Senate resolution to block Biden's arms sales to Saudi Arabia fails as some Democrats join most Republicans

Senate resolution to block Biden's arms sales to Saudi Arabia fails as some Democrats join most Republicans
(Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, delivers remarks during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

The United States Senate on Tuesday evening voted down a joint resolution that would have blocked the proposed sale of $650 million worth of U.S. armaments to Saudi Arabia, weapons critics said will help exacerbate a war in Yemen that is driving one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

In a 67-30 vote, the upper chamber rejected S.J. Res. 31, which was introduced by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and would have halted the sale of 280 Raytheon AIM-120C-7/C-8 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, 596 LAU-128 missile rail launchers, along with spare parts, support, and logistical services to the Saudi monarchy for use in its war against Yemen.

"My simple question is, why in the world would the United States reward a regime that has caused such pain in Yemen with more weapons," Sanders tweeted after the vote. "The answer is we should not."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who voted to block the arms sale, tweeted after the vote that "the war in Yemen has had devastating humanitarian impacts and we must end it as swiftly as possible. Selling more weapons to a key party to the conflict when there's been no progress does the opposite.

President Joe Biden's administration had "strongly opposed" the resolution, claiming the missiles would be used for Saudi "defenses." U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was a member of Raytheon's board of directors prior to becoming Pentagon chief.

Democrats who voted to sink the measure included Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Chris Murphy (Conn.).

Murphy—a self-described "leading critic of the Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen"—told The Intercept that he supported the missile transfer because it is "a true defensive sale."

"With the increased pace of Houthi drones coming into Saudi territory, it is actually important for them to have the ability to shoot them," he explained.

Democrats who supported the resolution include Cory Booker (N.J.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

Only two Republicans—co-sponsors Paul and Lee—voted for the measure.

Prior to Tuesday's vote, Sanders delivered a Senate floor speech urging passage of the resolution.

"Let me be very clear: As the Saudi government continues to wage its devastating war in Yemen and repress its own people, we should not be rewarding them with more arms sales," he said. "We should be demanding that they end the devastating war in Yemen, which has killed over 230,000 people in one of the poorest countries on Earth."

According to a November estimate by the United Nations Development Program, the death toll from Yemen's war will reach 377,000 by the end of 2021, with 70% of those killed under the age of five.

In the House, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar—who has introduced her own joint resolution against the proposed arms sale—also urged their upper chamber colleagues to approve the measure.

Prior to the vote, Omar asked: "Why are we selling weapons to one of the worst human rights abusers in the world?"

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