On June 12, 2017, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Minority Leader, announced that he will vote against a proposed sale of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia.
The senator said, “I will support Senator Murphy’s resolution of disapproval. The human rights and humanitarian concerns have been well documented and are important.”
He referred to a bill from Senators Christopher Murphy (D-CN), Al Franken (D-MN), and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would prevent the sale.
Senator Schumer continued, “Of equal concern to me is that the Saudi government continues to aid and abet terrorism via its relationship with Wahhabism and the funding of schools that spread extremist propaganda throughout the world.” Saudi Arabia denies accusations of spreading extremism.
The bill, a resolution of disapproval, was introduced in late May, with the authors citing the situation in Yemen, in particular, as the reason for a ban of the $510 million sale of PGMs. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of States to fight Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah, which controls the capital, Sana’a. Rights agencies have pointed to the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the country and accused Saudi Arabia of deliberately targeting civilians, which Riyadh rejects.
Mounting concern over the situation in Yemen prompted the previous U.S. administration, under President Barack Obama, to halt the sale of PGMs to Saudi Arabia in December 2016. The new Trump Administration lifted that freeze earlier this year.
Defense News noted that the bill would, if passed, halt three deals: the sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions for Saudi F-15s, Paveway laser-guided bombs for Saudi Tornados and Typhoons, and the integration of Kaman FMU-152A/B Joint Programmable Fuze into the MK-80, BLU-109 and BLU-100 munitions.
Senator Schumer was previously opposed to an effort by Senators Paul and Murphy, as well as others, to block the sale of M1A2S main battle tanks to Saudi Arabia. The senators tried but failed to block that sale last year.
Other Democratic Senators have expressed opposition to the PGM sale. Senator Schumer’s decision to announce his opposition to the sale means that the sale’s proponents can likely expect Democrats in the Senate to all vote for the resolution of disapproval, leaving a narrow margin in the Senate for Republicans to defeat the measure. A measure to block in the Senate needs 51 votes, meaning that assuming the Democratic Senators (and Independents who caucus with them), Republicans can only suffer three defections.
For the block to go into place, however, the measure would also have to pass in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a much larger majority, making it less likely that a block will ultimately put set into place from the Congress.