WASHINGTON: US House of Representatives lawmakers introduced a bipartisan measure Wednesday to block President Donald Trump's weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, after his administration announced it was bypassing Congress to transfer arms to the kingdom and other allies. The lower chamber's pushback against the White House comes a week after US senators across the political spectrum also moved to prevent the $8.1 billion sale.

The Trump administration antagonized lawmakers by announcing last month it would use emergency powers to defy Congress and provide munitions, aircraft, maintenance and other military components to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The White House argued that an increasing threat from Iran was the primary reason for circumventing the required congressional review of the 22 arms transfers, saying a freeze on sales by Congress could affect the Arab allies' operational abilities.

But lawmakers have remained angry with the kingdom eight months after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who had written critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and was killed in Turkey by agents from Riyadh. Lawmakers including Trump loyalists have expressed concern that US weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition engaged in the brutal war there.

House Democrat Ted Lieu introduced the resolution to block the sales, co-sponsored by Republican Justin Amash. "There is no emergency. It's phony, it's made up, and it's an abuse of the law," House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel told a hearing Wednesday, as he blasted the administration for seeking to "cut Congress out of the picture." Michael McCaul, the panel's top Republican, called use of the emergency powers "unfortunate," noting that some of the arms sales hardly appear urgent because they "will not be ready for delivery for over a year."

A US diplomat countered that the emergency declaration was justified because of the "uptick of the threat streams" from Iran. Washington should be "sending a message of deterrence to Tehran," and "sending a message to our partners to reassure them that we are with them shoulder to shoulder," assistant secretary of state for military affairs Clarke Cooper told the hearing.

Last week, Republican senators including Trump supporter Lindsey Graham joined Democrats to introduce 22 resolutions to block each of the sales. No date has been set for the votes in either chamber. Should any of the resolutions be adopted, Trump would likely block them with a veto. Congress requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto. - AFP