Skip to content

Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on Trump Admin’s Abuse of Emergency Declaration for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

“It is important that any President and any administration—and this one in particular—respect Congress as a co-equal branch of government and execute our laws in good faith.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the opening of a hearing titled, “Defense Cooperation: Use of Emergency Authorities Under the Arms Export Control Act”:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today to examine the appropriate role of Congressional oversight on arms sales. It is important that any President and any administration—and this one in particular—respect Congress as a co-equal branch of government and execute our laws in good faith.

Despite your pledge during your confirmation hearing to do just that, Mr. Cooper, and your commitment to be transparent and forthcoming with this committee, since you began your tenure, the Department has shown only disdain for Congress and the laws that govern our arms export programs.

Beyond that, you have balked at the idea that you should be held accountable for your actions.

On May 24th, the Secretary of State sent this Committee 22 notifications for arms sales and transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, totaling more than eight billion dollars. In a boilerplate memo the Secretary argued, unconvincingly, that these sales—some of which the committee had already cleared—were exempt from the legally required 30 days of Congressional review and action, claiming a sudden ‘emergency’ threat from Iran.  Yet, this administration has been unable to explain how, precisely, these sales respond to this supposed emergency. And at no time prior to May 24th, did the administration once raise that these sales were necessary to respond to the threat from Iran.

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 allies that are in line with our long and short term strategic interests and basic U.S. principles such as the basic respect for human life.

But if you look at these sales, it appears that the Administration had other motives.

Indeed, when pressed, rather than explain exactly how these sales will address a supposedly imminent threat from Iran, you and other Administration officials demurred and said the sales were 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.

So, I look forward to hearing you explain today: How would taking away American jobs and creating a Saudi jobs program of manufacturing F-18 panels for export for an aircraft the Saudis don’t own or operate respond to an emergency?

How would sales that will not be delivered for many, many, months immediately respond to an emergency?

And as I have been asking for more than a year, how does the sale of precision-guided munitions for use in Yemen, presumably with the same atrocious results and human suffering we’ve seen over the last four years respond to an emergency?

Mr. Cooper, you testified in a House hearing that the ‘protracted process’ of congressional review was problematic for the commercial sales.

Indeed—unless I misunderstood—you implied that I, personally, in exercising my rights as the Ranking Member of this Committee was the reason you had to push through all 22 sales.  As you well know, that process was ‘protracted’ because neither the Secretary nor the Department was willing or able to make a persuasive case that selling precision-guided bombs to Saudi and UAE—the particular arms I was holding—would improve protection of Yemeni civilians to Saudi airstrikes, or ending the UAE’s human rights abuses in Yemen.

In fact, not only did the Department not make a persuasive case, you made no case since last October after Jamal Khashoggi was literally butchered on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

So, Mr. Chairman, my colleagues, the Secretary of State’s message to us is clear: ‘Congress, can review arms sales—just don’t take too long or ask tough questions; otherwise, I’ll just ignore the law and cut you out of the process entirely.’

Three weeks ago, in a bipartisan fashion, the Senate made clear what it thought of the Secretary of State’s false emergency sales by approving an unprecedented 22 separate resolutions of disapproval of these sales.  Two weeks ago, this Committee approved my bipartisan bill—the Saudi Arabia False Emergencies, or ‘SAFE’, Act—to prevent similar abuses of the emergency authority in the future.

I hope the Secretary and the Administration appreciate the gravity of these actions, and those to come.  The informal arms sale review process, under the Arms Export Control Act, has operated successfully for decades.

It worked because successive Administrations recognized that there is value in consulting with the committees about any concerns that could arise from a sale, and they acted in good faith. Simply put, Mr. Cooper, you and the Secretary have undermined this process. I urge you to take another look at the definition of ‘emergency’, and re-think your approach to engaging Congress and abiding by the Congressional oversight you claimed, during your hearing, you would respect.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.”