Leahy: Administration ‘Trying to Have It Both Ways’ on Egypt Aid

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted October 9, 2013 at 6:09pm

The Senate’s top foreign aid appropriator isn’t totally satisfied with the answer to the Egypt aid question announced Wednesday by the Obama administration.

“The Administration is trying to have it both ways, by suspending some aid but continuing other aid. By doing that, the message is muddled. If they want to continue aid to the Egyptian government they should ask Congress for a waiver,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., in a written statement.

Leahy, the Senate president pro tem, is the longtime chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

The Egypt aid issue has been a matter of recurring concern in the Senate, where an unusual coalition developed after moves by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to force votes on cutting off the foreign assistance.

Over the summer, the Obama administration declined to designate the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi as a coup, but many in Congress said the event clearly qualifies as one.

“Our law is clear,” Leahy said. “When there is a military coup, U.S. aid to the government is cut off. Rather than encourage reconciliation and restore democracy as it promised, the Egyptian military has reinstituted martial law and cracked down on the Islamic opposition, which has also used violence.”

The State Department announced that the U.S. government would hold back on military aid to Egypt but not eliminate foreign assistance all together.

“As a result of the review directed by President Obama, we have decided to maintain our relationship with the Egyptian government, while recalibrating our assistance to Egypt to best advance our interests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“The United States will work with the interim Egyptian government and Congress to continue to provide support that directly benefits the Egyptian people in areas like health, education, and private sector development. We will continue assistance to help secure Egypt’s borders, counter terrorism and proliferation, and ensure security in the Sinai. We will continue to provide parts for U.S.-origin military equipment as well as military training and education,” Psaki explained. “We will, however, continue to hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”

Speaking to reporters, Leahy said that the best way forward would be to actually consider the aid restrictions contained in his fiscal 2014 foreign operations spending bill.

“We put something in our Foreign Ops bill, which nobody wants to actually vote on, appropriations bills, they might actually have to take a position,” Leahy said.

The spending measure would provide three separate tranches of funding, dependent on the new government in Egypt achieving certain benchmarks toward a functioning democracy.

“That would make a lot of sense,” Leahy said.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.