The action was another violation by Mr. Trump of established norms, if not law. The administration’s notification did not explain what “emergency” allowed it to use a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act, which gives Congress authority to review weapons sales. Though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the need for Arab nations “to deter and defend themselves” against Iran, some of the arms being provided will not be available for years, which means they are not relevant to the civil war in Yemen or rising tensions elsewhere in the region. Some of the materiel is going to Jordan, which is not at war in Yemen or anywhere else.
The maneuver extends Mr. Trump’s defiance of Congress’s rightful role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. Members of both parties had placed holds on sales to Saudi Arabia, because of its repeated and evidently deliberate bombing of civilian targets in Yemen and because of its refusal to hold senior officials accountable for human rights offenses, including the murder and dismemberment of journalist and Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. To permanently stop the sales, Congress would have had to pass legislation; Mr. Trump could have and should have allowed the review process to play out.
Instead, he has once again ignored congressional authority in order to favor Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and who, according to the CIA, probably ordered the murder of Khashoggi. Earlier this year, Mr. Trump failed to meet a legal requirement that he report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the crown prince’s responsibility for that killing.
If the new gift to the crown prince is allowed to stand, Mr. Trump will have established a new precedent: Presidents may sell arms anywhere in the world without congressional review simply by claiming an unspecified emergency. Even supporters of Mr. Trump and of arms sales to Saudi Arabia ought to be troubled by this. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is at least thinking about it: In a statement, he said he was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”
Mr. Risch has a ready remedy: He can allow a vote in his committee on legislation to block the sales until the Saudi regime stops bombings in Yemen and meets other basic conditions, including the release of women’s rights activists it has detained and tortured. Congress has an obligation to rein in Mr. Trump’s wanton embrace of the Saudi strongman; it also must defend its basic foreign policy prerogatives. It’s time for Mr. Risch to show whether he is up to that challenge.