June 25, 2019 / 4:55 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. Congress pushing back at Trump over Saudi arms deals

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) waits for the start of an event with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2-R) and Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at their summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would make it more difficult for President Donald Trump to avoid congressional review of arms sales, underscoring lawmakers’ anger over his approval of $8 billion in military deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Republican-majority Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the “Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act,” days after the full Senate approved 22 separate resolutions of disapproval of the transactions.

The disapproval resolutions did not garner enough support to overcome Trump’s promised veto. But lawmakers pledged not to let the issue go, rejecting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence that the threat from Iran justified pursuing the sales despite human rights concerns and civilian casualties from the two countries’ air campaign in Yemen.

The committee approved the measure by voice vote, with only Republican Senator Mitt Romney asking to be recorded as a “no.” It was not immediately clear when the act might be considered by the full Senate.

“The emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act should be used only for real emergencies and as rare exceptions for our closest allies for whom we can vouch,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s top Democrat and a lead bill sponsor.

The legislation would restrict the emergency authorities in the Arms Control law to use only for the closest U.S. security partners, such as NATO members and Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

They would also be available only for arms and military services that directly respond to a physical threat, and only if most of the materiel could be delivered within two months. Much of the equipment going to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will take months or years to be delivered.

Earlier on Tuesday, Representative Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, told reporters the chamber would vote on the resolutions of disapproval of the arms deals after it returns to Washington on July 9 following next week’s recess for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority in the Senate, but several joined with Democrats to call for a strong response to Riyadh, more so since the murder at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

Additional reporting by Amanda Becker; editing by G Crosse and Phil Berlowitz

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