Senators push vote to block Saudi arms sales after Khashoggi disappearance

Senators in both parties are gearing up to force a vote on scrapping U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid mounting frustration over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Riyadh government.

As Republicans and Democrats raise alarms over Khashoggi, whose vanishing and potential killing have been linked to the Saudis by Turkish intelligence, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Thursday that he plans to introduce a resolution of disapproval once Congress is notified of the next potential U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.

Murphy and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), his ally in pushback against the arms sales, fell four votes short of blocking a Saudi weapons deal last year — and Murphy predicted that they would fare better this time around.

“I don’t think that a military sale could pass the Senate today. I don’t think that it could pass the House,” Murphy reporters.

Murphy and 21 other senators in both parties aligned on Wednesday to urge President Donald Trump to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and sanction those responsible — even if they hailed from the Saudi government. Murphy said, however, that he’s “very doubtful” that the Trump administration would slap on sanctions.

Trump said Thursday that he’s not interested in stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia, $110 billion of which he rolled out during a trip to the kingdom last year. “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters, adding that the money from sales the U.S. lost out on would likely would flow to China or Russia instead.

However, any move that senators can make against Saudi arms deals couldn’t begin until Congress is formally notified of the next sale, which Murphy said he expects within the next 30 to 60 days. And that clock won’t start until an informal hold by the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, is relinquished.

A forthcoming portion of the U.S.-Saudi arms deal has “already been held for some time,” Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Thursday.

Menendez said Thursday that he plans to keep his informal hold going for as long as possible.

“Look, if the administration wants to blow the hold and violate the traditional norms, then they face the consequences of getting more resolutions of disapproval on the floor,” Menendez said in an interview. “And as it relates to the Saudis at this time, I think they’d better calculate. Because their calculation may be wrong, that they can sustain a vote. I think they might lose such a vote.”

Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week before he vanished, and subsequent Turkish intelligence has pointed to Saudi culpability in his disappearance. While the Saudi government has denied any responsibility in Khashoggi’s possible killing, and Trump has described relations with the longtime U.S. ally as “excellent,” Corker warned that all the evidence he’s seen suggests the Saudis killed the journalist.

What the matter “feels like to me is Saudi Arabia is responsible, and that [Khashoggi] is dead. I hope he’s alive,” Corker said. “And it’s possible that some other country was involved. But everything points to Saudi Arabia today.”

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