The Senate voted on June 20 to block the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The resolution, which passed 53–45, was largely symbolic, since President Donald Trump has promised to veto the legislation.
The White House said stopping the sales “would send a message that the United States is abandoning its partners and allies at the very moment when threats to them are increasing.” The United States military confirmed on June 20 that Iran, a mutual adversary of the United States and Saudi Arabia, shot down a U.S. high-altitude drone.
The Senate was scheduled to hold two more votes on June 20 on measures to stop the arms sales and these also are expected to pass. All of the resolutions are expected to clear the House, but supporters of the measure are clear they won’t gain enough support to overcome the president’s veto.
The votes for the measure were tallied as tensions between the United States and Iran escalated to the highest level since Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with the Islamic regime. Trump said, “Iran made a very big mistake,” but created space for Tehran to apologize by suggesting the downing of the drone may have been accidental. Congressional leaders received a closed-door briefing on the situation at the Capitol.
The arms sales to Saudi Arabia were approved in May after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited threats from Iran to declare an emergency and secure the approval. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have recently executed several attacks on Saudis, including the launch of a ballistic missile that struck a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia.
“To reject these sales at this time and under these circumstances is to reward recent Iranian aggression and to encourage further Iranian escalation,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said.
The blocking of the sale would also “encourage miscalculation on the part of Iranians, which will be disastrous,” Risch added.
The $8 billion arms sale included precision-guided munitions, ammunition, bombs, and maintenance support for aircraft.
The view of some congressmen about the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia soured last year after the murder of U.S.-based columnist and Muslim Brotherhood advocate Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Russia consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.
The Trump administration ultimately sanctioned the individual perpetrators of the murder, but defended Washington’s alliance with Riyadh. Pompeo has called the kingdom a “powerful force for stability in an otherwise fraught Middle East.”
Some lawmakers have opposed the alliance for years, due to concern about the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he opposed the arms sale due to the conflict in Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians and left millions more on the brink of starvation. Menendez called the humanitarian situation “an incomprehensible moral tragedy.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) delivered a speech from the Senate floor criticizing Saudi Arabia’s behavior as personally “disrespectful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.