WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will vote on Thursday on legislation seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to complete $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, lawmakers said, making clear they want a harder line against what they see as human rights abuses by the two countries.
Trump declared an emergency tied to threats from Iran in order to go ahead with the military sales in defiance of congressional objections.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced an agreement on Wednesday to hold the vote, after a group of lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, last month filed 22 separate resolutions of disapproval objecting to the deals.
Backers of the resolutions said they thought the measures had a good chance of passing both the Senate and House, but acknowledged the difficulty of garnering the two-thirds support to override an expected veto from Trump.
Bipartisan support for the action was a rare rebuke of the president by his fellow Republicans, who generally have provided overwhelming support for Trump’s policies.
There has been increasing frustration with Saudi Arabia in Congress for months, over the devastating human toll of the air campaign in Yemen it is waging with the UAE.
Many senators also want Saudi Arabia held accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
A U.N. rights investigator said on Wednesday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials should be investigated over the Khashoggi’s murder.
Trump pushed back against calls to stop weapons sales to the Saudis and UAE despite those concerns, calling the two countries important strategic partners and counterbalance to long-time U.S. enemy Iran.
But even Republicans who opposed legislation to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict, which passed Congress but was vetoed by Trump, said a message needed to be sent to Riyadh.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on this (Senate) floor that is averse to the idea that action needs to be taken,” said Republican Senator Jim Risch, the foreign relations committee chairman, noting common interests between Washington and Riyadh.
However, lawmakers said the resolutions of disapproval would not end the issue.
Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers also were working on legislation “to hold Saudi Arabia accountable” for human rights abuses and Khashoggi’s murder.
And he said the foreign relations panel would consider as soon as next week legislation that would take away the ability of Trump, or any president, to use emergency authority to sell arms to any country besides NATO members and certain other key partners.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker
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