By Rebecca Kheel - 08-24-16 12:21 PM EDT
A bipartisan quartet of lawmakers is circulating a letter that seeks to delay a pending arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
The lawmakers are targeting the arms sale as part of their opposition to U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Lawmaker criticism of U.S. support for the campaign has recently grown louder, following Saudi airstrikes that hit a school and a hospital, killing dozens of civilians.
The $1.15 billion arms sale, which the State Department approved on Aug. 9, would include up to 153 tanks, hundreds of machines guns, ammunition and other equipment.
By law, Congress has 30 days to block the sale, but the lawmakers are concerned that notification was given during Congress's summer recess and that the 30-day period will end with lawmakers having just returned to D.C.
"Any decision to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia should be given adequate time for full deliberation by Congress," the letter to President Obama will say, according to a draft. "We are concerned, however, that the timing of this notification during the August congressional recess could be interpreted to mean that Congress has little time to consider the arms deal when it returns from recess within the 30 day window established by law."
Twenty members have so far signed the letter, according to the office of Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). Lieu is leading the effort, along with Reps. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.).
News of the letter comes the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to the Saudi city of Jeddah, where he's expected to push for renewed Yemen peace talks, which collapsed earlier this month.
In the draft letter, the lawmakers say past congressional concerns about the war in Yemen have not been addressed. They highlight an October letter to Obama expressing concerns about civilian casualties and a June vote in the House that narrowly failed to block the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.
"Amnesty International has documented at least 33 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition across Yemen that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian facilities, such as hospitals, schools, markets, and places of worship," the draft letter says. "These attacks may amount to war crimes."
There's no reason, the draft says, not to delay the arms sale to provide Congress more time to consider it.
"We are not aware of any compelling reason why congressional approval of the sale could not be postponed to allow for meaningful congressional debate on this issue that has major implications for both civilians in Yemen as well as our national security," the draft says. "We urge you to delay this proposed arms deal so that the people's representatives in Congress can give these issues the full deliberation that they deserve."