The Senate passed a number of resolutions Thursday to block 22 arms sale deals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a symbolic blow to the Trump administration.
Seven Republican senators joined all of the Senate Democrats on two of three votes to block the arms sale, which is worth $8 billion. Five Republicans joined all of the Democrats on a third vote.
Trump ally Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mike Lee, R-Utah, Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Todd Young, R-Ind., joined the Democrats in what is largely a symbolic vote if President Donald Trump extends his veto powers again. House Democrats have pledged to pass resolutions blocking the sale.
Neither chamber is expected to have enough votes to override a presidential veto, which takes a two-thirds super majority.
They voted 53-45 on the resolutions to block two sales, and 51-45 to block the additional 20 arms sales. Murkowski flipped to vote in favor of the sale on the third vote while Lee abstained.
The Trump administration approved the sales last month under a rarely used emergency power to bypass a Congressional review process, rankling some senators. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently that escalating tensions with Iran, which shot down a U.S. drone Thursday, prompted the expedited sale of the arms, which include guided missiles.
The move is the latest in a number of bipartisan votes the Republican-led Senate has taken to challenge the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia.
A measure to end American military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen also passed with GOP support.
Thursday’s votes are unprecedented as frustration over ties to Saudi Arabia grows on Capitol Hill. In addition to the war in Yemen, “credible evidence” links Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the grisly murder of Washington Post journalist Jamaal Khashoggi, who had been critical of the autocratic Saudi regime in his reporting.
Khashoggi went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to get a divorce certificate on Sept. 28, 2018, and never came out. He was reportedly drugged and then suffocated, and his body was dismembered.
UN extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard said Thursday that Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sponsored a resolution, saying Congress needed to send a message that Saudi Arabia’s conduct won’t be tolerated.
“For months upon months, this administration has failed to demonstrate how equipping the Saudis with more weapons would improve the Saudis’ respect for human rights in Yemen or advance America’s own values and national security interests,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his fellow Republicans to reject the effort to block the deal should Trump veto their measures. There are other steps the U.S. can take to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder, he said.
“Rejecting long-planned arms sales strikes me as an overly blunt tool with several unintended consequences,” McConnell said. “The dynamics at play are not black and white. We can best shape these dynamics by working closely with our partners to encourage them in the right direction rather than turning our back.”