The House on Thursday threw up a roadblock to President Joe Biden’s push to sell new F-16 fighters to Turkey in yet another blow to the administration’s efforts from fellow Democrats.
Lawmakers tacked on a provision to annual defense policy legislation that bars the U.S. from selling or transferring the jets unless the administration certifies that doing so is critical to U.S. national security.
The vote was 244-179 on an amendment offered by New Hampshire Democrat Chris Pappas to the National Defense Authorization Act. The majority of Democrats, 184, backed the effort, along with 60 Republicans.
It’s the latest dent in a potential sale of the Lockheed Martin-built jets to Ankara. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the four top lawmakers who must sign off on weapons sales to foreign nations, is refusing to back the transfer.
The dual hurdles make it nearly impossible for Biden to follow through on selling the fighters to the NATO ally as lawmakers express exasperation over Ankara’s purchase of advanced Russian equipment, violating the territory of its neighbors and its drift toward autocracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“It’s necessary because the administration has ignored strong and consistent congressional opposition to this sale since it was first proposed last fall,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), a co-sponsor of the amendment, said on the House floor.
“The sale of American advanced fighter jets to Turkey will not incentivize Erdoğan to suddenly transform into a good ally,” Pallone said. “More likely these weapons will lead to further death and destruction in the region.”
Turkey has stoked the ire of U.S. lawmakers for its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air and missile defense system, frequent violations of Greek airspace and for initially putting up roadblocks to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Biden declared his support for selling fighters to Turkey at a NATO summit last month. His comments came after Ankara dropped its opposition to Sweden and Finland’s accession to the alliance, but the White House contends there was no connection between the two.
The purchase of the Russian missile system culminated in sanctions against Turkey as well as the NATO ally being booted from the F-35 fighter program, a more advanced jet that’s also built by Lockheed.
Pappas’ amendment also requires the administration to certify the jets won’t be used to violate Greek airspace.
Rejecting a fighter sale to Turkey isn’t the only rebuke of Biden on national security policy in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill, which is set to pass Thursday, authorizes a $37 billion boost to Biden’s initial Pentagon budget request. It also preserves a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile program the administration sought to cancel.