The White House said Monday that U.S. aid to Egypt should keep flowing for now, rebuffing a call by at least one prominent senator to cut off the assistance in the wake of Mohammed Morsi's ouster.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, saying repeatedly that the situation is "complex," made clear that the administration plans to slow-walk any final decision on U.S. aid. The underlying issue is whether the U.S. government considers the toppling of Morsi to be a military coup -- under U.S. law, the government is required to suspend aid in the event of such an overthrow.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reiterated his belief on Monday that the overthrow was clearly a coup, and the consequences under U.S. law are unavoidable.
"I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time," McCain said.
Carney, though, would not describe the ouster as a coup. He said the administration would "take the time necessary" to evaluate that question -- but in the near-term, cutting off aid would not behoove the United States.
"I think it would not be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs," Carney said.
The lack of action by the administration underscores the difficult situation the U.S. government is in. The Obama administration already is facing criticism that its indecisiveness on Egypt is only breeding mistrust among all sides in the Egyptian political system. But the administration is caught between two seemingly bad options -- back the overthrow and appear to abandon the democratic principles the U.S. espouses, or condemn the overthrow and appear to align with an Islamist leader whose commitment to democracy was questionable anyway.
Carney stressed that, at this point, the U.S. is not taking sides.
"We remain actively engaged with all sides," Carney said.
Some lawmakers, unlike McCain, have aligned with the White House in suggesting the continuation of U.S. aid is in America's best interest. They say the Egyptian military -- which led the overthrow -- is the most trusted institution in the tumultuous country, and the best hope to lead a second transition to democracy.
McCain, while disagreeing with the administration on whether to continue aid, echoed the concerns about what is happening on both sides.
"Regardless of what anyone thinks about Mohamed Morsi, he was elected by a majority of Egyptians last year. At the same time, the Morsi government squandered an opportunity over the past year to further the development of democratic institutions and inclusive governance in Egypt," he said.
It appears the administration will not label the overthrow a coup any time soon.
The Associated Press quoted unnamed officials saying the government was trying to find a way to avoid that label in order to keep aid flowing.
The $1.5 billion in aid includes $1.3 billion in aid to the Egyptian military.
The administration continues to urge both sides in Egypt to show restraint, as violence rages in the country. In the latest outbreaks, more than 50 people reportedly were killed and hundreds were injured in clashes outside a military building in Cairo.