By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic U.S. senators said on Wednesday they would introduce 22 separate joint resolutions seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to sidestep congressional review and complete more than $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Backers said the introduction of the resolutions was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”
“We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.
The effort is led by Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, one of his party’s leading foreign policy voices who is often a close Trump ally but also a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in a statement.
Many lawmakers say that the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.
Two other Republican senators – Rand Paul and Todd Young – and three Democrats – Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed – also joined the announcement.
Declaring an emergency because of tensions with Iran, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.
The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.
Announcing their plan to introduce the 22 resolutions, the senators said Trump’s “unprecedented” action is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that lawmakers were working on responses to the administration’s action and could file legislation within days.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Thomas)