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White House says Egyptian aid decision 'evolving,' after Congress urges action

The White House said Monday it continues to evaluate whether to send aid to Egypt and its military-run government, despite lawmakers’ rising call for President Obama to pick a side in the country’s deadly political upheaval.

“I’m not going to deny the notion that this (decision) is evolving,”Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily White House press briefing.

The comments showed the administration is still deliberating over its policy on Egypt, despite mounting criticism from lawmakers during the president’s 11-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.

As the situation intensified Monday -- with reports that Islamist militants killed 25 policeman and that former President Hosni Mubarak might be freed -- there was no evident course correction out of Washington.

Earnest said the administration is relying on two specific markers in deciding on whether to give millions annually to the Middle East country: what is in the best interest of U.S. national security and a section of a State Department appropriations act dealing with a "coup d’etat." 

The section, in part, states foreign aid can be suspended if a country’s elected leader is ousted by a military coup.

Ernest repeated the administration will not determine whether Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was removed last month in a military coup but suggested unfolding events such the interim, military government making political detainees of pro-Morsi supporters and killing peaceful protesters could be a factor.

Last week, more than 600 people were killing in street demonstrations in support of Morsi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood political party.

Despite Ernest saying the president continues to review that money issue, he and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear Monday the administration is not going to get involved in the Mubarak issue.

Mubarak was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that gave way to Morsi. He was sentenced last year to life in prison.

“This is an internal Egyptian legal matter that is working its way through the Egyptian legal system,” Psaki said. “Otherwise we would refer you to the government of Egypt for any further details.”

Said Ernest: “That is an Egypt legal matter, something I leave for them.”

His remarks came one day after congressional Democrats and Republicans split on whether to continue to give Egypt $1.5 billion annually but clearly signaled their desire for the White House to act definitively.

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.”

New York Republican Rep. Pete King, chairman of the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence, appeared later on the show and disagreed, saying that curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over the interim Egyptian government, which controls access to the Suez Canal and other strategic resources.

Democrats also disagreed among themselves.  

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Fox 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.

Later on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” fellow Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island, said: “I do think we can send a strong signal by suspending aid.”