US President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, Reuters reports.
The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.
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.
Lawmakers and congressional aides warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals including the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency.
"President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new 'emergency' reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there," said Senator Chris Murphy.
Murphy, a Democrat, made public on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump was considering the loophole in the Arms Control Export Act to clear the sales.
Several of Trump's fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the "holds" process would eliminate Congress' ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.
Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration's action was "unfortunate" and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.
"I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilise the long-established and codified arms sale review process," McCaul said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a "one-time event."
It is not the first time Congress and Trump have clashed over policy in the region, or the division of powers between the White House and Capitol Hill. The House and Senate voted to end U.S. military support for the campaign in Yemen earlier this year, but Trump vetoed the resolution.