WASHINGTON — The House gave final passage on Wednesday to a series of measures that would block the sale of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sending to President Trump a fresh rebuke of his administration’s efforts to circumvent Congress to help Persian Gulf allies prosecute a disastrous war in Yemen.
A scattering of Republicans and the House’s lone independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, joined Democrats in three back-to-back votes, submitting for the record their stewing anger at Mr. Trump’s resolute support of Saudi Arabia and his use of emergency powers to sidestep Congress, this time with a declaration of an emergency over Iran.
“If the administration wants to sell these weapons, they should follow the law — not misuse it — and come to Congress,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, the New York Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Iran emergency, he continued, was “phony” and devised “to trample on this body’s constitutional duties.”
It is the second time in recent months that Congress has passed bipartisan legislation condemning the administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Lawmakers in both parties have been incensed that the president has done nothing to punish the kingdom for the grisly killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Virginia-based Washington Post columnist, even after the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.
No other foreign policy issue has created as large a rift between the president and Congress, and the vote to block the arms sales deepens the divide. But the outrage on Capitol Hill has limits, particularly in the president’s own party. The measures approved on Wednesday, and already passed by the Senate, are likely to meet the same fate as the resolution to end military support to the war in Yemen: death by veto. Republicans are unlikely to provide enough votes to override what would be Mr. Trump’s third veto of his presidency.
The White House announced the munitions sales in May, invoking an emergency provision in the Arms Export Control Act to allow American companies to sell $8.1 billion worth of munitions in 22 pending transfers. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are waging an air war in Yemen that has come under sharp criticism from Congress and human rights organizations. A State Department official, R. Clarke Cooper, testified before the Senate last week that the munitions had yet to be delivered, nearly 50 days after the emergency had been declared.
Members of Congress from both parties had been holding up arms sales from American companies to Persian Gulf nations and trying to end United States military support for the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has resulted in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. But by declaring an emergency over Iran, a move that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed hard for, the administration was able to blow through lawmakers’ holds and the 30-day review period Congress normally receives to examine a sale.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged his colleagues to vote down the resolutions even though he had previously described the use of emergency authority “unfortunate” and argued that not all 22 sales necessitated emergency certifications.
“The decision to move forward with these arms sales is part of a larger effort to deter Iran,” Mr. McCaul said. “A key part of that effort is to empower greater burden sharing by enhancing the defense capabilities of our allies. These sales provide more options for deterring Iran that do not all depend on U.S. intervention.”
Lawmakers have never successfully blocked an arms sale, but presidents historically have worked with Congress to make concessions after legislators voice opposition. Administrations have also seldom used the emergency provision in the Arms Export Control Act.
When President Ronald Reagan notified Congress in 1984 of the administration’s intent to sell Saudi Arabia the stinger missile system, citing Iraqi attacks on Iranian oil facilities and Iranian attacks on Kuwaiti and Saudi ships, the legislative opposition was so swift that Mr. Reagan withdrew the sales from consideration. Two years later, when his administration announced its intent to make the sale a second time, Congress moved to block it, spurring a veto.
With the threat of Mr. Trump’s vetoes looming large — and apparently little appetite to override them — some lawmakers have been casting about for an alternative the president might accept.
This month, Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican and Trump loyalist who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation that would seek to reset the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia. It would also punish members of the royal family, denying visas to those in the Saudi government up to the minister level until the administration can certify that the country has made progress on broad human rights issues.
That legislation is expected to be considered by the committee next week. But underscoring how divided lawmakers are on how to respond, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of the president’s closest congressional allies, and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the panel, will most likely push to amend the legislation to match their harsher legislation that would place sanctions on the crown prince and suspend arms sales to the country.
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