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Engel Floor Remarks on Arms Sales Resolution of Disapproval

As Delivered–

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of S.J. Res 36, S.J.Res 37, and S.J.Res. 38, three resolutions that would prevent the transfer of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Trump Administration’s phony emergency declaration designed to make an end run around Congress:

S.J. Res 36

“M. Speaker, the three measures the House will now consider are extraordinary. Extraordinary but necessary, because they respond to what I view as an extraordinary abuse of power by the Trump Administration—using a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress and push through eight billion dollars in arms sales. 

“Each of these resolutions would prohibit a specific license for the export of precision-guided munitions— ‘smart bombs’—and related components.  We are focusing on these three licenses because the weapons would be the first ones shipped.

“M. Speaker, it’s no secret that Congress has serious concerns about the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. The Saudis and their partners—and for that matter the United States—have legitimate security concerns about the efforts of Iran and its proxies to destabilize the Gulf region. 

“But as this war has dragged on, it’s become clear that the coalition has carried out its campaign with little regard for innocent life. School buses full of children destroyed in a fiery flash, weddings and funerals incinerated with no warning, civilian buildings and communities targeted. Reckless doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s gruesome. It’s contributed to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

“To make matters worse, many of the weapons used in this carnage were built in America, sold by American companies to the Saudis and their partners.

“Starting in the last Congress, when the Administration told us they were planning to go ahead with another massive sale of offensive weapons to the Saudis and Emiratis, Senator Menendez and I used the tools at our disposal to place informal holds on these transfers. We hoped that the Administration would work with us and dial up pressure on these nations to start acting responsibly.

“Now, the Administration has complained that we stopped these sales from going through for months and months. But as I said, this was an informal mechanism. The law—and I emphasize it’s the law—says that at any point, if an administration wants to go ahead with a weapons sale, it has to send a formal notification to Congress. That starts a 30-day clock. During that time, Congress can vote to stop a weapons sale.

“Did the Administration approach us to try to find a way forward? No. Did they send a formal notification, starting the process laid out in the law under which Congress can legislatively block the sale? No. What did they do? They dug up an obscure provision of the arms export law and declared an emergency to justify moving ahead with these sales. What does that mean? It means that they went around Congress. It means they went around the law.

“Now, the emergency provision does exist in law for a good reason. And if there were a real emergency—if the United States or our citizens or our allies were in immediate danger—we wouldn’t be standing here today. There would be no objection. 

“But here’s the thing, M. Speaker: there is no emergency. Do you know how I know?

“I know because nearly two months down the line, not a single weapon has been shipped! Most of the weapons haven’t even been built. In fact, one of the phony emergency declarations lets the Saudis build new facilities to manufacture weapons in their country—which I only presume would mean the Americans currently building these weapons in the United States would be out of a job.

“That’s right: Donald Trump declared an emergency to move jobs out of the United States. Good manufacturing jobs—the kind Americans fight for. He abused the law to send them abroad.

“What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and months down the road? Or requires building a new factory on foreign soil? Especially when the law only gives Congress a thirty-day review period?

“The answer is clear, M. Speaker: a phony emergency. An emergency designed to make yet another end run around Congress, to undermine the separation of powers, to trample on this body’s constitutional duties. 

“I’m sick and tired of it, M. Speaker. The State Department sent an Assistant Secretary up to the Hill to testify about this fiasco. He told us in the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Administration took this brazen action out of respect for Congress’s oversight role. M. Speaker, that’s really, really hard to believe.

“The other body passed 22 bipartisan resolutions stopping all these sales from going forward. The three measures we’re considering today deal with weapons that are already manufactured—sitting in a warehouse and—if we don’t act—will be loaded onto a ship and sent to Saudi Arabia and the UAE within the next two months.

“This resolution would prohibit the use of an emergency declaration to move ahead with the transfer of 64,000 Paveway precision-guided munitions—or as we call them smart bombs. 64,000, M. Speaker, which would be added to the stockpile of 58,000 the Saudis previously purchased starting in 2015. What will all of these weapons be used for? No one knows.

“If the Administration wants to sell these weapons, they should follow the law—not misuse it—and come to Congress.

“I reserve the balance of my time.”

S.J.Res 37

“M. Speaker, the second resolution we’re debating is very similar to the first. But in this case, it would nullify the Administration’s phony emergency being used to transfer 60,000 precision guided bombs to the United Arab Emirates. That’s on top of the 40,000 we estimate the Emiratis already have on hand.

“I won’t rehash the same argument. But I would like to make a point why, when we see what’s going on in Yemen, it’s so important for the United States to take a stand.

“M. Speaker, one of the things the Foreign Affairs Committee has focused on this year is trying to put American values back at the center of our foreign policy. Democracy. Human rights. The rule of law.

“Frankly, this Administration has acted like it can’t be burdened with these fundamental things that make America America. It just boggles the mind. Any great country can throw its weight around. But we’re not China. We’re not Russia. Our foreign policy should show the world the character of our country. Our compassion. Our belief that people everywhere should be able to live prosperously, productively, and have healthy lives. 

“These ideas go hand in hand with promoting our security. We want more stable, secure countries and communities. Democratic countries are stronger partners for the United States on the world stage. 

“And if we’re serious about those values, it means speaking out when we see them trampled—whether they’re trampled by an adversary or by a friend.

“When we turn our back on these ideals—when we strip the word ‘democracy’ out of the State Department’s mission statement; when we look the other way when friendly regimes carry out horrific human rights abuses; when we slash investments in the diplomacy and development efforts that help us build bridges of friendship and understanding—when we walk away from all that, what signal does it send to the world? What does it say about the sort of behavior we’ll tolerate?

“I’ve supported our partners and partnerships in the Gulf region. I think they’re an important counterbalance to the threat Iran poses. And, I recognize that our partners face real threats from Iranian-backed Houthis, who are themselves guilty of serious human rights abuses.  But that doesn’t mean we should just look the other way in the face of violence and slaughter of civilians perpetrated by our partners. It doesn’t mean we look the other way and let the President ride roughshod over Congress so there’s no separation of powers. Whatever the President wants he gets and Congress just rubber stamps it. Can’t be that way.

“So even if this Administration will not stand up for the values, the Congress should and the Congress will.  These measures, along with much of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s work this year, send a strong message that our values must guide our foreign policy.

“So again, it’s important for us to help Saudi Arabia, it’s important to realize Iran is making trouble, it’s important to know that the Houthis are not good people, but it doesn’t mean that we Saudi Arabia or any other country a blank check to do whatever they want. Dropping bombs indiscriminately on school children, on buses. We can’t just sit idly by and let that happen and continue to send weapons that are perpetrating these crimes. This is a strong message, I think, that our values must guide our foreign policy. 

“I reserve the balance of my time.”

S.J.Res 38

“Thank you. M. Speaker, this final measure we’ll consider would stop the transfer of fuses for precision-guided munitions—critical components that allow these weapons to be armed and detonated.  Like the bombs, these components have already been manufactured, and we need to act quickly to stop their shipment.

“As we wrap up this debate, M. Speaker, I want to make an appeal to my friends on the other side. You can be for or against these weapons sales and still understand that these resolutions are the right thing to do—if nothing else, for the integrity of this body.

“I spoke earlier about the rule of law. This phony emergency declaration is a message to the Congress, and to the American people, that when the law gets in the way, this Administration is just going to find a way around. They’ll twist the law into pretzels or just throw it out the window entirely if it allows them to sidestep Congress. We can’t stand for that.

“This Administration should have played by the rules and we could have done that and probably still gotten these sales through. They could have sent up a notification and allowed Congress to have a debate. But instead they want to shut us out of this process.

“With these resolutions, we’re taking some of that power back. We’re saying that we won’t allow the laws written in this body to be ignored. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to stand up and say, ‘We took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means Congress remains a coequal branch of government.’ Let me say that again, that means Congress remains a coequal branch of government. We will not be a rubber stamp for any administration. Not only this administration but any administration. Congress has its duties. It will not be a rubber stamp.

“I’ve felt for a long time that administrations of both parties, frankly, have ignored Congress when it comes to foreign policy and national security. We shouldn’t stand for it any longer. 

“No more do we give a blank check to any president of any party who wants to cut Congress out of the decision making and subvert the Constitution. So, we shouldn’t agree to it. We shouldn’t stand for it. And I reserve the balance of my time.” 

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