Obama asks McCain, Graham to travel to Egypt, senators say

President Obama is asking Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to travel to Egypt next week in a bid to persuade the nation’s military and government leaders to hold elections quickly, the senators said Tuesday.

“The president asked Sen. McCain and myself to go to Egypt next week, so we’re trying to find a way to get there,” Graham told reporters.

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The proposed trip comes amid growing frustration from lawmakers over the Obama administration’s unwillingness to label the ouster of

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi a military coup.

The Senate is poised to vote this week on a measure from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would cut off $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt, which he is proposing as an amendment to a transportation and housing spending bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he would allow a vote on Paul’s amendment.

“I have told everyone, including Rand Paul, if he wants a vote on Egypt, we’ll give him a vote on Egypt,” Reid said Tuesday.

“It’s up to the Republicans. I’m willing to do it. I don’t like to telegraph my moves, but I think I would move to table that.”

Paul’s amendment appeared headed for a Wednesday vote; it is first on the calendar when the Senate resumes consideration of the spending bill Wednesday.

Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the Egypt amendment was one of the major items Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) were negotiating in an attempt to reach an amendment agreement to move the bill this week before Congress’s August recess.

McCain and Graham are opposed to Paul’s amendment, though they both have said that the events in Egypt are a coup. A formal U.S. declaration that the overthrow was a coup would legally require a suspension of American aid to Egypt.

The two GOP senators say they hope that the Egyptian military will quickly hold new elections in order to re-
establish a democratically elected government.

“I hope that we can have an influence to make sure that this impending crisis doesn’t take place,” McCain told reporters Tuesday.

Graham said the president had asked them to go in order to show there was bipartisan agreement in the U.S. on the way forward in Egypt.

He said the trip would allow them to “reinforce in a bipartisan fashion the message that we have to move to civilian control, that the military is going to have to allow the country to have new elections and move toward an inclusive and democratic approach.”

The logistics of the trip still need to be worked out, Graham said. The senators hope to meet with members of the military, the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden did not comment on whether Obama had asked the senators to travel to Egypt.

“I don’t have any details for you on the president’s discussions, but we’re continuing to consult closely with the Congress on Egypt,” Hayden said in an email.

An increasing number of lawmakers are bristling at the administration’s decision not to make a determination if there was a military coup in Egypt.

Several lawmakers, including McCain, have said that Morsi’s ouster was clearly a coup. They’ve called on the U.S. to make a determination but then suggested a waiver could be passed to allow the aid to continue.

“For a period of time, it’s OK to try to look into the situation and understand where you are,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said last week.

“At some point, you go beyond a point of credibility, and you really need to go ahead and take it out and deal with it. And I think we’re finding ourselves in that period of time now.”

Paul is trying to include his amendment to restrict Egypt aid on the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. It would redirect the funding to transportation projects.

“It is no secret that our nation’s roads and bridges are crumbling at an increasing rate, many of which are in critical stages of disrepair,” Paul said in introducing the amendment.

“Instead of sending taxpayer money to countries that are ineligible to receive our aid, like Egypt, we should be directing that money to these pressing domestic needs.”

Graham said Tuesday that he did not support a vote on Paul’s amendment because the situation remains fluid in Egypt.

“If you cut off aid, that’s a destabilizing event, but if you refuse to cut off aid, that could give people the impression that everything is fine when it’s clearly not,” he said.

—This story was initially posted at 1:38 p.m. and has been updated.