Lawmakers Remain Split Over US Aid to Egypt

By Patrick Goodenough | August 18, 2013 | 11:11 PM EDT

Egyptian security forces in action outside an Islamist-occupied mosque in downtown Cairo on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Tallal)

( – Some senior Republican senators are calling on the Obama administration to suspend aid to Egypt in response to the turmoil there, just a fortnight after they opposed a bid by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to do just that.

Growing calls for a U.S. response beyond the cancelation of a scheduled joint military exercise come at a time when the European Union is considering an “urgent review” of its ties with the military-installed interim government. E.U. diplomats are due to discuss the crisis on Monday, with Germany among those pushing for “measures” to reflect E.U. unhappiness over the violence.

Clashes between the military and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi have left some 900 people dead in recent days.

On Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the U.S. has “no credibility” in the Middle East, citing administration policies on Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

“We do have influence, but when you don’t use that influence, then you do not have that influence,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We could be cutting off the aid, the spare parts and maintenance of this military equipment … tourism, economic assistance, business, the IMF loan. There are many areas where we could exercise influence over the generals, and we’re not doing any of it, and we’re not sticking with our values.”

McCain conceded he had earlier opposed calls to block aid to Egypt, which receives some $1.5 billion in military and other assistance each year.

“We thought that at that particular time that it was not the right thing to do, because we wanted to give them an opportunity to get back on the path to democracy. And obviously, that’s not the case.”

While taking action would carry consequences, he said, “for us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for.”

When Paul on July 31 proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill to suspend aid to Egypt until the country holds elections followed by a peaceful transfer of power, the initiative was defeated by 86-13 vote.

McCain at the time urged senators to oppose the amendment, saying it would send Egypt a message that “you’re on your own.”

McCain then visited Egypt together with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) – who also opposed the Paul amendment – urging a non-violent solution to the political crisis. During that visit he said in Cairo he had opposed the measure because it was “the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.”

A week after their trip the military was deployed to clear pro-Morsi protest camps, with deadly results.

Graham has also shifted his stance on U.S. aid in the aftermath of the violence, joining McCain in a statement urging the administration “to suspend U.S. assistance to Egypt and make clear to the current leadership of the country what steps we believe are necessary to halt Egypt’s descent into civil conflict and ultimately to restore our assistance relationship, which has historically served U.S. national security interests.”

On CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Graham said the military through its actions was making “martyrs” of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

“I would tell the generals that we’re going to suspend all aid until you allow a democratic transition.”

‘Bargaining wedge’

Another GOP senator to soften his position on aid is Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On ABC’s “This Week,” he said the Senate should debate this fall a change to having various “tiers” of aid.

“There are certain things that obviously should not flow; there are certain things that are in our national interest that continue to need to flow.”

Last month, Corker voted against Paul’s amendment, although he did voice sympathy for the some of the Kentucky libertarian’s arguments and called for a debate to explain to Americans “why we should not jerk the rug out from under Egypt as they go through this transition.”

Also appearing on ABC’s This Week, Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not support calls for an aid cutoff.

“It’s very disconcerting that the military hasn’t listened to us, but I think we need to keep it up,” he said. “I think we need to talk to them, we need to try to influence them.”

After last Wednesday’s violence in Cairo Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement deplored the violence in Egypt, called for restraint from all parties and said “a day of violent attacks like we witnessed yesterday are tragedies that must never happen again.”

More than 200 more deaths have been reported in clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters since then.

Menendez’ statement did not refer to the aid issue, however. The senator is traveling in East Asia, and queries sent to his spokesman brought no reply by press time.

When the Senate debated Paul’s amendment two weeks’ ago Menendez called it “bad policy,” and said the question of aid to Egypt was “far too important a decision to be an afterthought to an appropriations bill.”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said he would be “reluctant” to cut off aid.”

“Obviously we should use it as a bargaining wedge. We should lean on the military to the extent that we can,” he continued. “But I would not want to undercut them and allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come back, because they have shown they are not capable of democracy.”

On the same show, Paul reiterated his view on ending the aid, saying “we don’t have it – and it’s counterproductive.”

Rather than projecting American power as supporters of the aid contend, “they’re projecting American weakness, because it shows that we are so weak that we will not adhere to their own conditions on this aid,” he said.

Paul was referring to U.S. law stipulating that foreign aid must end in cases where an elected government is toppled in a coup. After reviewing the July 3 military takeover for several weeks the administration said it had determined that it does not need to make a determination on whether the ousting of Morsi constituted a coup.

“The law is very clear when a coup d’etat takes place, foreign aid must stop, regardless of the circumstances,” Paul said in a statement after Wednesday’s bloodshed.

“So Mr. President, stop skirting the issue, follow the law, and cancel all foreign aid to Egypt.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow