Analysis: On Egypt, Senate dissent is leverage for Obama

“We do not believe it is in our interest to make a precipitous decision or determination now.”

July 9, 2013 23:23
1 minute read.
Obama speaks, June 25, 2013

Obama gestures as he speaks into microphone 521. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – After John McCain announced his plan to oppose foreign military aid to Egypt on Monday, citing US law requiring the suspension of aid to countries that have experienced military coups, the White House came out immediately with a statement of its own. Aid would continue to Egypt unabated – for now.

“We do not believe it is in our interest to make a precipitous decision or determination now,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing. The administration would take its time in deciding whether events in Egypt last week amounted to a coup, or alternatively, a reflection of the people’s will executed by a liberating military.

Over the past week, the Senate has been addressing that question from a different angle. Multiple senators – both Democratic and Republican – who are influential on issues of foreign policy have now concluded that the law is clear: The overthrow of a democratically elected government by military coup or decree in an allied country requires Congress to suspend aid to that country.

If a consensus builds that this decades-old provision of the Foreign Assistance Act applies to the situation in Egypt, the White House can expect pressure from Congress to change its position.

Carl Levin, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, already noted Monday that Congress needs no supervision from the president if it chooses to cut off Egypt’s $1.3 million in military aid.

That threat, from a fluid and often unpredictable Congress, may be President Barack Obama’s greatest asset as he presses the Egyptian military to expedite free and fair elections.

While the president can pledge to support the continuation of aid, he cannot guarantee the patience of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, who ultimately hold the power of the purse and can vote to suspend such aid at any time.

The president can thus, without exaggeration, tell the Egyptian military leaders that his hands will be tied by Congress if they fail to deliver on their promise to reinstate civilian rule.

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