Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz had a simple message for the Trump administration during Wednesday’s hearing on foreign arms sales: “Follow the damn law.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been critical of the administration’s decision to declare an emergency earlier this year in order to expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries – including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – but Cruz’s particularly blunt warning about efforts to bypass Congress stands out due to his reputation as a polarizing figure on Capitol Hill.
Cruz said he supports the administration’s underlying reason for selling arms to regional partners. He voted against a joint resolution disapproving of the proposed sales in late June. However, on Wednesday he issued a scathing rebuke of how the situation was handled while grilling Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper during the Senate Foreign Relations hearing.
“I voted with the administration on the substance because of the threat of Iran but I’ll tell you from my end, if the administration does it again and there is not a live and exigent emergency, you will not have my vote and I predict you will not have the vote of a number of other Republicans as well. The simpler process is follow the damn law and respect it,” Cruz said.
“The process that the State Department followed for these weapons sales, not to point too fine a point on it, was crap,” he added. “Under the law, under the Arms Export Control Act, the administration needs congressional approval and has a 30-day notification period. And for whatever reason, the administration in what seems to me a not fully baked decision process, decided to circumvent the law, decided to circumvent the constitutional responsibility of Congress and act unilaterally.”
Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, noted that Cruz’s comments marked a “rare moment of bipartisanship on this committee.”
“I want to compliment you, Assistant Secretary Cooper, on managing to achieve a rare moment of bipartisanship on this committee. I will tell you it is not often that my colleague from Texas and I agree completely on a matter,” he said.
In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers of the administration’s plan to use a pre-existing rule that would allow it to expedite $8.1 billion in arms sales to allies in the Middle East.
The move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration’s claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
House lawmakers reasserted that view last month when Cooper appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee.
As he did again Wednesday, Cooper argued that an emergency declaration was necessary to not only address threats posed by Iran but also to send a message of support to US partners in the region.
“These sales and the associated emergency certification are intended to address the military need of our partners in the face of an urgent regional threat posed by Iran; promote the vitality of our bilateral relationships by reassuring our partners; and preserve strategic advantage against near-peer competitors,” he said at the time.
But those comments were ill received by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who challenged Cooper’s assertion that the emergency declaration was warranted.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate committee, pushed Cooper on that issue again Wednesday.
“If you look at these sales, it appears that the administration had other motives. Indeed, when pressed, rather than explain exactly how these sales will address a supposedly imminent threat from Iran, you and other administration officials demurred and said the sales were for ‘sustaining the global supply chain’; for preventing ‘loss of sale to peer-competitors’; for maintaining US ‘credibility as an arms supplier’; and so on,” he said.