We learned late last month that Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo planned to bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency in order to go forward with arms sales with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth roughly $8 billion. Pompeo’s justification for waiving Congressional oversight centered on tensions with Iran, and that comes with a certain irony, since these sales are bound to exacerbate those tensions. (As part of the deal some U.S. bombs will be manufactured in Saudi Arabia.) As Politico reports, Congress has struck back with a bipartisan effort to regain some measure of control over Trump’s actions, and it starts with a human rights investigation:
Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) are using a provision in the Foreign Assistance Act to request a report from the administration on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which could eventually trigger a vote to halt billions in arms sales which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is moving forward despite congressional opposition.
Young, a Republican hailing from Mike Pence’s home state, did not mince words when making his case:
“Our arms sales to Saudi Arabia demand congressional oversight,” Young said. “This bipartisan resolution simply asks the secretary of State to report on some basic questions before moving forward with them. The ongoing humanitarian crisis and complicated security environment in Yemen requires our sustained attention, and we cannot permit U.S. military equipment to worsen the situation.”
The situation in Yemen he refers to is a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportions, fueled by Saudi Arabia, which is fueled in turn by U.S. weaponry and support. If the resolution passes Congress, which appears likely, Trump can still exercise veto power, just as he did against another bipartisan bill seeking an end to U.S. support for Saudi aggression in Yemen.
The State Department, meanwhile, has held its line, asserting that the sale will go forward, and that to halt it would amount to a national security threat and a failure to “deter” Iran.