Trump administration bypasses Congress on Saudi arms sales, citing Iran threat

The Trump administration on Friday informed Congress the president will invoke his emergency authority to bypass lawmakers’ approval of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the threat to the United States from Iran.

The move comes as Trump announced plans Friday to send about 1,600 troops to the Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran.

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“Iran’s malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to Americans at home and abroad. We took this step of prudent diplomatic deterrence to augment our partners’ long-term capacity for self-defense and threat mitigation,” a senior State Department official told Fox News.

The official added, “Congress won’t act, but we will. “

The administration is using an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to move ahead with sales of $7 billion in precision-guided munitions, other bombs, ammo and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, without lawmakers’ approval.

“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 Friday statement.

On Capitol Hill, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, said he was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”

The administration pointed out that this authority has been invoked by past presidents on multiple occasions, including in 1979, 1984, 1990 and 2006.

The plan was swiftly condemned by Democratic senators.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” said New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“President Trump circumventing Congress to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia is unacceptable,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” said Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In his notification, Pompeo said he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.” He said the transfers “must occur as quickly as possible in order to deter further Iranian adventurism in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.”

It comes as the administration has actively courted close ties with Saudi Arabia over congressional objections, notably following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based columnist for The Washington Post, by Saudi agents in October.

There is a precedent for using the emergency exemption for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Ronald Reagan invoked it in the 1980s, and both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used it for sales before the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war, respectively.

Fox News’ Rich Edson, Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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