Congressional Republicans are squaring off against the Obama administration’s proposed $1 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, which lawmakers say will embolden Riyadh with enough firepower to continue its brutal intervention in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
The deal would provide Saudi forces with over 150 M1A2 Abrams battle tanks, along with supplies of ammunition and various shipments of small arms, to replace equipment lost in the Yemen war, according to the White House.
Administration officials notified Congress of the pending sale in August. Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift and confrontational.
More than 60 House Republicans and Democrats sent a letter to President Obama shortly after the announcement, demanding that the White House provide details on how the administration planned to pressure Riyadh to limit civilian casualties in Yemen.
Over 6,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands more wounded in fighting over the past year between Yemeni government forces and Houthi rebels.
The Houthi, a Sunni separatist sect in the country, forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in 2015. Since then, government factions loyal to the deposed Hadi regime, backed primarily by Saudi forces, have been battling Houthi forces for control.
But Riyadh’s heavy-handed strategy to defeat the Houthis has generated outrage among human rights groups. A devastating aerial campaign has reportedly included the use of cluster bombs, which have been banned under international rules of war.
“As the humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate, anti-American sentiment is spiraling as the local population blames the U.S. for the thousands of civilian deaths resulting from the Saudis’ bombing campaign,” Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement.
“This will come back to haunt us,” he said. “It’s time that we put real conditions on our military aid to the Saudis.”
Mr. Murphy and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, are pushing legislation to block the weapons sale to the Saudis until the Obama administration puts such conditions in place.
Their legislation was introduced late last week. But with the legislative calendar quickly coming to a close, it remains unclear whether the bill can get enough traction before the end of the congressional session.