US Mulls Suspending Aid to Egypt Amid Turmoil

John McCain, R-Sen. AZ
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John McCain, R-Sen. AZ

Lawmakers pondered suspending aid to Egypt following the military coup there this week, though the difficult politics surrounding the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi's government made for little consensus.

Senior members of Congress from both parties called for the Egyptian military, which acted this week to topple Morsi's Islamist government, to act quickly to restore democracy and civil rights, and to hold new elections as soon as possible. But no lawmaker called either for restoring Morsi to power, an acknowledgment of the popular sentiment in Egypt that led to the military's actions this week to oust Morsi's democratically-elected government.

Sen. John McCain, Ariz., a senior Republican on matters of foreign policy, called for the United States to suspend its $1.5 billion in annual aid to the government of Egypt.

"Reluctantly, I believe we have to suspend aid until such time there is a new constitution and a free and fair elections," he said Sunday on CBS. "Morsi was a terrible president … but the fact is, the United States should not be supporting this coup, and it's a tough call."

President Barack Obama and his team have monitored the situation in Egypt over the week, but has been cautious in its pronouncements. Obama earlier this week stopped short of condemning the coup, or even calling it a "coup" — a designation which would require the U.S. to automatically suspend its aid.

The president met Saturday with his national security team to discuss the situation in Europe, according to an official White House update. In that meeting, Obama "reiterated that the United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group" — a pronouncement meant to dispel suspicions that the U.S. is hopeful that Mohamed ElBaradei, a relative moderate in Egyptian politics, would be named that country's interim leader.

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The tempered statements from U.S. officials reflect the dilemma in how to best maintain American interests throughout the situation in Egypt.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Morsi had acted mostly as a dictator in the months preceding the coup.

"At the end of the day, while I would have liked to have seen early elections and then see him test his support among the people … that's not what happened," Menendez explained. "So now, the question is whether we can bring everybody together to build a more inclusive society in terms of the representation it has in government."

Menendez didn't call, though, for suspending U.S. aid.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the head of the House Intelligence Committee, said the law was "clear" in Egypt, and that, under the law, aid should be suspended. But Rogers also called on Obama to come to Congress to argue for an exception to the law, and essentially bless the military takeover.

"And I don't think that skirting the law here is the right thing to do. The president should come to Congress and make the case," Rogers said on CNN. "I think there's a great case to be made here that we should continue to support the military, the one stabilizing force in Egypt that I think can temper down the political feuding that you're seeing going on now."

McCain dinged Obama's handling of the situation, though, for being too passive amid the Egyptian crisis, the second popular uprising in recent years.

"I think they're in a dilemma," McCain said. "As usual on these issues, they're undecided on going forward with a debate as events transpire."