WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Wednesday grilled a State Department official over President Donald Trump’s decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia without congressional review, with the top Democrat on the House panel describing the move as a “slap in the face” and Republicans also voicing objections.
Using a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act, the Trump administration sidestepped Congress to authorize the sale of $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., accused the Trump administration of pointing to threats from Iran as a “convenient excuse” to push through the deal. The top Republican on the panel, Michael McCaul, of Texas, said “the recent use of this emergency authority in my judgment was unfortunate” and warned, “we certainly hope this is a one-time exception.”
R. Clark Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, defended the sale, saying it was necessary to protect U.S. allies. He insisted that Secretary of State Pompeo remains committed to working with Congress.
Concern over U.S.-Saudi policy has been building, in part due to the heavy civilian casualties from the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The anger reached a new level last year after the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Lawmakers had previously put portions of the arms sale on hold over concerns with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and some are mounting an effort to thwart Trump’s move. In the Senate, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced more than a dozen resolutions to block the sales, but it remains to be seen whether they can pass Congress and then overcome a likely Trump veto.