The Slatest

Trump Defies Congress, Moves Forward With Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2019.
SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is ignoring concerns from Congress and is going ahead with the sale of more than $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. The move came on the same day as Trump said he would be sending an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East to protect American that are already in the region.

The sale had been blocked by Congress since last year but Trump has now declared a national emergency due to tensions with Iran. The decision, which affects 22 pending transfers of munitions, aircraft parts, and other supplies will serve “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. Pompeo added that the current situation amounts to “an emergency … which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The move angered many in Congress and shows how the White House continues to support Saudi Arabia even as others pressure the administration to punish the kingdom’s leadership for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time, many in Congress are growing increasingly concerned about the civilian toll of the Saudi-led coalition’s operation against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

The move immediately led to criticism from congressional Democrats. “President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” said Senator Chris Murphy. And it wasn’t just Democrats who made their unhappiness known. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, characterized the move as “unfortunate.” Even though he said he understood the administration’s frustration, “the President’s decision to use an emergency waiver on these sales … will damage certain future congressional interactions.” For his part, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he was “disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia.”