U.S. House Seeks to Block Trump Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Hamoud  Getty Images

Mohammed Hamoud Getty Images

The Trump administration argues that Gulf allies need support to counter Iran's malign influence in the region.

Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper is testifying to stick up for the Trump administration's willingness to send billions of dollars worth of high-tech arms over to Saudi Arabia.

The lower chamber's pushback against the White House comes a week after United States senators across the political spectrum also moved to prevent the $8.1 billion sale.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho, who has not supported efforts to block the resolutions, said this week that it would be best if the House, Senate, State Department and the White House could agree on legislation to address the arms sales.

The hearing on the arms sales prompted the latest display of anger in Congress over Trump's foreign policy and his administration's close ties to Saudi Arabia. They said he did not disclose new threats from Iran, raising questions of whether the emergency was real.

"The administration is trying to abuse the law in order to sell weapons to supposed ally Saudi Arabia and the UAE".

In the absence of any specific discussion of alleged new Iranian "threats" and the urgency they supposedly imparted to these arms sales, Cooper's argument relied heavily on the idea that the emergency declaration was necessary to speed up the arms sales and prevent the Saudis and Emiratis-two of the world's biggest arms buyers-from shopping elsewhere for their weapons.

But Democrats were not having it - and Republicans were clearly uncomfortable with having been circumvented as well.

"This rarely used emergency authority ... in my judgment was unfortunate", Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, told Cooper.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle - both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well - have spoken out against the Trump administration's willingness to get rid of so many arms to countries like Saudi Arabia, even going as far to draft and push forward a handful of bills.

Lawmakers pressed Cooper on who was involved in the decision over the sale, and whether Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, was among them.

In Wednesday's hearing, several lawmakers complained that Pompeo gave Congress closed-door briefings on the Middle East three days before he made the emergency declaration.

"Which came first, the arms sales, or the threat?"

When asked on Tuesday whether the administration was wise to force the arms deals through by emergency declaration, acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan was more tight-lipped.

Cooper refused to detail in a public setting any of the individual deals, leaving Democrats to question whether the administration was expediting the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia to arm it for a regional war or an escalation of its military campaign in Yemen. The Armed Conflict and Location Event Data (ACLED) Project recently estimated that over 70,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in the war since January 2016, with the Saudi-led coalition accounting for most of the over 7000 killed in direct attacks targeting civilians, and Save the Children says that over 100,000 Yemeni children have contracted cholera in 2019 alone.

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