WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) issued the following statement after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved their bipartisan legislation limiting the ability of the President to skip Congressional approval of proposed arms sales by invoking an “emergency.”
The Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act restricts the circumstances under which the existing emergency authorities in the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) can be used to waive the requirement of Congressional review and possible disapproval before export licenses and authorizations can be issued by the State Department. Secretary of State Pompeo recently abused these authorities to enable 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by claiming a generic emergency threat from Iran. Today’s approval comes after the Senate in response passed 22 separate joint resolutions of disapproval last week, blocking the Trump Administration from moving forward with any of those proposed sales.
“As the Senate already confirmed on a bipartisan basis, the Administration’s ‘emergency’ argument to jam through eight billion dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without Congressional approval simply does not pass muster. In approving this legislation, the Committee is taking another leap forward in creating further accountability against any abuses of this nature and standing up for congressional oversight,” said Senator Menendez. “The emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act should be used only for real emergencies and as rare exceptions for our closest allies for whom we can vouch for. Congress is a co-equal branch of government and I am proud to be joined by my colleagues in once again asserting our institutional prerogative.”
“This bill is a prudent and timely response to Secretary Pompeo’s flagrant misuse of the emergency exception in order to circumvent congressional review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” said Senator Leahy. “If the State Department cannot be trusted to apply the law as intended and that previous administrations respected, we have no choice but to take action to reaffirm the balance between the legislative and executive branches of government on such a critical issue as this.”
“Manufacturing emergencies to bypass Congress is the president’s tool du jour to achieve his policy goals without oversight,” said Senator Murphy. “We saw him do it when he went to build his border wall and we saw him do it with the recent arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Congress needs to reassert our constitutional authority by preventing this administration from bypassing Congress to sell weapons to partners that act contrary to our values and interests. Chopping up U.S. residents and torturing others should not be rewarded. What the president is doing runs contrary to our Founding Fathers’ vision and we must exercise congressional oversight to ensure our actions abroad align with values at home—full stop.”
The SAFE Act restricts the existing emergency authorities in the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to be available only for our closest security treaty allies and security partner countries - NATO countries and Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand (“NATO+5”). Further, such authorities will only be available for arms and services that directly respond to or counter a physical threat, and three-quarter’s of which can be delivered within 2 months. The legislation also requires the President to issue an individual determination and detailed justification for each arms sale involved, which is already implicit in the AECA.
A copy of the legislation can be found here