Donald Trump has declared yet another national emergency just before boarding Air Force One for a round of sumo, steak and golfing in Japan. His latest declaration opens another chapter in the ongoing saga of the struggle between the executive and legislative branches over arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Trump administration has found a loophole for sidestepping Congress’ objections in the form of an obscure provision of the Arms Export Control Act which allows the sales to go through immediately, without congressional consent, if they are necessary for the national security interests of the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the leaders of several congressional committees that a national emergency existed because of Iran’s “malign activities” in the region and that the weapons sales “must occur as quickly as possible in order to deter further Iranian adventurism in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.”
However, the administration’s push for expedited sales on such shaky legal grounds is receiving bipartisan criticism from lawmakers. Republican Senator Jim Risch, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications” and even Trump’s Water-Carrier-in-Chief Lindsey Graham voiced concern that “now’s not the time to go back to business as usual with Saudi Arabia”. According to a report by Bloomberg, Graham also stated that the Senate has “tools to deal with the administration,” but he has not yet indicated how he and other lawmakers are planning to use those tools to show Trump the limits of his constitutional authority.
Opinion regarding arms sales to Saudi Arabia – both in the public and in Congress – has shifted noticeably in the wake of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and also as a result of a growing awareness of the developing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Congress had previously voted for the U.S. to terminate its support for the Saudi’s military operation against Yemen, but Trump chose to veto the resolution. He is obviously unwilling to forgo the profitable weapons deals which – according to Mike Pompeo – would total a whopping $8.1 billion and involve arms transfers to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as well as Saudi Arabia.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren bluntly called out Trump’s transparent ploy to use an emergency declaration for the benefit of a much-courted ally as well as the American weapons industry in a tweet in which she stated that “selling more weapons to Saudi Arabia doesn’t make America safer or align with our country’s values. It only benefits defense contractors and @realDonaldTrump’s alarming desire to sow chaos abroad.”
Donald Trump may have a few days to jealously view the pomp and circumstance that comes with heading an authoritarian state but if he chooses to return home afterwards, he will have to contend with increasingly incensed representatives of a democratic system who are gearing up to teach him a serious civics lesson.