FILE - In this May 20, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in...
Evan Vucci

Trump admin finds loophole to advance Saudi arms sale

Yemen’s brutal civil war has caused a staggering humanitarian catastrophe. As we’ve discussed, the crisis is complex – civil wars, especially in the Middle East, usually are – though it’s clear that Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the conflict has exacerbated the nightmarish conditions.

The United States is not a detached observer. We have, after all, extended considerable military support to our partners in Riyadh, which in turn has helped fuel the Saudis’ campaign in Yemen.

In recent months, the U.S. Congress has effectively said, “Enough.” In a historic use of the War Powers Resolution, both the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate voted to end American involvement in the war in Yemen, defying Donald Trump’s wishes.

That was last month. This month, the Trump administration decided to move forward with an arms sale worth roughly $8 billion for Saudi Arabia and its allies in the United Arab Emirates.

The Trump administration on Friday cited a national security “emergency” allegedly caused by Iran to bypass Congress and rush through arms sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies, in a move that drew condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Citing a rarely used provision of arms control law, the administration informed lawmakers it was declaring a national security emergency, allowing it to go ahead with the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan without congressional approval, according to administration letters sent to senators and obtained by NBC News.

In a tweet published late on Friday afternoon – ahead of a holiday weekend – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complained that the administration didn’t have a choice. “We presented some of these sales almost 18 months ago to Congress,” the Kansas Republican argued, “but it has failed to act.”

That’s one way to look at it. The other way is to acknowledge the qualitative difference between lawmakers “failing to act” on a Trump administration request and lawmakers putting a hold on a request because they’re uncomfortable with it.

Pompeo added in his notification to Capitol Hill that the sale is legal, despite Congress’ wishes, because “an emergency exists” due to “the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

Of course, there’s little evidence pointing to an actual Iran-related emergency, and there’s nothing stopping Saudi Arabia from using these weapons in Yemen.

In theory, this would be around the time that Congress – made up of Republicans who were convinced Barack Obama was a dictatorial tyrant who had no use for the legislative branch of government – makes its dissatisfaction known.

Indeed, it comes on the heels of a related Trump effort to spend taxpayer money on a border barrier against lawmakers’ wishes (an effort that suffered a major legal setback on Friday night).

Where are the GOP lawmakers whose outrage over executive overreach seemed to magically disappear in January 2017?