Updated: 8:40 p.m.
Senators cut a deal tonight that will allow them to take a five-day break instead of working at unusual hours through the weekend.
Under the agreement, procedural votes expected to start at 1 a.m. Friday will be put off until Wednesday, with the clock accelerated on a veterans’ jobs bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was prepared to work on through the weekend to get around an objection from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The deal came after Reid made it clear that he would take any action needed to avoid a vote on a Paul amendment cutting off aid to Pakistan.
“I respect the interest of the Senator from Kentucky in relation to Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, but every now and then the Senate should be able to focus on a small good thing,” Reid said, in reference to the package of veterans’ jobs proposals pending before the chamber.
“I just think my friend from Kentucky maybe should have run for secretary of State rather than the Senate,” Reid said Wednesday night as the standoff with Paul came to a head.
This in not the first time the Pakistan amendment has been blocked through procedural maneuvers. Paul tried to get a vote on a Pakistani aid amendment during June debate on the Senate’s farm bill, but Reid rebuffed that effort as well. Paul wants to cut off aid to the country until it releases Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who provided assistance to the U.S. in the runup to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
For his part, Paul said he is willing to work with Reid to set up a short-time agreement for voting on the amendment.
“Billions of dollars have been squandered in Pakistan. Pakistan then tortures the man who helped America get bin Laden. And we do nothing. I have asked for 15 minutes to vote on this issue – 15 minutes,” Paul said Wednesday night. “No one is obstructing this for any sort of personal vendetta. I am more than happy to work with the majority. I care deeply about the veterans. I care deeply about housing and helping the veterans who have fought for their country. But this is about whether we as a country and the American taxpayers will be asked to send good money after bad to allies that are not acting like allies.”
Other Senators, however, have criticized the wisdom of not only Paul’s proposal, but also of voting on it without a full debate on Pakistan. Something there is no time for given the compressed Senate schedule before lawmakers depart for the November election.
Foreign policy votes always have the potential of being misinterpreted both at home and abroad. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pointed out the size and scope of the Pakistan issue in a brief interview earlier this week.
“I can’t say it’s unwise to have a vote,” Levin said. “How much time would there be to debate a matter of significance like this? Would there be a week’s time to debate it? A day’s time to debate it? I mean, just to have a vote without any deliberation, it seems to me, is not the way the Senate should operate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the GOP’s top foreign aid appropriator, blasted Paul’s amendment.
“Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons that is hanging by a thread. I think it would be a very bad idea,” Graham said. “They’ve opened up the supply routes; they have been helpful in some areas.
“We live in dangerous times, and I am very worried about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Pakistan falling into extremist hands. So no, now is not the time to disengage from Pakistan,” Graham said, before noting that the funds should have “some conditions.”
Graham has the position on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations that was held for years by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell delivered a floor speech Thursday morning regarding the recent attacks against U.S. diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and North Africa that differed from his junior Kentucky colleague’s view of taking foreign aid away from Libya and Egypt.
“This is a moment for Americans to show our closest allies in the Middle East that we unequivocally stand with them. No mixed signals. Neither Israel, nor any of our allies, should ever have any reason to doubt that resolve,” McConnell said.
Paul filed another amendment to the veterans’ bill after four Americans killed in a rocket attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to strip aid from the North African country.
“The perpetrators of this senseless attack must be brought to justice. I, therefore, demand that until the Libyan police hand over suspects to U.S officials, any U.S. foreign aid to the government of Libya be contingent on their full support in this matter,” Paul said in a statement.
The statement came even as U.S. officials, led by President Barack Obama, praised Libyan cooperation in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
“Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya. Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans,” Obama said.