WASHINGTON ― Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are warning that President Donald Trump may seek to go around Congress and sell American bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Trump administration, according to Sens. Bob Menendez and Chris Murphy, is expected to claim an emergency under the Arms Control Act, which would prevent the Senate from taking a vote of disapproval on the sale. For a year, Menendez has used the Senate’s long-standing informal review process to hold up such a sale, citing civilian casualties caused by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war.
Menendez released a statement Thursday that contained a warning to the American defense industry, for which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been lucrative markets.
“I am deeply concerned about the rumors that the Administration plans to bypass Congress and sell weapons to foreign governments, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights abusers in the world,” said Menendez of New Jersey. “The possible consequences of this will ultimately jeopardize the ability of the U.S. defense industry to export arms in a manner both expeditious and responsible.
“In addition to suffering the reputational problems of delivering deadly weapons to governments that clearly misuse them, U.S. defense firms should exercise extreme caution that they are not opening themselves, their officers, and their employees to criminal and civil liability by exporting weapons pursuant to potentially invalid licenses."
Absent the review process as a tool to protect America’s interests and uphold human rights, Menendez said he plans to pursue unspecified “legislative and other means to nullify these and any planned ongoing sales” if the administration proceeds.
The statement came after Murphy, from Connecticut, tweeted Wednesday that “Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act” to advance “a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia.”
Murphy said he was tipped off the administration would use an emergency declaration of some kind to bypass formal notification, giving Congress no chance to object.
“I still believe that is imminent, and it will mean that Congress won’t get to have a say on the sale of weapons to the Saudis to be used in the Yemen war,” Murphy said.
He speculated tension with Iran could serve as the basis for the emergency.
The State Department declined to comment, citing its policy not to confirm or deny potential arms sales or transfers until Congress is formally notified.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, also declined to comment.
Lawmakers have warned a U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia would not prevail in a vote. Outrage over the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia last year and the Saudi coalition’s civilian casualties in Yemen fueled a bipartisan Senate vote in March to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.