Senators warn Trump admin not to bypass Congress again on arms sales

WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties on Wednesday accused the Trump administration of overstepping its authority by pushing through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies in May without congressional approval, and vowed to reassert the role of Congress in reviewing weapons deals.

Lawmakers vented their frustration at a hearing with the State Department official overseeing arms sales, C. Clarke Cooper, telling him the administration had failed to make the case why $8 billion in weapons sales had to be expedited without time for congressional oversight.

“For whatever reason, the administration — in what seems to me a not fully baked decision-making process — decided to circumvent the law, decided to circumvent the constitutional responsibility of Congress and act unilaterally,” said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Cruz added: “And don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is simply Democrats who are concerned about this.”

If the administration attempted to bypass Congress again, Cruz said he would oppose the move and predicted other Republicans would as well.

Several Republicans have joined Democrats in supporting bills disapproving of the arms sales, but President Donald Trump has promised to veto the measures. Opponents would need to secure more Republican votes to overturn a Trump veto.

Congress usually has 30 days to review all arms sales. But on May 28, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked a rarely used provision in arms control law to bypass Congress and declare an emergency to expedite the weapons deals, which he said were justified due to the threat posed by Iran.

Although the administration portrayed the arms sales as a matter of urgency to help Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan counter Iran, Cooper acknowledged after repeated questioning that the military hardware had yet to be delivered 47 days later.

Under questioning by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Cooper also acknowledged that many of the necessary contracts between the U.S. and the Arab governments buying the weapons had not been wrapped up.

“What’s the sense of the emergency?” asked Menendez.

The Democrat accused Cooper and the State Department of failing to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government as enshrined in law. Menendez said that “since you began your tenure, the [State] Department has shown only disdain for Congress and the laws that govern our arms export programs.”

Cooper defended the fast-tracked arms sales, saying it was a “one-time event.” He said intelligence had indicated a growing threat from Iran and that events since the May 28 announcement had confirmed the danger, including the downing of an unmanned American surveillance aircraft by Iranian forces.

He also said Washington needed to ensure it was a reliable supplier of arms to its allies. Otherwise, Cooper said, U.S. adversaries such as Russia or China could usurp the U.S. as a security partner.

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