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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Jeff Abramson

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

 

The U.S. Senate failed to override President Donald Trump’s April 16 veto of a congressional resolution to assert authority over direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The 53–45 vote taken May 2 did not get the 67 votes needed to overcome Trump's veto of the War Powers Act resolution, which had passed the House of Representatives on April 4 and the Senate on March 13. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shown speaking in Texas in April, introduced the resolution restricting the U.S. military's involvement in the war in Yemen, later vetoed by President Donald Trump. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)“The bad news today: we were unable today to override Trump’s veto regarding U.S. intervention in this horrific war in Yemen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Senate resolution, said following the vote. “The good news: for the first time in 45 years, Congress used the War Powers Act to reassert its constitutional responsibility over the use of armed forces.”

The override vote closely mirrored the Senate vote of 54–46 to approve the resolution in March, with the same five Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the resolution. Two senators did not vote on the veto override, one on each side of the issue.

Asserting authority over war on arms control issues was a congressional theme in May as many legislators raised flags about possible U.S. military intervention in Iran. “Congress has not authorized war with Iran, and the administration, if it were contemplating military action with Iran, must come to Congress to seek approval,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on May 15.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

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U.S. to Quit Arms Trade Treaty


May 2019
By Jeff Abramson and Greg Webb

The United States will drop out of the Arms Trade Treaty, the 2013 pact designed to regulate the international trade of conventional arms, President Donald Trump announced April 26.

Speaking to the National Rifle Association on April 26, President Donald Trump displays an order he signed during the speech for the United States to reject the Arms Trade Treaty. (Photo Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“The United States will be revoking the effect of America’s signature from this badly misguided agreement,” Trump told a large audience at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Indianapolis. “The United Nations will soon receive a formal notice that America is rejecting this treaty.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed the pact in 2013, but the United States has not ratified it. On stage in Indianapolis, Trump signed a message to the U.S. Senate asking it to discontinue the treaty’s ratification process.

International and U.S. treaty supporters decried Trump’s decision. The pact is the third major arms-related agreement from which the United States has withdrawn since he took office in January 2017.

Latvian Ambassador Janis Karklins, who will preside over the upcoming August 26-30 conference of the treaty's states parties in Geneva, said, “I hope that the U.S. administration will reconsider its decision in the future.”

“This is yet another myopic decision that jeopardizes U.S. security based on false premises and fearmongering,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was echoed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) who said, “It is abhorrent to use international diplomacy for blatant political pandering.”

Although popular today internationally, the treaty was not concluded easily. Measures to curb illegal and define responsible arms sales were discussed for decades, and a special treaty negotiating process failed in 2013 when Iran, North Korea, and Syria refused to join a consensus agreement. Instead, the pact was taken to the UN General Assembly days later and approved there against their “no” votes. It entered into force on Dec. 24, 2014. Today, the treaty has 101 states-parties and another 34 signatories that have not yet ratified.

The treaty is the first global accord to regulate a broad array of conventional weapons. It establishes common international standards that must be met before states authorize weapons transfers. The treaty generally seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade, reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, and promote accountability and transparency by state-parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.

U.S. negotiators made clear during the treaty-making process that the pact would not threaten the right to bear arms afforded by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has no authority over national gun control laws.

Nevertheless, U.S. gun-rights organizations, led by the NRA, have alleged that the treaty would impose limits on U.S. domestic gun sales, and Trump repeated those claims in his NRA speech. “Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedom.”

Such rhetoric was misplaced, according to Thomas Countryman, the lead U.S. negotiator of the treaty and now the chair of the Arms Control Association board. “The treaty, if ratified by the U.S. Senate, would not require the United States to change anything in its law or procedures,” he said. “The president's action today is yet another mistaken step that threatens to make the world less
safe rather than more secure.”

Trump to revoke U.S. signature of treaty regulating international trade of conventional weapons.

Trump Vetoes Yemen War Powers Restraint Effort


May 2019
By Jeff Abramson

President Donald Trump issued an April 16 veto of a congressional resolution to assert authority over direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. In a statement explaining the move, Trump said that U.S.-provided intelligence, logistics support, and in-flight refueling did not constitute direct engagement in hostilities and that the “resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.”

A Yemeni graffiti artist protests the continuing conflict in her country on April 25.  (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)The expected veto followed the House of Representatives passage on April 4 of the War Powers Act resolution by a 247–175 vote, with 16 Republicans joining 231 Democrats. The resolution had been approved by the Senate by a 54–46 vote on March 13. (See ACT, April 2019.)

Supporters of the resolution called the measure a success despite the veto. The effort will “caution this and future administrations from going to war without first seeking authorization from Congress,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced this year's House version of the resolution. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Senate resolution, called April 22 for a vote to override the veto. He argued that U.S. involvement meets the War Powers Act definitions and that “Congress must now act to protect that constitutional responsibility [to declare war] by overriding the president’s veto.” Because the Congress-approved resolution originated in the Senate, a veto override must begin in that chamber and be approved by a two-thirds majority before moving to the House. The veto was just the second of the Trump presidency, both coming after the 2018 elections that resulted in a Democratic majority in the House.

Earlier in the month, Sanders said, “[T]he people of Yemen desperately need humanitarian help, not more bombs.”

 

A rare rebuke from Congress sees the presidential knife.

Congress Acts on War in Yemen


April 2019
By Jeff Abramson and Izabella Czejdo

Both chambers of the U.S. Congress recently passed resolutions to prohibit U.S. military involvement in the war in Yemen, a rebuke to the Trump administration's approach of supporting the Saudi-led coalition fighting there. Due to differences in the resolutions, the House needs to act again, after which a presidential veto is expected.

In 2018, 56 senators approved a War Powers Act resolution directing the president to remove U.S. forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, unless directed at al Qaeda or associated groups. Steps taken by the Republican-controlled House prevented a vote on that chamber's version of the resolution. (See ACT, January/February 2019.) This year, the House took up a new resolution, approving it in a 248–177 vote on Feb. 28. Eighteen Republicans joined 230 Democrats in passing the resolution.

The Senate passed its War Powers Act resolution March 13 by a 54–46 vote, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in supporting the measure. Last-second changes to the House version to include language on anti-Semitism means that the House must reconsider the Senate version. The House is expected to vote on the Senate version soon, but the vote has not yet been scheduled.

President Donald Trump is expected to veto the resolution should it come to his desk. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered support March 15 for the Saudi-led coalition in the context of Iran. “The Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing our assistance to the Saudi-led coalition” is the way to end the conflict, he told a press conference. “If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Support for the coalition has become increasingly controversial, especially after February reports that U.S. weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had been handed to al Qaeda-linked militias in Yemen. During a March debate, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) flagged these concerns, with Menendez saying, “In addition to the horrifying humanitarian crisis, we’ve also learned that U.S. coalition partners may be transferring U.S.-origin weapons to known—underline known—terrorist organizations.”

The Trump administration takes “all allegations of misuse of U.S.-origin defense articles very seriously,” a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 20. The official reiterated the U.S. position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict and that “we expect all recipients of U.S.-origin defense equipment to abide by their end-use obligations and not retransfer equipment without prior U.S. government authorization.”

Congress may act to restrict arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, impose sanctions, and stop air-to-air aircraft refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft, according to a bipartisan measure introduced by Menendez with six co-sponsors. Legislation in the House sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) seeks to prohibit further arms sales to Saudi Arabia and has 27 co-sponsors.

Congress set to rebuke Trump administration for its role in Yemen, but veto awaits.

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