After a series of Saudi-led airstrikes that reportedly killed and wounded civilians in Yemen, members of both the House and the Senate have introduced legislation to block a $1.15 billion arms sale that would supply the longtime American ally with a fresh contingent of tanks.
The new bipartisan resolution, proposed Tuesday by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), comes a little more than a week after its companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) and Democrats Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Al Franken (Minn.). The Senate resolution is expected to be voted on Wednesday.
The growing opposition to the sale underlines the growing concern in Congress about the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and how U.S. arms and equipment are being used there.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen is bombing innocent civilians in Yemen. When hospitals and schools become military targets, this is cause for serious concern, not just for our national security but also for our moral standing around the world,” Lieu said in a statement. “The United States of America should not be aiding and abetting these atrocities and should immediately halt any activity to sell additional arms to the Saudis.”
The sale is likely to go through, as there is probably not enough support in Congress to block the deal, which the White House has approved.
The deal to send up to 153 M1A1/A2 battle tanks, 33 recovery vehicles and the supporting equipment, including heavy machine guns, smoke grenade launchers, thermal sights and ammo, was approved by the State Department early last month. The tanks are meant to at least partly replace some of the vehicles damaged during fighting in Yemen. Three weeks after the sale was announced, 64 members of Congress wrote an open letter to President Obama asking him to halt the deal in the wake of reported Saudi misconduct in its campaign in Yemen.
On Tuesday, when asked about Paul’s measure to block the sale, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the senator from Kentucky “has a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire Middle East.”
Since coming to office in 2009, the Obama administration has facilitated more than $100 billion in over 40 arms sales to Saudi Arabia, more than any other administration in history, according to a report in the Security Assistance Monitor.
The lawmakers’ opposition comes after the White House moved to stop the shipment of more than 400 U.S.-built cluster munitions following reports by human rights groups that the bombs had been used in airstrikes that wounded and killed Yemeni civilians.
Now in its second year, the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen has been repeatedly criticized for indiscriminately bombing civilian areas. In August, Saudi forces were accused of bombing a school and a hospital within a few days, killing dozens, including children.
The Houthis, who overthrew the Yemeni government in 2014 and now control Sanaa, the capital, also are responsible for targeting civilian areas, according to human rights groups.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.