The Obama administration has quietly forged ahead with its proposal to sell $60 billion worth of fighter jets and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia unhampered by Congress, despite questions raised in legislative inquiries and in an internal congressional report about the wisdom of the deal.
The massive arms deal would be the single largest sale of weapons to a foreign nation in the history of the U.S., outfitting Saudi Arabia with a fully modernized, potent new air force.
"Our six-decade-long security relationship with Saudi Arabia is a primary security pillar in the region," Defense Sec. Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to congress. "This package continues that tradition."
But some critics are questioning the deal, and the stealthy effort by the Obama administration to avoid a more probing congressional review by notifying Congress last month, just as members were headed home for the November elections. Congress had 30 days to raise objections -- a review period that concludes Saturday. With most members leaving Washington today, any significant effort to block the deal appears dead for now, officials said.
"I do not think there will be any action" to hold up the sale, Rep. Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Bloomberg News Thursday.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, submitted a resolution this week to try and block the deal, and was among those who objected to the way the administration approached the required congressional review.
"Hiding this in a recess announcement is a sign of how unpopular it is," he said. "It's bad policy that now is further tainted by shameful process."
The Obama administration has touted the deal as a boon for American jobs, and as a move to solidify the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at a time when American intelligence is dependent on the Islamic nation for help in the war on terror. Earlier this month, it was a tip from Saudi intelligence that helped foil an al Qaeda plot to hide a bomb in a desktop printer aboard a UPS cargo plane.
The arrangement would ship 84 F-15 fighter jets and more than 175 attack helicopters to the Saudis over the next 15 years. The choppers, in particular, would "bolster Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism capabilities," Gates and Clinton wrote in their letter this week to congressional leaders.
Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican who will soon retire as his party's ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, supports the arms sale, and told ABC News that the Saudis offered ample evidence of the value of the alliance when they provided tracking numbers for the parcels that contained the concealed bombs.
"If any of my colleagues have doubt that they can be friendly, I suppose this would send a strong signal that they can be friendly," Bond said. Gates and Clinton also touted Saudi Arabia's "significant" counterterrorism cooperation in their letter to congressional leaders, specifically citing help in thwarting the cargo bomb plot.
Morris J. Amitay, a former head of the Pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, told ABC News a chief aim of the sale is insuring that Saudi Arabia can serve as another regional military counterweight to Iran.
"It is an attempt to bolster the Saudis at a time when the Iranians are trying to be a hegemonic power for the entire region," he said.