The Senate roundly rejected a proposal Wednesday to redirect aid for Egypt into bridge-building projects in the U.S. after a potential Republican presidential candidate and tea party favorite challenged the Obama administration’s refusal to label the ouster of Egypt’s president a military coup.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky’s amendment to next year’s transportation bill would have halted the $1.5 billion in mainly military assistance the U.S. provides Egypt each year.
He cited the U.S. law banning most forms of support for countries that suffer a military “coup,” a determination the administration has said it won’t make about the Egyptian army’s July 3 ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. And he invoked U.S. infrastructure shortcomings as well as Detroit’s bankruptcy and Chicago’s violence to make his case for the money to be put back into the domestic economy.
“Our nation’s bridges are crumbling,” said Paul, who has previously failed in attempts to cut U.S. support programs for Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. “I propose we take the billion dollars now being illegally given to Egypt and spend it at home.”
The Senate voted 86-13 against the measure. The vote laid bare a stark division among Republicans, pitting libertarians like Paul against hawks such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who plan to visit Egypt next week at President Barack Obama’s request to press for new elections. They were joined by Sens. Bob Corker and Jim Inhofe, top Republicans on the Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committees, in speaking out against the amendment.
“It’s important that we send a message to Egypt that we’re not abandoning them,” McCain said. Right now, Egypt is “descending into chaos. It’s going to be a threat to the United States.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP candidate in 2016, sought middle ground by urging Egypt’s aid to be restructured to better serve U.S. interests.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Egyptian Cabinet ordered the police to break up the sit-ins, saying they pose an “unacceptable threat” to national security.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said the order will be carried out in gradual steps according to instructions from prosecutors. “I hope they resort to reason” and leave without authorities having to move in, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.