House to vote on limiting U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia on eve of Biden trip

Push by progressive wing of Democrats could undermine president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Saudi Arabia

The Democrats’ liberal wing is trying to limit the administration’s ability to sell weapons  to Saudi Arabia ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom.

Progressive lawmakers have introduced several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act hoping to slow military aid to Riyadh.

The State Department says the U.S. boasts more than $126 billion in active military sales with Saudi Arabia, making it one of the largest recipients of American weaponry.  

The Democratic lawmakers proposing the limitations cite Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war and other human rights concerns, such as the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told The Hill that “justice is still waiting” regarding Khashoggi. “And to me, that means you suspend normal relations with a country whose leader did that. And so, I think we need some legislative guidance and direction circumscribing that relationship.”

An amendment Connolly is sponsoring, along with fellow Democrat Reps. Tom Malinowski (New Jersey) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), would impose temporary limits on weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and require reports and actions related to Khashoggi’s death.

The other amendment, which is sponsored by seven Democrats, would require the State Department to monitor whether U.S. weaponry  have been used in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition in “substantial violation of relevant agreements with countries participating in the coalition,” according to The Hill.

Votes on the amendments are expected later this week.

Biden last year released a declassified intelligence report saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved Khashoggi’s killing and also halted backing for Saudi-led operations in Yemen.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the Biden administration was considering lifting the U.S. ban on sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., told The Hill that “I don’t think the president should be going back on his word” by approving more military sales to the Saudis.