President Donald Trump’s disregard for the separation of powers and his coziness with dictators is on display once again, this time over arms sales to Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia.
As he did last February to circumvent Congress for funding for his border wall, Trump declared a national emergency in order to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. The administration announced on Friday that it would sell $8.1 billion in weapons to the Middle Eastern countries without congressional approval.
According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 22 pending arms transfers will move forward “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity.”
“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Also on Friday, Trump announced he would send 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which is being seen as yet another step in U.S. escalations against Iran.
According to Politico, the Trump administration used a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act that allows him to bypass congressional approval in case of an emergency.
“Over and over, when Trump knows he can’t win a fight in Congress, he makes up emergency powers to get what he wants,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted in response.
“There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” Murphy said in a separate statement reported by Politico. “This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”
The arms sales will aid Saudi Arabia’s war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of civilians—a low estimate—and has caused 14 million people to face starvation. The United Nations has called the situation in Yemen the “world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.”
Earlier this month, the Senate failed to override a Trump veto of a resolution demanding an end to U.S. military support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The resolution had passed the Senate in March and the House in April. But Trump vetoed the resolution in April, calling it “an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities…” It was Trump’s second veto since taking office.
That same month, Trump spoke by telephone with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss “Saudi Arabia’s critical role in ensuring Middle East stability, maintaining maximum pressure against Iran, and the importance of human rights issues,” according to a statement from the White House.
In the Senate vote to override the veto, which failed 53-45, seven Republicans sided with Democrats. Many lawmakers from both parties viewed the resolution as punishment of the Saudi government for the kidnapping, killing, and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, Politico reported.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate and co-sponsor of the resolution, called the war in Yemen “clearly unconstitutional.”
“The United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime,” he said earlier this month.