The Trump administration on Friday informed Congress the president will invoke his emergency authority to bypass lawmakers' approval of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the threat to the United States from Iran.
Pompeo notified members of Congress, including the Senate foreign relations committee, about Trump's decision to invoke the emergency authorization under the Arms Export Control Act, which typically requires congressional review.
A USA official tells CNN that the arms packages for UAE and Saudi Arabia will include surveillance aircraft and maintenance, as well as training programs, advanced precision kill weapon guidance systems and Javelin missiles.
The sale was announced earlier Friday by Senator Robert Menendez, who had used his powers to block shipments of tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, fearing they would contribute to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the U.S. allies are mounting an offensive.
Republicans largely endorsed their actions as prudent, while Democrats accused the officials of spinning the evidence to justify a march toward war, expressing consternation that the administration would not consult Congress before taking military action.
"President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale", Sen. Pompeo noted in his statement that "today's action will quickly augment our partners' capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to United States posture in the region to deter Iran".
Trump's administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defences against Iran against what it sees as a threat of potential attack.
But Trump has insisted that strong ties between Washington and Riyadh are critical to the US's interests in the Middle East.
Critics of the Saudi campaign quickly denounced Friday's step. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said that he was "reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications".
That "volatility", according to the top USA diplomat, comes from Iran, whose perceived "threat" the Trump administration has been drumming up in the recent weeks.
"I will not support another Saudi arms sale, and I urge all of my Senate colleagues to stand up for congressional prerogative and block the President's end-run around the law".
"With this move, the president is destroying the productive and decades-long working relationship on arms sales between the Congress and the executive branch", Menendez said.
Menendez and Murphy said they would challenge the decision but it was not immediately clear how they might do that. "The possible consequences of this will ultimately jeopardize the ability of the USA defense industry to export arms in a manner both expeditious and responsible".
Democrats are also questioning whether Trump invoked the proper emergency authority under the Arms Export Control Act, pointing out that deals with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries and allies such as Australia are treated as legally distinct from deals with nations such Saudi Arabia and arguing Pompeo's letters conflate them. President Ronald Reagan invoked it in the 1980s, and both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used it for sales before the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war, respectively.