those in Congress looking to curb Trump’s foreign policy powers could consider this progress since two bills meant to stop the Trump administration from being able to sell arms to Bahrain and Qatar failed late last week after being introduced by Republican Rand Paul.

“We are told that because of Iran’s threat, the U.S. must accept selling arms to anyone who opposes Iran,” Paul said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran continue to rise after the Trump administration decided not to honor its commitment to the six-party Iran nuclear deal, signed by predecessor Barack Obama in 2015. The latest incident saw the Iranian Revolutionary Guard shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, a move Trump initially called a “big mistake” on Twitter, but later told media gathered in the Oval Office that it was “a general or somebody” being “loose and stupid” who shot it down.

“They are carrying a significant amount of equity to protect U.S. interests and U.S. persons, and it is incumbent upon us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners, especially when they are on the front line for our interests,” assistant secretary of state for political-military Affairs Clarke Cooper said during a teleconference with reporters.

Critics of the administration’s Middle East policy, seemingly centered on a close financially beneficial relationship through arms sales, cite Khashoggi’s October 2018 murder at the at the hands of 15 government agents who had flown to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, for that purpose. The following month, the CIA ruled the journalist’s death was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a recent United Nations report said there was corroborating evidence to support that.

The arms up for sale are largely made by U.S.-based Raytheon Corporation, whose former executive Mark Esper was just nominated for secretary of defense by Trump.

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