Senate signals support for Biden administration's planned missile sale to Saudi Arabia

By Briana Reilly / December 8, 2021 at 8:38 AM

Senators Tuesday night signaled their support for the Biden administration’s plan to sell up to 280 AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles to Saudi Arabia, as lawmakers declined to consider a resolution aiming to block the transaction.

The motion to discharge the joint resolution from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed on a 30-67 vote, an attempt that came in the month after the State Department approved the potential sale.

The sale, which would also include 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers and other equipment, is valued at $650 million. In announcing the deal last month, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s release said the transaction would bolster Saudi Arabia’s stock of medium-range missiles for its fighter aircraft fleet and “will further strengthen the interoperability between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

In the days after Congress was officially notified of the potential sale, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to introduce the measure, which now includes six additional Democratic sponsors. In the House, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is the lead on the companion bill, which has garnered 11 Democratic cosponsors.

Supporting consideration of the measure in the Senate were some two dozen Democrats, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a cosponsor of the effort, and others. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Senate Armed Services Committee chair, were among the Democrats who opposed it. The vast majority of Republicans also voted against it.

Ahead of the vote, Menendez and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were among those who spoke against the measure.

“A vote to block the sale of defensive military systems to Saudi Arabia would undermine one of our most important regional partners,” McConnell said, warning the country is “surrounded by violent threats conceived, funded and orchestrated by Iran.”

Sanders, meanwhile, joined Paul in decrying Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, saying further arms deals do “nothing but further this conflict and pour more gasoline on [an] already raging fire.”

“Let me be very clear: As the Saudi government continues to wage its devastating war and repress its own people, we should not be rewarding them with more arms sales,” he said.

Congress has never successfully blocked a potential arms sale through a joint resolution of disapproval, according to the Congressional Research Service. In order to do so, lawmakers must first pass legislation expressing their disapproval of the sale and simultaneously be capable of overriding an assumed presidential veto.

Still, the report notes that Congress is able to block or modify a potential arms transaction “at any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved.”