Calls to cut U.S. aid to Egypt gained steam Sunday as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle urged the Obama administration to suspend support in the aftermath of deadly clashes between the military and Islamist protesters.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, accused the White House of failing to follow through on a threat to cut off aid in the event of a coup. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was deposed by the military in early July after he granted himself unlimited powers.
“We have no credibility. That’s the problem,” Mr. McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We know the administration called the Egyptians and said, ‘Look, if you do a coup, we’re going have to cut off aid because that’s the law. We have to comply with the law.’ This administration did not do that after threatening to do so.”
President Obama announced Thursday from his vacation spot on Martha’s Vineyard that he had canceled joint military exercises, but he has resisted freezing the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt.
Calls for cutting aid escalated after hundreds of protesters were killed Wednesday in a clash with the military. Even some lawmakers who previously backed keeping foreign aid in order to maintain U.S. leverage in Egypt said they have since changed their minds.
“I think the actions of the last week are going to no doubt cause us to suspend aid, and at the same time I think it’s time for us to recalibrate and look at what is our national interest,” Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There’s no doubt we’ve overestimated what our leverage was and we’ve underestimated the leverage that Saudi Arabia and [the United Arab Emirates] have had on this government.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, also reversed course.
“It must be suspended. … The military’s gotten the impression that whatever they do, we will continue our aid,” the New Hampshire Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, called on the Obama administration to cut off aid and acknowledge the military overthrow of the Morsi government.
“In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup,” Mr. Ellison said on “This Week.” “It is, we should say so, and then we should follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.”
Proponents of continuing foreign aid argued that a freeze would reduce the administration’s leverage in steering Egypt to a peaceful resolution and could endanger U.S. interests in the region, such as its access to the Suez Canal.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, warned policymakers on “This Week” not to “cut off our nose to spite our face.”
“I’m very unhappy, obviously, with the crackdown, but we essentially have two choices in Egypt, and that’s a military government which hopefully will transition as quickly as possible to civilian government, or the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Mr. Engel. “I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is a choice. Now it’s very disconcerting that the generals, the military, have not listened to us, but I think we need to keep it up.”
Mr. McCain said the U.S. is losing its influence by failing to follow through on its own laws regarding foreign aid.
“For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for,” said Mr. McCain. “When we threaten something, as we did … and then not do it, then you lose your credibility and your influence. The generals are acting now with confidence that there will be no reprisals.”
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said U.S. aid to Egypt funds “dictators and despots.”
“When they see an American tank on the street, when someone is shot down or rolled over by a tank that was purchased with American money, do you think that buys any friendship with the Egyptian people?” Mr. Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Basically, foreign aid to Egypt is more likely to buy a lavish chateau for a dictator or general in Paris than it is to buy bread for people in Cairo.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, took an intermediate position on “Fox News Sunday” in favor of placing more strings on foreign aid to Egypt.
“Looking forward, I think that the approach has to be to condition our future aid on specific steps toward the rule of law and return to democracy,” Mr. Blumenthal said.
Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said the best chance of achieving a stable government in Egypt lies with supporting the military.
“I’d be reluctant to be cutting off aid,” Mr. King said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Obviously, we should use it as a bargaining wedge, we should lean on the military to the extent we can, but I would not want to undercut them and allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come back because they’ve shown they’re not capable of democracy.”
He added, “The fact is there’s no good guys there.”