Senate Fails to Override Trump Veto on Saudi Arms Bills

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate fell short Monday of overriding President Donald Trump’s veto of three resolutions that would have stopped part of an $8.1 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Though a majority of senators voted in favor of overriding Trump’s veto and reviving the legislation, the chamber did not reach the required two-thirds majority Monday evening.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the White House on March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The resolutions would have blocked parts of the sale of so-called smart bombs and their components to countries including Saudi Arabia. Trump advanced the sale in May, using rarely cited emergency powers to bypass congressional approval of the deal.

The Senate passed a package of 22 separate resolutions in June and the House picked three to pass on July 17, taking aim at the shipments that were set to go out the soonest. Trump followed through on a threat and vetoed all three resolutions last week.

Trump highlighted tensions with Iran when he initially declared the emergency, but Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who helped lead the effort to block the deal, said the Trump administration has not shown what the threat from Iran was that justified fast-tracking the sales.

Menendez said the administration has “had other motives” to push the deal through and that various officials have offered different justifications for why the deals are critical.

Meanwhile in the Democrat-controlled House on Monday, the Oversight Committee published a report that sheds light on how the Trump administration’s friendliness toward Saudi Arabia is benefiting individuals in the president’s orbit.

The 50-page report details how Tom Barrack, a top campaign donor and personal friend of Trump who also chaired the president’s inaugural committee, tried to get top jobs in the administration, including as the special envoy to the Middle East and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, at the same time as he was pressing the administration on its nuclear arms deal with Saudi Arabia, requesting that the Saudis not face certain requirements as part of the bargain.

House investigators tied Barrack’s interests to those of IP3 International, a company that was looking to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.

IP3 said the plan would be hindered if the administration made the transfer of the nuclear technology contingent on Saudi Arabia agreeing not to enrich nuclear fuel or to risk nuclear proliferation.

At one point, Barrack shared with Saudi and Emirati officials a draft of an energy speech Trump was supposed to give in May 2016, later passing along their suggestions to then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, the report says.

IP3 also tried to nail down a $120 million investment from Mohammed bin Salman, now the Saudi crown prince, in exchange for a 10% share in the company, according to the report.

Other officials with IP3 tried to make connections with other top Trump administration officials, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Such interactions between IP3 officials and the Trump administration “virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests,” the report says.

“The documents show the administration’s willingness to let private parties with close ties to the president wield outsized influence over U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia,” it continues. “These new documents raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the president’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

In the Senate, Menendez said that Saudi Arabia’s conduct in its ongoing military campaign in Yemen, the very behavior that first emboldened the Senate to block the arms deal, has continued.

“Many of us expected the president to use his veto powers – that’s his right – but the constitutional, strategic and moral imperatives that led the United States Senate to reject the sale of these arms six weeks ago still stand today,” Menendez said Monday, urging his colleagues to override the veto.

In vetoing the legislation, the White House said it would be a blow to relationships the U.S. maintains in the region and threaten security in the Middle East at a particularly uncertain time.

Lawmakers have given increased attention to the Trump administration’s stance towards Saudi Arabia, especially since the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October. Khashoggi was a critic of the Saudi royal family and was murdered when he went to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.

Earlier this year, Congress also attempted to block U.S. aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but was similarly unable to override the eventual Trump veto.

Republicans last week attempted to counter the Democrats’ findings in their own report last week, saying the administration has not rushed the nuclear energy tech deal and that Barrack never actually landed a job in the administration.

“The evidence before the committee to date does not support allegations that the Trump administration committed wrongdoing in considering the transfer of civilian nuclear energy technology to Saudi Arabia,” the Republican report states.

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