Senate Rejects Sanders’s
Resolution to Block $650M Weapons Sale to Saudi Arabia
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol Building following a vote on October 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.ANNA MONEYMAKER / GETTY IMAGES
The Senate voted against a
bipartisan resolution to block a $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia on
Tuesday, rejecting a bid by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and progressive and
Republican lawmakers to stop the sale.
The resolution was voted down 67 to 30. Most Republicans voted
against the resolution, except for Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Mike Lee
(Utah), who had teamed up with Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and
others in the Democratic caucus to introduce the measure. Twenty-one Democrats
joined Republicans in voting no.
Advocates of the resolution say
the weapons sale will help Saudi Arabia advance its brutal blockade of Yemen,
which is at the center of one of the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crises as
a result of the war between Houthi rebels and the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition.
Although aid groups are attempting to assist the roughly 20.7 million Yemenis —
nearly 80 percent of the country’s population — who urgently need humanitarian
assistance, the Saudi aerial blockade of the Sanaa airport has
been preventing aid from reaching citizens. Meanwhile, Yemen’s economy is on
the verge of collapse.
Human rights groups and
Yemeni-led advocacy organizations have condemned the weapons sale, and
recently sent a letter to Congress urging
lawmakers to pass the resolution. Hassan El-Tayyab, the director of Middle East
policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told Truthout that
approving the arms sale “sends a message of impunity” to Saudi Arabia and
removes key leverage that the U.S. could use to end the war.
If Saudi Arabia were to end its
blockade on the Sanaa airport, El-Tayyab said, Houthi forces would likely have
little motivation to continue cross-border attacks. “For the U.S.
to continue the support of Saudi Arabia for their defensive concerns, while not
fully embracing the diplomacy needed to lift the blockade and end the aerial
bombardment, we are essentially not addressing the root cause of the problem,”
El-Tayyab said, adding that so-called “defensive” equipment in the sale could
also be used to enforce the blockade.
In a joint statement released by the Congressional
Progressive Caucus, Rep. Ilhan Omar and caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal
(Washington) said the blockade has almost completely blocked medical supplies
from entering the war-torn country. The blockade has also “amounted to a death
sentence” for Yemenis seeking care abroad, they said.
“The world’s largest
humanitarian crisis is escalating. Last month, Saudi Arabia tightened its
blockade on Yemen, permitting just 3 percent of the fuel the country needs into
Yemen’s major port,” the lawmakers wrote. “Saudi warplanes enforce a blockade
on Yemen’s airspace, threatening to shoot down commercial and humanitarian
Ahead of the vote, the White
House released a Statement of Administration Policy — a
more forceful version of a regular statement — saying that the administration
“strongly opposes” the resolution. This goes against promises Biden made during his presidential campaign,
when he vowed to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” in
response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal
Khashoggi, the dissident killed by a team of Saudi agents in 2018.
“I would end the subsidies that
we have, end the sale of material to the Saudis, who are going in and they’re
murdering children and they’re murdering innocent people, and so they have to
be held accountable,” Biden said at the time.
In the statement, the White
House claimed that the arms sale will only go toward defensive actions for
Saudi Arabia, therefore, it won’t contradict Biden’s previous pledge to help end the war. Sen. Chris Murphy
(D-Connecticut), a longtime critic of Saudi Arabia’s role in the war,
also voted against blocking the sale, citing
the same reasons as the White House.
The arms sale divided the
Democratic caucus, with a majority of Democrats lining up against Biden and
voting for the resolution.
“The United States must do
everything in our power to bring this brutal and horrific war to an end,”
Sanders said on the Senate floor before the vote
on Tuesday. “Exporting more missiles to Saudi Arabia does nothing but further
this conflict and pour more gasoline on an already raging fire.”
“Why in the world would the
United States reward such a regime which has caused such pain in Yemen with
more weapons?” Sanders asked. “My friends, the answer is we
Paul also condemned the sale
before the vote. “We could stop this war if we really had the will to do it,”
Paul said. “All of America should be appalled
at the humanitarian disaster caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen.” When the
resolution was introduced, Paul said the sale, if allowed to
advance, would send a message to Saudi Arabia that their “reprehensible
behavior” should be rewarded.
The U.S. has provided the Saudi-led coalition with
billions of dollars in weapons, training and military support, playing an
instrumental role in the destruction of Yemen for nearly seven years. Donald Trump in particular
was determined to support Saudi Arabia, going so far as to veto several bipartisan measures to stop
weapons sales to the country during his tenure. In 2018, Sanders and allied
Republicans led the Senate in passing a historic war powers resolution to end the
U.S. role in the war, which was not authorized by Congress. The resolution died
in the GOP-controlled House.
The $650 million sale will go
on despite the wishes of the American public, which largely
disapproves of the sale. A Data for Progress poll found that 64 percent of
likely voters oppose the sale, with opposition nearly even across political
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Mike Ludwig is a staff reporter at Truthout based
in New Orleans. He is also the writer and host of “Climate Front Lines,” a podcast about the people, places
and ecosystems on the front lines of the climate crisis. Follow him on
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