The US Senate has supported a resolution that opposes President Donald Trump’s plan to complete weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates using a loophole, citing concerns about the two Arab regimes’ human rights records.
The upper chamber of Congress voted 53 to 45 on Thursday to approve the first of three resolutions that would block the $8.1 billion sales announced earlier this year. A second resolution passed 53 to 45, and a third vote covering the remaining 20 resolutions was approved by 51-45.
Following their approval by the Senate, the resolutions need to pass through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
The approvals came despite a call made by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting against the resolutions.
Backers of the resolutions, led by Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Lindsey Graham, said they sent a bipartisan message to Saudi Arabia that Washington is not comfortable with human rights abuses, including the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
They also expressed deep concern with Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the war in Yemen, where the two countries have been waging a war of aggression against the impoverished people since 2011.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the vote on Wednesday, after opposing lawmakers filed 22 separate resolutions of disapproval against the deals.
Opposing the resolutions, McConnell, citing tensions with Iran, said, “The timing could not be worse for the Senate to send the wrong signal.”
Lawmakers passed the measures but they may fail to garner the two-thirds majority support needed to override a possible veto by Trump who has promised to block the Senate action in order to proceed with the deals.
The bipartisan support for the deals is considered a serious rebuke to Trump especially since many of his close Republican allies, who generally have provided overwhelming support for his policies, are among the opposition this time.
The US Congress has grown increasingly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE over their devastating war against Yemen, which has killed thousands of people and caused a humanitarian crisis in the country.
Some US lawmakers have also called on the Trump administration to hold Saudi rulers, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, accountable for the murder of Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last October.
A UN rights expert said Wednesday that bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials should be investigated over the gruesome murder of the US-based Washington Post columnist.
Trump has pushed back against efforts to halt the weapons sales, arguing that Washington needs Saudis and Emiratis as important strategic partners against Iran.