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Democrats call on Blinken to provide answers on bypassing Congress to approve arms sales to Israel

A group of primarily Democratic lawmakers, totaling 19, is urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to clarify why he bypassed Congress to approve arms sales to Israel last month.

In a letter dated Friday and obtained by CNN, the lawmakers emphasized the importance of congressional oversight in assessing the appropriateness of these arms transfers, ensuring they align with humanitarian principles, U.S. law, and national security interests.

Blinken made two emergency determinations in December to greenlight the immediate transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to Israel. These emergency determinations allowed the administration to bypass the standard 20-day review period typically granted to congressional committees for such sales.

The move by Blinken has stirred controversy, particularly among progressive lawmakers who have been advocating for conditions on military aid to Israel, given the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. More than 26,000 people have been killed since the offensive began in October, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry, with hundreds of thousands internally displaced, as reported by the UN.

The letter was signed by a range of prominent lawmakers, including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, and Peter Welch, as well as Democratic Reps. James McGovern, Earl Blumenauer, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, and others.

In their letter, the lawmakers highlighted the unusual nature of using emergency declarations to approve arms sales without congressional oversight and underscored the importance of adhering to U.S. policies, such as the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to security forces accused of human rights violations.

They posed a series of questions to the State Department, seeking clarification on the rationale behind the emergency transfers, the necessity of specific military equipment, efforts to minimize civilian casualties, and any vetting conducted regarding potential human rights violations by Israeli forces.

The lawmakers requested a response from the State Department by February 9, expressing concern that the transfers and the circumvention of congressional oversight may contradict broader U.S. foreign policy goals and pose risks to civilians in Gaza.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller defended the department’s actions, stating that they followed the statute passed by Congress and engaged with congressional leaders throughout the process.

Blinken, addressing the issue earlier, emphasized the importance of ensuring that the weapons transferred to Israel are used in accordance with international humanitarian law and reiterated the administration’s commitment to Israel’s defense against Hamas.

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