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Senate Rejects Bid to Stop Sale of Weapons to Saudi Arabia

The $650M transaction will move ahead in light of the Yemen conflict

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate rejected a bid from a bipartisan group of lawmakers to block the Biden administration from selling over $650 million worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

The Senate’s rejection allows the deal to proceed despite the gulf nation’s consistent violation of human rights.

The motion, introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, was rejected on a 30-67 vote, highlighting the ongoing debates in Congress over U.S. sales of weapons to the country.

“We could stop this war if we really had the will to do it,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “All of America should be appalled at the humanitarian disaster caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen.”

Seeking to stop the arms sale alongside Paul were Sens. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, as well as Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Patty Murray of Washington.

“The United States must do everything in our power to bring this brutal and horrific war to an end,” Sanders said from the Senate floor. “Exporting more missiles to Saudi Arabia does nothing but further this conflict and pour more gasoline on an already raging fire.”

This isn’t the first time a bipartisan group of lawmakers has attempted to block the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. 

Congress repeatedly tried to stop former President Donald Trump from selling billions worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. These attempts forced the then-president to issue a handful of vetoes.

Biden himself made promises in his presidential campaign bid in November 2019 to make the Saudis “pariahs” while promising that he was “not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them.”

But since his election in 2020, Biden has reversed course.

In a statement, the administration decried efforts to block the sale, arguing such action would “undermine the President’s commitment to aid in our partner’s defenses at a time of increased missile and drone attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the arms sale, said blocking it would further diminish U.S. influence in the world. “It would give the world yet another reason to doubt the resolve of the United States and it would give our biggest adversaries a new foothold to exert their influence over a rapidly changing and important region,” said McConnell.

Saudi Arabia has long been one of the U.S.’s most trusted allies in an unstable region of the world. However, that bond has been tested in recent years, most notably by the country’s leading role in a civil war with nearby Yemen. The civil war has blocked the flow of basic necessities like fuel, food and medicine to the Yemeni people. The bond has been additionally tested by the role Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played in the assassination of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Both realities have called into question the alliance between both nations. 

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