This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep.Weiner (D-NY) to H.R. 3081, the bill appropriating funds fiscal year 2010 funds for the State Department and its foreign operations. The bill did not permit any funds to go to Saudi Arabia, unless the President certified that Saudi Arabia is “fully cooperating with efforts to combat international terrorism and such (financial) assistance will facilitate these efforts.” The amendment deleted this language, thereby insuring that none of the appropriated funds would go to Saudi Arabia.
Weiner began his remarks in support of his amendment with what he called “a noncontroversial statement (that) the American people and this body of their representatives believe that there should be no . . . taxpayer dollars, going from the people of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” He referenced the overwhelming House votes to that effect in 2006 and 2007, and also noted that “the bill we have before us says that no money in this bill will go to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Weiner then said that, “despite the fact that we in this House keep expressing that sentiment loudly and clearly . . . money continues to flow (there). That has to stop.” Weiner said that the reason funds keep flowing is “a loophole you can drive a truck through”. He was referring to language in the bill that permits assistance to go to Saudi Arabia, if the President certifies it is cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts.”
Weiner then argued that “(P)residents seem to develop a love affair with the notion of Saudi Arabia based on what they say. They say they want to be friends to the United States. They say they want to be a fulcrum against terrorism. They say they want to be a moderate force in the Middle East. And yet, year after year, we see evidence that they do the opposite.” Weiner then claimed that Saudi Arabia has continued to finance terrorism, as well as to violate human rights and teach hatred.
Rep. Ellison (D-MN), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opposed the amendment. He said that the funds were limited to “American-to-Saudi joint military training”, and described that training as “an opportunity for Americans and Saudis to work in concert so that we can continue to build a bridge with our historically so that we can be in a better position to influence Saudi society . . . .” He went on to argue that “(T)he fact is that this particular amendment does not bring America safety, doesn't bring it security. It brings it the opposite . . . This new (Obama) administration, this new Congress is about opening a new era of foreign policy, a new page in diplomacy that is smarter, more respectful of other countries, more appreciative of our allies. Saudi Arabia is one of the most important allies in the Middle East.”
Ellison concluded his remarks by citing a 2008 State Department Country Report on Terrorism that, he said, “praised Saudi Arabia in Saudi counter-terrorism practices, credited Saudi cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts as significant, and characterized Saudi anti-extremism initiatives as aggressive.” Rep. Crenshaw (R-FL), who serves on the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081, also opposed the amendment. The primary reason he gave for his opposition was that its effect would be to restrict the operating ability of President Obama in foreign affairs.
The amendment passed by a vote of 297-135. One hundred and fifty-eight Democrats and one hundred and thirty-nine Republicans voted “aye”. Ninety-eight Democrats, including the majority of the most progressive Members, and thirty-seven Republicans, voted “nay”. As a result, the bill no longer included language permitting the President to override the prohibition on funds going to Saudi Arabia.