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House committee challenges weapon sales to Saudi Arabia

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration faced stiff bipartisan resistance in the House on Wednesday to its plan to sell $8.1 billion worth of precision-guided munitions and other lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

Testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, R. Clarke Cooper, an assistant secretary of state, defended the White House decision to circumvent Congress because of what he called an urgent threat from Iran.

Democrats and Republicans criticized the weapons deal, and several expressed alarm that lethal weaponry was being sold to Saudi Arabia as it fights a war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo signed an emergency order May 24 that authorized 22 sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The materiel includes Patriot air defense systems, Javelin guided missiles, surveillance aircraft and precision-guided munitions.

By declaring an emergency, the administration avoided what is usually a 30-day congressional review for weapons sales. Several lawmakers warned of a dangerous precedent in President Donald Trump's use of executive power.

 

A joint resolution making its way through the House aims to block the sale by denying export licenses. Next week, the Senate next week plans to consider 22 joint resolutions -- one for each sale -- designed to prevent the transaction.

Trump, who views strong relations with Riyadh as a priority, is expected to veto, or ignore, any resolution that is passed.

This year, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to withdraw the United States from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Trump issued a veto, and the resolution's congressional supporters did not have the votes to override the veto.

"I'm angry because, once again, the administration wants to cut Congress out of the picture," Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the Democratic chair of the House committee, said Wednesday. "Again, there is no emergency. It's phony. It's made up. And it's an abuse of the law."

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