Senate votes on motion to block part of Saudi Arms deal

During his visit to Saudi Arabia last month, President Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with the Arab country. The deal, meant to help bolster Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities, included top-of-the-line equipment and services. A move to block part of the deal was avoided Tuesday, as Senators voted 47-53 to advance the resolution.

According to their motion, some senators wanted to block the proposed sale of arms to be used by the Royal Saudi Air Force, reportedly accounting for $500 million of the $110 billion sale.

GOP Sens. Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY) Todd Young (IN), and Dean Heller (NV) voted with most Democrats to stop the arms sale, while Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (FL), Joe Manchin (WV) and Mark Warner (VA) voted against the measure.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had previously indicated opposition to efforts to block the sale, along with other top Republicans. “As we know, some have raised the issue of Saudi conduct of that war, but blocking this arms sale will diminish Saudi capability to target with precision. …Part of the training provided to Saudi Arabia will be on subjects such as avoiding civilian casualties,” McConnell said.

McConnell went on to say that Saudi Arabia is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East. McConnell said blocking the deal would not be the right message to send, as Saudi Arabia continues in “two important struggles.”

Also supporting the deal was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said blocking the deal would be “crazy.” McCain said he and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) have been urging Saudi Arabia to avoid civilian casualties with better arms. “I’ve been putting pressure on them for years and years and years, and they have made some improvements. …They’ve got a long way to go,” he told reporters.

Those who supported the motion to halt the deal say they wanted to send a message to Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Rand Paul sent out a flurry of tweets on the matter. Addressing concerns about the country, he wrote: “Saudi Arabia is causing a humanitarian crisis with a war in Yemen. It funds extremism worldwide. Abuses human rights. Stop arming them now. We must stand up and tell Saudi Arabia ENOUGH. They are the biggest exporter of extremism and hatred in the world.”

On the Senate floor, Paul spoke next to a poster of a child he said died in Yemen’s civil war.

The Saudi government has said claims that Saudi bombings have hit civilian sites in Yemen are “vastly exaggerated.”

Following Tuesday’s vote, both Paul and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) pledged continue speaking out on Saudi Arabia.

“I think Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the military escalation that both President Obama and President Trump have pursued within the Middle East,” Murphy told reporters during a conference call.

Paul declined to say if he and Murphy would attempt to halt other parts of the arms sale, preferring to wait and see if conditions within Yemen changed.

“I think also there needs to be a period of time to see if there is a change in Saudi warfare tactics,” Paul reportedly said.

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