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Menendez on Vote to Override Pres. Trump’s Veto to Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Floor of the Senate, urging his colleagues to vote to override President Trump’s veto of three joint resolutions of disapproval that would halt certain arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Senate last month approved a total of 22 resolutions authored by Menendez blocking the Trump Administration’s attempt to evade Congress and push through over $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE based on a false emergency, including the three that were voted on today. 

Menendez also called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the Senate to vote on his Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, bipartisan legislation approved by the Foreign Relations Committee to impose real sanctions, including on arms sales, on Saudi Arabia for its atrocities.

Below are the Senator’s remarks as delivered:

“Mr. President, today I rise to urge my colleagues to join me in voting to override the President’s veto of three resolutions of disapproval on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As we all know, several weeks ago the Secretary of State attempted to bypass this body and the entire Congress on 22 separate arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—all on the pretext of an urgent physical threat from Iran that was at best ill-defined and at worst completely false.

Let me be clear: Iran has and will continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests and allies in the region. And I have and will continue to approve arms sales to partners and allies that address legitimate security threats and advance American interests.

But from the start, this Administration has failed to demonstrate what kind of national security threat or quote-unquote ‘emergency’ from Iran warranted fast-tracking the sale of these weapons to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

Indeed, Secretary Pompeo’s own May 24th justification for the sales lacked any persuasive information explaining how these sales would address an Iranian threat so serious that it justified bypassing Congress on an ‘emergency’ basis.

That’s why I introduced resolutions to disapprove these sales. And that’s why six weeks ago, this body came together in a bipartisan way to reassert the role of Congress in reviewing arms sales and pass 22 separate resolutions of disapproval.

Today I ask that we come together again.

In fact, not even President Trump’s own veto messages mention the word “emergency.” 

It’s clear this Administration has had other motives from the start.

We continue to hear officials invent new reasons for pushing through these sales. 

We’ve heard these sales are necessary for ‘sustaining the global supply chain;’ for preventing ‘loss of sale to peer-competitors;’ for maintaining U.S. ‘credibility as an arms supplier’ and so on.

Look, many of us expected the President to use his veto powers. That is his right.

But the constitutional, strategic, and moral imperatives that led the United States Senate to reject the sale of these arms six weeks ago still stand today.

So let me review three main reasons that I hope we can unite today to override the President’s veto.

First is how these weapons are being used. By now we are well-acquainted with what has been, at best the incompetent, and at worst, criminal actions of Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes in Yemen. 

All evidence suggests that the Saudis have intentionally targeted hospitals, bridges, power stations, apartment buildings, weddings, schools and even a school bus filled with children, leaving thousands of Yemeni civilians killed or maimed.

Over the years Congress has received many assurances about how U.S. arms sales, advice and assistance would supposedly help the Saudi Air Force and command authority better identify military targets and thereby reduce risk to civilians. Those assurances no longer stand. We cannot brand the sale of precision-guided munitions as ‘humanitarian’ weapons if the Saudis are intentionally targeting civilians in the first place.

That’s why last year I placed an informal hold on the sale of 60,000 precision guided munitions or PGMS to Saudi Arabia, requesting the Administration explain they would enhance efforts to reduce civilian casualties.

They failed to do so in a fulsome and convincing way. And believe me, I would like to be convinced. 

And after the slaughter of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October of last year, the Trump Administration apparently flat-out gave up trying to convince anyone that the Saudis have any regard whatsoever for human rights, at home, in Yemen, or at their diplomatic consulates abroad. 

Last week, recognizing the abject failures of the Yemen campaign, the United Arab Emirates announced it was ceasing its support, and largely withdrawing from the conflict in Yemen; which I commend as the right decision.

I do not doubt that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are concerned about Iranian threats. But the indisputable reality is that these precision-guided weapons kits were always headed for the disastrous air-war in Yemen.

So again, let us not delude ourselves.

These sales will, in no way, support Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates or the United States from an imminent Iranian threat. Full stop.

Second: if we fail to override the President’s veto, we will allow this Administration to transfer American jobs and sensitive military technology to the Saudis.

That’s right. With this sale, the Trump Administration has authorized Raytheon to allow the Saudis to begin to manufacturing part of the electronic guidance system for these precision-guided munitions.

In other words, the Administration is not only selling the Saudis these weapons but also portions of the blueprints for building these weapons.

This work has always and always should be done by American workers right here in the United States. America’s defense industry produces the most sophisticated systems in the world.

And yet the Trump Administration is opening the door for the Saudis to manufacture their own similar weapons in the future—or transfer our American-made technical know-how to other countries.

Disturbingly, we also know that if the Trump Administration gets its away, this transfer will not be a one-time thing. 

State Department officials have actually admitted to Foreign Relations Committee staff that this will be the first of many sales authorizing the Saudis to manufacture even-larger, more-sensitive portions of these highly-advanced weapons.

My colleagues, that is simply madness. 

Not only is this sale a Saudi jobs program, it is also a give-away of sensitive U.S. military technology!

The President’s own veto message claims that not giving away American jobs and sensitive military technology to Saudi Arabia would ‘abandon’ them.

I’m guessing by ‘them’ he means abandon the royal family the President is intent on praising and courting.

I ask my colleagues who oppose stopping this sale or are thinking of allowing the President’s veto to stand: do you want to be on the record supporting a Saudi jobs program?

Do you want to be on the record as aiding and abetting the transfer of sensitive U.S. military technology to Saudi Arabia—a source of so much extremism and bloodshed in the world?

S. J. Res. 37 disapproves a sale of precision-guided munitions to the UAE, at a time when the UAE is pulling its military forces out of Yemen.

Yet, the President’s veto message says that stopping this sale would somehow prolong the suffering in Yemen, which goes against any logic which I’m familiar with.

S. J. Res. 38 disapproves a sale of fuzes for Saudi bombs—yet, the President argues that stopping this sale would again prolong the suffering of the innocent in Yemen, presumably by denying the Saudis the ability to target them indiscriminately.

It doesn’t make sense.

Finally, I think that all of my colleagues can agree that the United States and Saudi Arabia need a course correction. The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and journalist in a Saudi consulate may have been the final, violent straw that broke the camel’s back, but we must re-examine this relationship.

Beyond the Khashoggi killing and the atrocities in Yemen, the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar and the ongoing rift within the G.C.C. are also not in the interest of the United States.

The Saudis’ kidnapping of the Lebanese Prime Minister is not in the interest of the United States.

And finally, Saudi Arabia’s detention and torture of human rights activists calling for the exact same rights the Crown Prince himself pretends to support, its suppression of dissent and speech—this behavior does not reflect American values or our long-term interests.

My friends, America is better than this.

This Senate and this Congress must continue to stand up for reason, for decency, and for the actual foreign policy and national security interests of the United States—not the personal interests of the Trump family and their misguided willingness to put profit over principle and profit over people.

My colleagues, this Administration’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the wholesale slaughter of civilians and the murder of journalists and move forward with the sale of these weapons will have lasting implications for America’s moral leadership on the world stage.

That’s why six weeks ago, in a bipartisan fashion, this Senate came together to approve an unprecedented 22 separate, bipartisan resolutions of disapproval.

That’s why five weeks ago, the Committee on Foreign Relations approved my bipartisan bill - the Saudi Arabia False Emergencies, or ‘SAFE’, Act, to prevent similar abuses of the emergency authority in the future.

That’s why three weeks ago, the House passed several amendments to their National Defense Authorization Act to stop these same arms sales.

Two weeks ago, the House passed three of the Senate joint resolutions of disapproval and sent them to the President – the first time since 1988 that any such resolution has passed the Congress, and the first time that multiple resolutions of disapproval had done so.  

And finally, just last week, the Foreign Relations Committee approved on a bipartisan vote the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act. Legislation I introduced with Senators Young, Murphy, Graham, Reed, Collins, and Shaheen that would finally impose real sanctions, including on arms sales, on Saudi Arabia for its atrocities. Legislation that I hope Leader McConnell will swiftly bring to the floor.

I hope this Administration appreciates the gravity of these actions, and those to come. 

Today, we have an opportunity to again demonstrate to the President, the Secretary of State, and to the butchers in Saudi Arabia that the United States Senate will stand up for our values, will stand up for our long-term national security interests, and will put country over short-term business interests.

Just because the President has wielded his veto pen does not mean the United States Senate has to stand for it.

I respectfully urge my colleagues to take this stand today.

Override these vetoes.

Stop these Saudi arms sales.

There are few days in this body when we can say that our votes will save lives. Today is such a day.”