The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat and a close congressional ally of President Donald Trump are teaming up to try to block 22 arms deals largely benefiting Saudi Arabia, a move that seeks to quash the administration's attempt to use emergency powers to circumvent congressional objections.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in an interview Tuesday that he would introduce "22 resolutions of disapproval" - one for each deal the Trump administration informed lawmakers last month it would push through, raising objections from both Democrats and Republicans.
Joining him in the effort is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said Tuesday that he is "on board with Menendez." Graham, who is one of Trump's closest allies in Congress, has also been one of the most vocal critics of his embrace of Saudi leaders, particularly in the wake of last year's brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Menendez and Graham's plans, in which they expect to enlist more bipartisan support, come as new details emerge regarding seven secret nuclear technology transfers the Trump administration approved for Saudi Arabia - two of them following Khashoggi's death.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., citing information from the Department of Energy, announced Tuesday that the Trump administration had allowed U.S. nuclear energy companies to share technology and other information with Saudi Arabia on Oct. 18, 2018 - just 16 days after Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul - and again Feb. 18, 2019, less than a week after the House voted to end U.S. backing for the Saudi-led military effort in Yemen's civil war.
The two transfers are among seven that have been previously reported but without details about their timeline. According to the Department of Energy, Kaine said, the transfers began in December 2017.
The revelation that Trump facilitated outfitting Saudi Arabia with nuclear know-how, even as members of his own party implored him to stop weapons sales and sanction the Saudi crown prince as punishment for Khashoggi's death, is the latest test for lawmakers over Trump's foreign policy ventures, particularly in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
For Kaine, it "adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior" that includes the administration's decision last month to invoke emergency powers to expedite arms sales benefiting Saudi Arabia without explanation and veto a war powers measure that would have curtailed U.S. support for Saudi operations in Yemen.
"I have serious questions about whether any decisions on nuclear transfers were made based on the Trump family's financial ties rather than the interest of the American people," he said in a statement. "President Trump's eagerness to give the Saudis anything they want, over bipartisan congressional objection, harms American national security interest and is one of many steps the administration is taking that is fueling a dangerous escalation of tension in the region."
Even lawmakers who support Trump have found his embrace of Saudi leaders disquieting - especially as his administration simultaneously flouts congressional powers.
The Trump administration's unspecified emergency declaration last month to facilitate the 22 arms deals worth about $8 billion was met with resistance from Democrats and Republicans. But GOP leaders have yet to endorse a means to restrain the administration from proceeding on that front - and it is unclear if the resolutions proposed by Menendez and Graham will be guaranteed a vote, after Trump invoked emergency authority to expedite the deals. The decision may be left to the Senate parliamentarian.
It similarly remains unclear if the GOP will seek to constrain Trump's ability to approve nuclear transfers without congressional approval. The transfers are supposed to be fiercely regulated to prevent nuclear proliferation, and the process involves several agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But nuclear regulators said this spring that they were not included in the decision-making process.
Saudi Arabia is trying to build a nuclear power industry, including two U.S.-designed plants, but has yet to agree to the anti-proliferation terms that the United States requires for such projects. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Todd Young, R-Ind., cited concerns about that refusal this spring, when they, Kaine and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., released a bill requiring the government to let Congress review all such transfers - known as "Part 810 authorizations" - before they took place.
Kaine's request for details about the timing of the transfers went unanswered for months, until Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho, promised at an open hearing in mid-May that he would personally intervene. Two weeks later, the Department of Energy outlined the transfer schedule for Kaine.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)