Trump Wins Veto Fight With Senate to Allow Arms Sales to Saudis

Daniel Flatley

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate lost a bid to override President Donald Trump’s veto and block arms sales to Saudi Arabia to punish the kingdom for the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The votes Monday demonstrate the limits of Congress’ ability to act as a check on the president’s policies, even on foreign policy issues where some Republicans oppose the president’s position. Only a handful of GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to override the vetoes. None of the three resolutions got more than 46 votes -- far short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Saudi Arabia has been targeting civilians in its war against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.

“There are few days in this body when we can say our votes will save lives,” Menendez of New Jersey said on the Senate floor just before the votes. “Today is such a day.“

The three resolutions were intended to halt what House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called “the most controversial and significant sales contemplated,” including precision-guided munitions for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Lawmakers are increasingly questioning the war in Yemen that has resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Congress had passed the measures with support from both parties after Trump used an emergency declaration to allow $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and other countries over congressional objections.

Trump vetoed the measures on July 24, saying that blocking the sales “would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.” It was the third veto of his administration and the second related to Saudi Arabia.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Trump ally who has clashed with the president on this issue, had said last week that he wasn’t optimistic the override effort would succeed.

“I doubt that’ll happen but we’ll try,” said Graham of South Carolina.

The day after Trump issued his vetoes, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a new measure that would halt arms sales to the kingdom and impose sanctions on those found responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, including Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman if he is found to have played a role in the murder. The measure is sponsored by Menendez and three Republicans, including Graham.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, Laurie Asséo

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.