Published August 18, 2013
Washington appeared no closer Sunday to agreeing on whether to cut U.S. aid to Egypt, raising further questions about which side the United States is taking amid the escalating and deadly political protests in the Middle East country.
The disagreement divides political parties as well as the White House, the Senate and the House, roughly five weeks after the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood political party.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that foreign aid essentially goes to “dictators and despots,” which doesn’t help the United States “win the hearts and minds of the people.”
The U.S. gives Egypt about $1.5 billion annually, second only to the roughly $3 billion given each year to Israel.
One of the biggest issues is whether Morsi was removed in a military coup, which would mean U.S. aid would automatically be suspended.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Fox News the U.S. should continue to supply aid, but only on a “conditional” basis, which included the military’s release of political prisoners and restoring the rule of law.
An estimated 600 Morsi supporters were killed last week when the military cracked down on protests.
“I don’t see how we can give them aid in light of what has happened,” New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I do support suspending aid to Egypt at this time.”
She was joined on the show by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who said: “I do think we can send a strong signal by suspending aid.”
President Obama on Thursday condemned the violence and said the country is on “a more dangerous path.” He also canceled joint military maneuvers between U.S. and Egyptian troops that are scheduled for next month.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual,” the president said.
Democratic leaders have generally supported the president's approach.
But on Sunday, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
"I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before," he told ABC’s “This Week.” "In my mind, there's no way to say that this was not a coup.”
Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt's interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.
"We certainly shouldn't cut off all aid," King, chairman of the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence, told Fox News.
King said there are no good choices in Egypt, a reliable U.S. ally in the unstable Middle East.
Morsi was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.
"The fact is, there are no good guys there," King said. "But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military."
Though Obama has denounced the violence, canceled the military exercises scheduled for September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets, the White House has refused to declare Morsi's removal a coup.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona renewed his call Sunday to stop aid as the Egyptian military continues to crack down on protesters seeking Morsi's return.
"For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for," the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We're not sticking with our values."
The military ousted Morsi July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand he step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., had resisted calls to cut off aid. But on Sunday, he switched positions.
"I think we need to look at the tiers of our aid," Corker, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told ABC. "Let's face it, most of the aid has gone out the door this year."
Corker said he expects Congress to debate next year's aid this fall, after lawmakers return from their summer recess.
"Look, I condemn what's happened with the military, but I also condemn what in essence was a political coup by the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "And we need to move this debate along.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.