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Warren Leads Bicameral Coalition Pressing Biden Administration for Bypassing Congress to Approve Arms Transfers to Israel

“It is essential for Congress to be able to conduct oversight of these arms transfers and determine whether they are consistent with humanitarian principles and U.S. law, and whether they advance or harm U.S. national security.”

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) led a bicameral coalition of lawmakers in sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, requesting additional information on the administration’s decision to circumvent congressional review of arms transfers to Israel and whether these deals sufficiently considered civilian harm risks. The letter comes after the Biden administration exercised emergency authorities twice to provide weapons to Israel without notifying Congress. 

“We shared the world’s horror at Hamas’s terrorist attacks on October 7, in which Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, committed gross violations of human rights including using sexual violence as a weapon of war, and took approximately 240 people hostage,” wrote the lawmakers. “However, we are also deeply disturbed that Israel’s response to this attack included indiscriminate bombing and has killed over 22,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom have been civilians, including thousands of children. It is essential for Congress to be able to conduct oversight of these arms transfers and determine whether they are consistent with humanitarian principles and U.S. law, and whether they advance or harm U.S. national security.”

The Arms Export Control Act (AECA) requires the State Department, on behalf of the president, to provide Congress advance notification of government-to-government foreign military sales of defense equipment. That notification is designed to allow Congress the opportunity to raise questions or objections before a sale is complete. However, the AECA allows the State Department to circumvent this notification requirement if the Secretary of State certifies that “an emergency exists” that requires providing weapons without notice. 

“It is highly unusual for the president to bypass congressional oversight through an emergency declaration. In fact, since the AECA was passed into law, an emergency declaration authority has only been used 18 times in nearly 50 years,” the lawmakers wrote.  

Additionally, the lawmakers expressed concern that these arm transfers violate U.S. policy and international law. Last year, the Biden administration released a new conventional arms transfer policy that emphasized human rights and civilian harm mitigation. Israel’s military campaign, which has included indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, raises serious questions about whether approving these sales violates that policy.

We are also troubled by the decision to provide equipment for 155mm shells, which over 30 U.S.-based civil society organizations warned poses ‘a grave risk to civilians’ and are “inherently indiscriminate” when used in densely populated areas like Gaza.,” the lawmakers continued. “Congress and the American public deserve thorough answers on how this policy was applied for these two emergency transfers. Use of a national emergency waiver does not exempt the U.S. government from assessing whether arms sales are consistent with these policies

The letter requests information on how State determined an emergency existed, whether its conventional arms transfer policy was applied, and what mitigation measures and conditions were put in place to reduce the risks of civilian harm. The lawmakers asked for answers by February 9.

The letter is co-signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.); as well as Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Judy Chu (D-Calif), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Delia C. Ramirez (D-Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).