Senators to force vote on Saudi weapons sale next month

Story highlights

  • Congress was notified last week of the sale, which was negotiated under Obama
  • The legislative branch has 30 days to vote to block the sale under a quirky procedure

(CNN)A bipartisan Senate trio is planning to force a vote next month on a small sliver of the $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia that President Donald Trump announced last week.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Al Franken of Minnesota introduced a resolution Thursday to block a proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia of about $500 million that includes precision-guided munitions.
Congress was notified last week of the sale, which was initially negotiated under the Obama administration, and the legislative branch has 30 days to vote to block the sale. Under a quirky procedure established by the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the senators have the ability to force a floor vote on the resolution.
    While the vote would be over just a fraction of the arms that the Trump administration has now signed off on selling to the Saudis, the senators are seeking to make it a symbolic debate on the overall agreement.
    They are objecting to Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen's civil war, where the Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Houthis is accused of targeting civilians, arguing that the weapons being sold to the Saudis by the US will lead to greater civilian casualties.
    Sen. Rand Paul emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on May 10, 2016.
    "This resolution allows us to have an overall discussion in the Middle East, which has been lacking here, and a discussion about Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen," Paul said. "The great thing about it is it cannot be avoided by leadership in either side."
    Of course, their effort is unlikely to stop the sale. They forced a similar vote against a Saudi arms sale in September 2016, but their resolution was defeated 26-71.
    Murphy predicted they could convince more senators this time around, particularly because he said the Trump administration has shown less concern about human rights violations -- in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere -- than the Obama administration did.
    "At the end of the of Obama administration, the Obama administration decided against selling precision-guided munitions to the Saudis because there was clear evidence the Saudis were using US munitions to specifically target civilians and specifically target humanitarian assets inside Yemen," Murphy said.
    "There are no strings attached to this arms sale to the Saudis, and thus these munitions we are selling to the Saudis will be used to increase the humanitarian catastrophe that exists on the ground in Yemen," Murphy added.
    Saudi Arabia was the first stop on Trump's first foreign trip, where he announced the $110 billion arms deal. In an address, Trump argued that the Saudis were key to the fight against ISIS as well as to countering Iran, which is backing the Houthis in the Yemeni civil war.
    Sen. Ben Cardin, said he had signed off on the sale under the Obama administration in an informal process, said he was still reviewing the details of the agreement with the Trump administration.
    "We had certain commitments from the Obama administration in regards to how Yemen was conducting the campaign, so we are still awaiting direction from the Trump administration," Cardin said. "There has been much less interest in the trump administration in human rights, good governance and proper management of warfare than there was under the Obama administration."