New Bipartisan Legislation Would Halt Arms Sales to Gulf Countries

House Members Introduce Sweeping Measures to Reverse Administration’s Arms Sale Fiasco

June 12, 2019

Washington—A bipartisan group of House members has introduced legislation that would stop the Trump Administration decision to abuse Congressionally-granted emergency authority and press ahead with $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) has offered a wide-ranging joint resolution that would reject all 22 sales the Administration is attempting to ram through under a phony emergency declaration.

Additionally, Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) have offered measures dealing specifically with transfers of precision-guided munitions. These weapons are largely responsible for civilian casualties in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, and the Trump Administration scheme would transfer tens of thousands more to coalition forces and allow the manufacturing of these weapons in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The emergency declaration is nothing more than an egregious abuse of power by an Administration that doesn’t like being told ‘no.’ There is no emergency, but there is a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians with U.S.-made weapons and a Congress that is tired of being complicit. Our arms sale process was designed to include congressional review to ensure that U.S. interests and laws are always met with each sale. The Trump Administration knows that these sales would not meet that standard, so they decided to declare a fake emergency in order to bypass Congress. It’s a tactic they’ve used before. This legislation sends a strong signal that we will not tolerate the Trump Administration’s blatant abuse of power,” said Rep. Lieu.

“Aiding and abetting Saudi Arabia’s horrific attacks on civilians in Yemen is unconscionable.  We should demand better from countries that purport to be our allies,” said Rep. Cicilline. “The President is once again trying to circumvent the law to do something the American people oppose. Congress needs to step up and prevent this from happening.”

“Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans rightfully voted to end U.S. engagement in the Saudi-led military campaign against Houthis in Yemen. Upon its passage in both Houses, the President vetoed this resolution and continued the direct U.S. support of those hostilities. Now, this arms transfer seeks to circumvent congressional approval using a national security exemption—and it’s yet another signal that the administration neither recognizes the extent of Saudi Arabia’s human rights offenses against civilians nor the constitutional role of Congress in arms sales,” said Rep. Spanberger. “Our bipartisan measures would help reassert the constitutional role of Congress in providing vigorous oversight of U.S. military engagement abroad. We must raise awareness about the intense suffering of Yemeni civilians at the hands of high-tech weaponry, and the resolution I’m leading would explicitly crack down on the sale of precision-guided munitions via emergency authority. Going forward, we should focus on solving this massive humanitarian crisis—not prolonging it.” 

"The administration has presented us no evidence that the Gulf countries face any substantially new threat from Iran that would justify declaring an emergency, or that these weapons, which the Saudis need to keep bombing Yemen, would even be useful if such a threat arose. If we allow these arms sales, the effect will be to prolong a war that does not serve US interests, while signaling to the Saudis that they can get away with anything. Congress must not let that happen,” said Rep. Malinowski.

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, offered this comment on the arms sales and new legislation, which he is cosponsoring: “The Trump arms sale fiasco is a grave threat to Congress’s constitutional prerogatives dealing with foreign policy. Again and again, Congress has voiced deep concerns about the war in Yemen, but rather than deal with those concerns, the Administration is creating a phony emergency to ram through these weapons sales. We will do whatever it takes to stop this decision and restore Congress’s oversight role. This legislation would move us in that direction and I’m grateful to this group of lawmakers for their leadership.”

The resolutions introduced today would block the licenses required for these sales to go forward. Congress was notified under a rarely-used section of law allowing the Administration to avoid the normal legislative review process by asserting that an emergency exists. Members and Senators on both sides of the aisle believe that there is no emergency and that the use of the section is an abuse by the Trump Administration.  

Today, the Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing with the Department of State official who leads the bureau that oversees arms exports.

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