Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

Egypt Aid Debate Makes Strange Bedfellows

“Coup.”

The single word President Barack Obama didn’t say in his statement Thursday morning about the bloodshed in Egypt is the most important one for an unusual array of senators, including foreign aid sparring partners Rand Paul and John McCain.

Use of that term would force the administration to cut off aid to Egypt under existing U.S. law. Obama didn’t respond to a shouted question at the end of his prepared remarks regarding foreign assistance.

Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained to reporters on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday that the administration had previously announced that it “had arrived at the conclusion that we’re not going to make a final determination about the coup.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties have described the situation in Egypt as a coup, with even the most ardent national security hawks saying the law requires that $1.5 billion in assistance must be pulled, at least temporarily.

“The law is very clear when a coup d’état takes place, foreign aid must stop, regardless of the circumstances. With more than 500 dead and thousands more injured this week alone, chaos only continues to grow in Egypt,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in a statement. “So Mr. President, stop skirting the issue, follow the law, and cancel all foreign aid to Egypt.”

Paul has repeatedly offered amendments to try to strip the Egyptian aid until the government of that country meets certain conditions, but he has faced little support. His most recent offering was tabled (and thus killed) 86-13 on July 31.

But even frequent critics of Paul have come to view the situation in Egypt as a coup. That’s true of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“I’m not here to go through the dictionary,” McCain said last week while in Cairo. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

In a joint interview with CBS News at the time, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that Egypt was on track to becoming a failed state.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right,” Obama said Thursday.

Obama did announce the cancellation of a joint exercise with the Egyptian military, which is currently running the country under what many observers have described as a “coup.”

“This morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month. Going forward, I’ve asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship,” Obama said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., praised that action in a statement.

“The President’s announcement that the joint military exercise, Bright Star, would be canceled this year is appropriate as the interim government’s actions run counter to U.S. principles and values,” Kaine said. “I urge the government to pursue a national reconciliation dialogue and swiftly lift the State of Emergency to show the Egyptian people – and the world – it respects the right of the Egyptian people to peacefully assemble and be granted due process under the law.”

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