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US House Block Administration from Selling Billions of Dollars in Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237

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FILE - People attend a demonstration to protest against the loading of weapons aboard a cargo ship operating for Saudi Arabia's defense and interior ministries, in Le Havre, France, May 9, 2019. VOA

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia.

Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237. Each of the measures garnered just four Republican backers.

The Senate cleared the resolutions last month, but like the House, fell well short of a veto-proof majority. Overturning a president’s veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

Heightened Middle East tensions

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Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons. Pixabay

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Trump administration of circumventing Congress and the law to move ahead with the arms sale. He called the resolutions “extraordinary but necessary” to stop “a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress.”

The votes came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, with much of the focus on Iran. Tehran is pushing the limits on its nuclear program after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal more than a year ago. Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of the accord, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The White House has declared stopping the sale would send a signal that the United States doesn’t stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them are increasing.

But opposition among members of Congress to the Trump administration’s alliance with the Saudis has been building, fueled by the high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a military campaign the U.S. is assisting — and the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

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Estimated $8 billion in arms

The arms package, worth an estimated $8 billion, includes thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had cited Iranian aggression when declaring an emergency to approve the weapons sales in May. The Saudis have recently faced a number of attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Right now, as I speak, Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” said the Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who pushed for the resolutions to be rejected. “If we allow them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign and the security of our allies like Israel will be threatened.”

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Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. PIxabay

Bypassing Congress

Critics of the sale also had denounced the White House for bypassing congressional review of the arms sales, which was done by invoking an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.

Pompeo had informed Congress that he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

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Engel said there was no emergency, arguing that two months after Pompeo’s notification not a single weapon has been shipped and many of them haven’t even been built.

“What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and months down the road?” Engel said. (VOA)

Next Story

US: Planned Parenthood Clinics Charging New Fees, Tapping Financial Reserves, Intensifying Fundraising

The fallout is especially intense in Utah, where Planned Parenthood has been the only provider participating

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Misty Dotson hugs her son's at their home Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Murray, Utah. Dotson is a 33-year-old single mother of two boys, ages 12 and 6, who goes to Planned Parenthood for care through the Title X program. VOA

Planned Parenthood clinics in several states are charging new fees, tapping financial reserves, intensifying fundraising and warning of more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases after its decision to quit a $260 million federal family planning program in an abortion dispute with the Trump administration.

The fallout is especially intense in Utah, where Planned Parenthood has been the only provider participating in the nearly 50-year-old Title X family planning program and will now lose about $2 million yearly in federal funds that helped 39,000 mostly low-income, uninsured people. It plans to maintain its services — which include contraception, STD testing and cancer screening — but is considering charging a small copay for patients who used to get care for free.

Planned Parenthood in Minnesota is in a similar situation, serving about 90% of the state’s Title X patients, and plans to start charging fees due to the loss of $2.6 million in annual funding.

The organization is concerned about the spread of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

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FILE – New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. VOA

“We believe there will be a public health crisis created by this denial of care,” said Sarah Stoesz, the Minnesota-based president of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “It’s a very sad day for the country.”

Planned Parenthood and several other providers withdrew from the program earlier this week rather than comply with a newly implemented rule prohibiting participating clinics from referring women for abortions.

Anti-abortion activists who form a key part of President Donald Trump’s base have been campaigning to “defund Planned Parenthood.” Among its varied services it is a major abortion provider, and the activists viewed the grants as an indirect subsidy.

About 4 million women are served nationwide by the Title X program, which makes up a much bigger portion of Planned Parenthood’s patients than abortion. But the organization said it could not abide by the abortion-referral rules because it says they would make it impossible for doctors to do their jobs.

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Misty Dotson, a single mother in Utah, started going to Planned Parenthood as doctors’ bills for treating recurring yeast infections mounted. The services became even more important when she gave up her employer-sponsored health insurance because she couldn’t afford the $500 monthly bill.

She is unsure what she’d do if the family planning services she gets stop.

“It would put me in a very dangerous position,” said Dotson, who works as an executive assistant for an accounting and consulting firm. “It covers so many things: STD testing, emergency contraception, birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings … you name it, they have treated me for it.”

Planned Parenthood said it’s dedicated to maintaining its current services in Utah, but CEO Karrie Galloway acknowledged it won’t be easy and could cause some “pain on all sides.”

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Planned Parenthood clinics in several states are charging new fees, tapping financial reserves, intensifying fundraising and warning of more unintended pregnancies. Pixabay

She said the organization plans to lean heavily on donors to make up the funding gap while staff members assess how they’ll cope. Among the possibilities are instituting copays of $10-$15 per visit, shortening hours and trimming spending. She doesn’t plan to lay off staff, but said she may not be able to fill jobs when people leave or retire.

Minnesota is planning fees as well.

“We’ll continue to offer all services, and keep clinic doors open, but we’ll be charging patients on a sliding scale who we didn’t charge before,” Stoesz said. “Vulnerable people who previously were able to access birth control and STD testing for free will no longer be able to do so.”

Elsewhere, the impact of Planned Parenthood’s withdrawal will vary from state to state.

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Governments in some states, including Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Vermont, say they will try to replace at least some of the lost federal funding. In the Deep South there will be little impact because Planned Parenthood did not provide Title X services in most of the region’s states.

The chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, Rebecca Gibron, said Southern Idaho could be hit hard by the changes, with other health care providers in the area saying they can’t fill the gap if the roughly 1,000 low-income women served by Planned Parenthood in Twin Falls are no longer able to receive care.

“This was not money that can simply be made up by raising dollars from donors,” Gibron said. “We have rent to pay, we have staff salaries … there are limits to what we are able to do in terms of providing free care without the Title X program.”

Gibron said Planned Parenthood is working with Washington state officials in hopes of securing “bridge funding” to keep operating more than 20 Title X clinics serving roughly 90,000 people.

“We’re going to do everything we can to provide care for patients in the same way, but we know that it’s not sustainable and we’re looking at all of our options,” she said.

Among other providers withdrawing from Title X is Maine Family Planning, which oversees a network that serves about 23,000 patients per year and will be losing $1.8 million in annual funding. Its CEO, George Hill, said the organization will rely on reserves and intensify fundraising efforts to bridge the gap while seeking more aid from the state.

In anticipation of the changes, Democrats in neighboring New Hampshire added about $3.2 million in the state budget they passed earlier this year to make up for the federal funding. But that’s on hold after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the budget in June for other reasons.

Planned Parenthood will continue to participate in Medicaid, the federal health-coverage program for low-income Americans. That’s Planned Parenthood’s biggest source of government funding — about $400 million or more annually in recent years. The Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas, Iowa and Missouri have taken steps to block that flow of funds in their states.

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said most Title X clients earn slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford employer-based or private health insurance. (VOA)