U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday invoked a rarely used provision within arms control laws to circumvent Congress and authorize weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies, according to lawmakers.
The authorization comes during a period of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran for what the Trump administration has cited as increased threats to American interests in the region.
Trump also announced 1,500 additional troops were being deployed to the Middle East to protect forces already there from Tehran.
Congress was notified by the Trump administration of the invocation, and were shown a deal that is composed of more than 20 separate deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), valued at $8.1 billion, according to multiple reports.
The Arms Export Control Act gives lawmakers 30 days to decide whether to approve or block an arms sale once Congress is given a formal notification.
The provision of the law used by Trump eliminates the requirement that Congress has to review the sales of any weapons to a foreign government or entity.
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia," Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.
Menendez, in his role as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been keeping the Trump administration from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia since April 2018, referencing the killing of innocent civilians in Yemen the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which he blamed on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there," said Senator Chris Murphy.
Congressman Eliot Engel, who serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the move by Trump "another slap in Congress' face."
Lawmakers have warned that Trump does not have the support to get an arms sale through Congress because of the anger of the Saudis’ killing of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.
Trump has failed to assert any pressure to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for Khashoggi's death, who was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
Instead, the president touted a $110 billion arms sales agreement with the Saudis.
By Umar Farooq in Washington