Engel Remarks at Arms Control Hearing

- As Delivered -

June 12, 2019

Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a hearing of the full committee at which Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper is testifying on the Trump Administration’s declaration of a phony emergency to push through $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries:

“We meet today to examine the fiasco surrounding the Trump Administration’s decision to invoke emergency authority under the Arms Export Control Act—an abuse of authority in my view—and ram through $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries. 

“We’ll hear testimony from Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper. Mr. Assistant Secretary, thank you for appearing today.

“Let me say that the war in Yemen—and America’s role in it—have been a major focus of this committee since the start of the Congress. I’ve made my views clear: while our Gulf partners have legitimate security concerns, the coalition’s war effort has been reckless. We’ve heard too many heartbreaking reports about hospitals, school buses, weddings, and funerals wiped out in a fiery flash of destruction. 

“At the same time, I’m also angry. I’m angry because, once again, the administration wants to cut Congress out of the picture. Out of the process. We are a coequal branch of government. That’s the way our constitution was written. And it is not simply the executive branch’s decision to disregard what Congress’s will is. And we have seen, unfortunately, too many times, time and time and time again.

“Some of the weapons that have caused that destruction are made in the United States. Other weapons made in our country have ended up in the hands of militias in Yemen, some of which are on the terrorist list.

“These are just a few of the reasons Congress has voiced deep concern about American policy on these matters—and why offensive arms sales to the Gulf faced a rocky path forward when subjected to Congressional review. Let’s be clear: Congress’s ability to review arms exports is upheld by law and upheld by longstanding tradition.

“In light of these concerns in Congress, did the Administration come to us to negotiate a path forward? No.

“Did they listen to members on both sides of the aisle who wanted greater assurances that American weapons would not be used in the slaughter of civilians? No.

“Did they pay the least amount of respect to a coequal branch of government and its legitimate and vital role? No.

“No. Instead, they employed an obscure and rarely used provision of the law to declare a phony emergency, ram these sales through, and undercut Congress’s ability to carry out its oversight role.

"If there were a real emergency—if our security were under such imminent threat that the transfer of weapons was the only way to prevent a catastrophe—then we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.  It would just be approved because it would be a real catastrophe.

“But here’s the reality: there is no emergency. 

“Do you know how I know? 

“I know because a real emergency would require weapons that can be delivered immediately, if you need them right now, you want weapons that could be delivered immediately, not months or even years from now as these do.

“A real emergency would require weapons that have already been built and are relevant to whatever the immediate threat is.

“A real emergency would not justify building new factories in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to manufacture weapons that have been built in the United States for years and years.

“A real emergency would not be followed by our Defense Secretary telling us the threat has now diminished.

“Again, there is no emergency. It’s phony. It’s made up. And it’s an abuse of the law. Once again, attempting to cut Congress out of the whole picture. This is not a dictatorship. We don’t rule this country by fiat. Again, we are a coequal branch of government. Remember when you were in school and you learned checks and balances? Congress is a coequal branch of government. We are not going to permit this to go by without a whimper.

“Just a few days before the Administration notified Congress about this so-called emergency, we got a briefing on the threat that Iran poses in the region. I have no doubt that Iran is a threat to the United States, our interests, and our allies and partners. It’s the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism.  Its activities in the Gulf could paralyze commerce and air travel. Tehran has supplied the Houthis with dangerous weapons and the Houthis have avoided negotiations to end the conflict, all while they’ve blocked assistance to help alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. 

“But this is nothing new. I obviously cannot talk about the details of the briefing we received. But suffice to say, though, we did not hear a single word about an emergency or a plan to move ahead with this sale. For this major fiasco, the Administration quietly let us know on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. It’s really a slap in the face.

“Congress is going to have to give itself stronger tools before the Administration just starts ignoring us completely. I have been working with Ranking Member McCaul for months on legislation to make sure future arms sales only go forward if the country buying those weapons meets certain conditions. We’ll also have to strongly consider changing the Arms Export Control Act’s emergency provision, which the Administration against has flagrantly abused in this case. And we’re looking at every possible avenue for stopping these transfers before they go forward under this phony justification—including measures that members of this Committee will introduce later today.

“But for now, I’d like some answers. I’d like to know about the process that led to this outrageous decision. I’d like to know who was involved—who thought it was a good idea to conjure up an emergency and cut an entire branch of the federal government out of the conversation.”

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