Note: This article was updated to include comment from Sen. Ben Cardin.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday he will vote against a $510 million U.S.-Saudi deal for precision-guided munitions sale, almost assuring Senate Democrats will oppose the deal as a bloc.
A measure to block the deal needs 51 votes to pass in the Senate, which means all Senate Democrats, the Independents who caucus with them and three Republicans would have to vote against it. It would also have to pass in the House — an unlikely prospect.
"I will support Senator Murphy's resolution of disapproval. The human rights and humanitarian concerns have been well documented and are important," Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday in a statement first reported by The Huffington Post.
"Of equal concern to me is that the Saudi government continues to aid and abet terrorism via its relationship with [a hard-line school of Islam known as] Wahhabism and the funding of schools that spread extremist propaganda throughout the world," Schumer said.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced the resolution of disapproval for the sale in late May as a rebuke against the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen's 2-year-old civil war, and U.S. military support for it without congressional approval. According to the United Nations, more than 7,600 people have been killed in the war, and the country is on the brink of famine.
The Senate vote could come as early as tomorrow.
Under the Arms Export Control Act, any senator can file a discharge petition to force a full debate and vote on an arms sale. In this case, the vote targets an arms sale the Obama administration had blocked in December because of concerns over Saudi-caused civilian casualties.
The resolution would halt three planned deals. It targets packages of Joint Direct Attack Munitions that would be deployed from the Royal Saudi Air Force's Western-made F-15 fighter aircraft; Paveway laser-guided bombs for Saudi Tornado and Typhoon aircraft; and the integration of the Kaman FMU-152A/B Joint Programmable Fuze into the MK-80, BLU-109 and BLU-100 munitions.
Schumer was among senators who voted to scuttle a measure brought by Paul, Murphy, Franken and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to halt a sale to Riyadh of Abrams tanks, heavy vehicles, weapons and ammunition worth $1.15 billion. The vote was 71-27, with four Republicans in the minority and more than 20 Democrats voting with the majority.
Then, lawmakers might not have wanted to further isolate Riyadh. Congress had recently passed legislation to permit families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to use the U.S. courts to sue Saudi Arabia for its government's alleged role in the attacks, though the law did not mention Saudi Arabia by name.
Now, the vote can also serve as a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who recently announced a $110 billion arms sale to Riyadh and claimed credit for the split between the Kingdom and Qatar over Doha's alleged support for extremism.
Israeli officials have voiced concern the larger deal will erode Israel's qualitative military edge, or QME, which the U.S. is bound to protect.
Schumer is not the only Democrat who says he will vote along these lines. The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., committed last week to vote "yes" on the resolution to disapprove the sale.
Cardin has said he is voting against the sale in part because the Trump administration has not yet articulated a strategy to end the war in Yemen through political means. On Monday, he told reporters he had broader concerns about the White House's policy toward the Middle East arms sales, and preserving Israel's military superiority.
"We see from the Trump administration the desire to sell more and more arms in that region, to lots of countries, not just the Kingdom," Cardin said. "We know that there's a historic concern about the QME for Israel, and weapons in that region could wind up being used against Israel. We also know that there is no [diplomatic] solutions to the conflicts that currently exist in that region."
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.