Saudi arms sales to proceed as Senate fails to override veto31 July 2019 AFP, Washington
US President Donald Trump Â® looks at a defence sales chart with Saudi Arabia\'s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
The US Senate on Monday failed to prevent the controversial sale of $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, after President Donald Trump vetoed congressional resolutions blocking the deal.
Despite bipartisan votes this month that served as a rebuke to the president - and an expression of lawmakers' outrage with the kingdom over Riyadh's role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year - the effort to override Trump's third use of his veto powers since taking office fell well short.
Trump sought approval for 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons and equipment to countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Monday's vote had a similar breakdown, with 45 senators voting in favor of the override. It was the Senate's second time taking up a veto override related to the Trump administration's policy toward Saudi Arabia. In May, the Senate failed to overcome Trump's veto of a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
The vote leaves the Senate with limited options to block Trump's actions with Saudi Arabia. Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) failed to move his White House-approved bill out of Committee. The bill would have limited visas for some Saudi government officials and would require that the Secretary of State review the United States' relationship with the kingdom.
The bill was essentially killed in committee when the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), attached his own Saudi Arabia legislation as an amendment - forcing Risch to withdraw his. Menendez's bill, which would block certain arms sales to the kingdom and in-flight refueling of Saudi Arabia's aircraft and is considered tougher than Risch's, instead passed the committee. But it's unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will bring the bill to the floor.
Critics said the arms sales would aggravate the devastating war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a US-backed coalition in a battle against the Iranian-supported Huthi rebels, and which the UN said has triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Trump's administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sale in May, as his administration declared Iran to be a "fundamental threat" to the stability of the Middle East.
Senate Democrat Ben Cardin said that by not blocking the sales, Republicans "abdicated their constitutionally mandated responsibilities" to conduct oversight.
"We have both a legal and moral obligation to make certain that US weapons are not used to repress human rights or perpetrate violence against innocent civilians," Cardin said.
US law gives lawmakers the authority to block arms deals, but it also grants the president the power to sidestep Congress in the case of an emergency.
Congressional leaders have argued that the Trump administration manufactured an emergency to exploit the loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.
Both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate passed resolutions to halt the sales, many of which would not be delivered until months from now despite the US administration's claim that there is an emergency.
"The president's veto enables the sale of $8.1 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia's brutal dictators," Senator Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter.
"It will deepen and prolong the world's worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It infringes on Congress' authority over matters of war. What a disgrace."
The White House's decision comes amid a growing outcry in Washington over a dire humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where Riyadh is leading a regional military coalition with Western backing against Houthi rebels.
Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed to a Saudi artillery attack earlier Monday in northern Yemen that medics said killed 13 civilians, including two children.
The legislation would have blocked the sale of Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions and related equipment.
Congress' effort was aimed at attempting to pressure the Saudi government to improve its human rights record and do more to avoid civilian casualties in a war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE lead an air campaign against Houthi rebels.
Congressional sentiment toward Saudi Arabia worsened after the murder of Saudi journalist and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
Trump has argued that cutting off the Saudi weapons sales would weaken US relations with a longtime ally and hurt US competitiveness.