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Menendez Officially Starts Process for Senate to Block Trump Admin’s Proposed Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this morning spoke on the Senate Floor to officially start the process of consideration for the Senate to use privileged authorities to block the Trump Administration’s unprecedented attempt at approving over $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi and UAE without Congressional consent.

Menendez was joined earlier this month by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in introducing 22 separate Joint Resolutions of Disapproval to protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of overseeing arms sales to foreign governments. The Senators came together after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an “emergency” on May 24 to waive the congressional review process for 22 separate arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 provides the special procedures whereby lawmakers can introduce a privileged joint resolution of disapproval against a proposed arm sale. In the Senate, a resolution can be discharged from the Committee of jurisdiction, forcing a vote on the Senate floor.

Below are the Senator’s remarks as delivered:

Mr. President, I move to discharge S. J. Res 36 from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and request that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.

This resolution that I have just asked for the discharge of would disapprove the administration’s proposed sale of precision guided munitions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, weapons they have used in the killing of untold numbers of innocent civilians in their ongoing campaign in Yemen.

This resolution is one of 22 that I have filed with a bipartisan group of Senators in response to this Administration’s flagrant disregard for Congressional oversight over arms sales.

On May 24, the Secretary of State attempted to bypass this body in order to push through 22 separate arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, claiming an ill-defined “emergency” regarding Iran.

Now, while Iran is a threat to the interests of the United States in the Middle East, I think—and no one in this body has been stronger on our sanctions efforts and in other legislation that I have been the architect of on sanctioning Iran—the question before us is whether these arms sales are specifically meant to be a response to that.

These arms sales are a critical national security tool in terms of reviewing and improving them as a core function of the senate foreign relations committee. We’re responsible for considering how each proposed sale fits into the broader foreign policy goals and our national security interests, including the capacity of our partners.

The Congressional review of arms sales is mandated for a reason—so that the Secretary of State explicitly cannot do what he tried to do last month with these 22 sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The suggesting that this is an emergency, I think, was shown to be totally hollow, when we had the testimony of the Assistant Secretary of State who admitted this in open House hearing that the decision to make the emergency determination was in the works for months.

It doesn't take months to deal with an emergency. When pressed on how an emergency declaration could be in the works for months, he tried to argue that the emergency showed up sometime between the two days that the secretary briefed members and then made note any indication. The Secretary of State was before this body briefing members and at that time three days before this emergency was declared said absolutely nothing—nothing—about any pending emergency, even though Assistant Secretary Cooper said it had been in the works for months.

So how can it be in the works for months? You’re before this body and you say nothing before three days before you actually declare an emergency. So on the process itself, it is just false.

Secondly, what's happening in Yemen is a humanitarian disaster that has been exacerbated by the very weapons we have been giving the Saudis in order to fights this conflict in Yemen and has created untold humanitarian disaster. These precision guided missiles were meant to avoid civilian casualties, but they're not going to avoid civilian casualties when you aim them with precision at civilian targets.

And I’ll have a lot more to say about that when my colleagues who are joining with me in a bipartisan basis come to the floor that we hope to have a colloquy with all of our colleagues in this regard.

The other point is these weapons won't counter Iranian threats. This is all about using them in Yemen and the Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper admitted as much in a hearing before the House last week.

And then lastly, as a major wage point as a major point which I’ll expound upon, this particular transfer is a transfer of not only technology but of American jobs to the Saudis. This export license will allow Saudi workers to begin to manufacture part of the guidance system for these precision guided munitions, work that has been done and should be continued to be done by American workers here in the United States.

I don't think transfer of those sensitive technologies and the creation of its components is something that is in the national interest both economically or in terms of our security.

And lastly, this is about this institution standing up for its Congressional prerogatives, to ensure that regardless of who is the president in the White House, that arms sales are subject to review of the congress. The date we give that up, the date we go down a dangerous path. So this is the beginning of a process.

I want to say that I appreciate the willingness and efforts of my cosponsor here, Senator Graham, and of the majority Leader, as well as their staffs to chart an acceptable path forward on these resolutions and on the Saudi sanctions bill and the SAFE Act which we also seek to have an opportunity on. And I’ll have a lot more to say about these arms sales, but to start this process, I wanted to outline why we find ourselves here today. With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.”