Trump is going around Congress to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, and a top senator warns it's an 'incredibly dangerous precedent'

FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Oval Office to speak to the news media before boarding Marine One to depart for travel to Japan from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah MillisFILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump boards Marine One to depart for JapanReuters

  • President Donald Trump is bypassing Congress to sell $2 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia by invoking a loophole in the Arms Control Act.
  • The loophole gives the State Department authority to sell arms during if an "emergency exists." The Trump administration has reportedly referenced the recent tensions with Iran to justify the sale.
  • Saudi Arabia is currently involved in a bloody war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Thousands of civilians have been killed.
  • Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who's been among the most vocal critics of US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, warned this sets a dangerous precedent for future presidents.
  • "If he does this it allows every president to...sell weapons to the Middle East without a check from Congress," Murphy said.
  • Visit INSIDER's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump is seeking to bypass Congress to sell billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is waging a devastating war in Yemen, in a move that a top Democratic senator warns would set a "dangerous precedent" for future presidents.

The Trump administration formally notified Congress on Friday that it will use a loophole in a federal law to make the $2 billion sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, circumventing congressional authority over arms sales.

Under the Arms Control Act, the State Department can issue an emergency declaration to sell weapons to other countries if it is determined that "an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States," according to The New York Times.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Associated Press that the Trump administration has not explained its reasoning to lawmakers beyond citing the unspecified threat from Iran that's dominated headlines in recent weeks and sparked fears of war.

The main players in the Yemen conflict are the Saudi-led coaltion, backed by the US, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Trump administration's reference to the tensions with Iran as the alleged emergency in justification of this new arms sale is conceivably linked to Tehran's support for the Houthis in Yemen.

This also comes after months of congressional opposition to US support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict, which was largely inspired by the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Last month, Trump issued the second veto of his presidency after Congress passed a resolution to end US support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.

'If he does this it allows every president to...sell weapons to the Middle East without a check from Congress'

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who's been among the most vocal critics of US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, spoke with INSIDER about the impending sale on Wednesday.

"The reason the president may be interested in using this emergency power is because he knows his policy has gone off of the rails and he knows Congress will...disapprove of this arms sale," Murphy said.

"If Congress doesn't stand up for its prerogative on the Arms Control Act, then we'll permanently be out of the business of having influence on the president of who he sells arms to," Murphy added. "If he does this it allows every president to...sell weapons to the Middle East without a check from Congress."

Read more: 'We just bombed a school bus': Top Democratic senator slams the US for its involvement in bloody Yemen war after bus full of children hit in airstrike

The senator said that if Trump gets away with this he's not sure "why any president would ever come to Congress to approve an arms sale" moving forward.

Murphy is deeply concerned that Congress's constitutionally-mandated war powers are eroding.

"The Founding Fathers invested in Congress the sole responsibility for deciding when the US engages in hostilities overseas," Murphy told INSIDER. "We declare war but we also have the ability to reject arms sales because those arms sales often have a lot to do with our interests and risks militarily abroad."

In a statement on Friday after the Trump administration officially informed Congress of its intentions, Murphy rejected the notion there is an emergency that justifies selling "bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen" and said "doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there" and "sets an incredibly dangerous precedent."

Menendez echoed Murphy's sentiments in a statement, accusing Trump of "destroying the productive and decades-long working relationship on arms sales between the Congress and the executive branch."

The US is the top exporter of arms worldwide, and Saudi Arabia its top customer

The US is the source of approximately 36% of the world's military exports, according to a March report from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), making it the top exporter of arms worldwide. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is its top customer, with 70% of the Saudi arsenal coming from the US.

"There's been a very significant growth in arms supplies to Saudi Arabia by the US," SIPRI's Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher and Middle East specialist, told PRI in March. "To Saudi Arabia, the US supplies a very wide range of arms. The most important types of arms include combat aircraft, tanks and missiles. It includes very advanced sensors and intelligence gathering equipment, often on planes."

Wezeman said that in the coming years the US will also sell "frigates and other ships" to the Saudis.

"So, really, the whole package of weapons which Saudi Arabia wants to have is what the US is willing to supply and already has supplied," he added.

Over 70,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including by US-made bombs

The war in Yemen has killed over 70,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project, which also found that about 4,800 of approximately 7,000 civilian deaths since 2016 were caused by the Saudi-led coalition via direct targeting.

On average nearly 100 civilian deaths or injuries were recorded each week in Yemen last year, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), in a conflict that has catalyzed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Read more: Sen. Chris Murphy says Trump is blindly risking conflict with Iran and could spark a war even if he doesn't want one

A bomb used in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in August 2018 in Yemen that hit a school bus - killing and wounding dozens of people, including children under 10 - was reportedly a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, the top US defense contractor.

A munitions expert said the bomb was sold to Saudi Arabia as part of an arms deal approved by the State Department, CNN reported.

Incidents like the school bus bombing, as well as Khashoggi's killing, are precisely why an increasing number of lawmakers have spoken out against US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. But Trump has refused to budge on this issue, citing the benefits of arms sales, despite bipartisan criticism.

"Every bomb sold to Saudi Arabia is another bomb for Saudi bomber jets to drop on Yemeni hospitals, weddings, markets, and school buses," Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna said in a statement on Friday responding to Trump's arms sale announcement.

Khanna, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and has played a leading role in pushing for an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, added, "Any claim from President Trump that selling weapons to Saudi Arabia constitutes an 'emergency' is a farcical attempt to obscure the shameful reality that 'made in the U.S.A' bombs are killing innocent civilians and fueling the world's worst humanitarian emergency in Yemen."

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