Senate panel votes to give White House an out on coup restrictions

A Senate panel voted Wednesday to give the Obama administration flexibility to continue aid to Egypt and other countries even in the case of a military coup.

The bill, which cleared the Foreign Relations Committee 16-1, gives the administration the option to waive legal restrictions on foreign aid. The administration must first assure Congress that the aid is in America's “vital national security interests” and that its recipient is “committed to restoring democratic governance and due process of law, and is taking demonstrable steps toward holding free and fair elections in a reasonable timeframe.” 

The legislation has the support of the White House, which has been seeking clarity on its ability to continue $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt after the military booted the country's democratically elected president in July.

“Giving the scale of U.S. aid and the ongoing strategic significance of a stable, prosperous Egypt, this total shutdown does not serve in my view the U.S. or Egypt's interests,” said the panel's chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the lone “no” vote. He argued the bill would weaken congressional oversight. 

“I think it's a mistake to have less restrictions on foreign aid,” he said. “Now we're going to weaken the law, and say the president can have a waiver.”

Menendez and others disagreed, saying the legislation for the first time requires the administration to determine whether a coup had taken place before seeking a waiver. The State Department came under sharp criticism over the summer after deciding not to make a determination on whether the Egyptian military's forceful removal of President Mohamed Morsi amounted to a coup.

“In the future, there will have to be a coup determination,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the panel. “We cannot just sit on the sidelines and not decide whether it is or is not. But it also gives the appropriate flexibility I think is necessary to the administration.”

The committee also passed two resolutions targeting Iran: One calls on the country to help find and free Robert Levinson, a U.S. spy who has been missing since 2007 after visiting Iran on an unsanctioned mission for the CIA; the other condemns Iran's “state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.”

The panel also approved resolutions calling for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia; commemorating and supporting the goals of World AIDS Day; and expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the critical need for political reform in Bangladesh. 

And it cleared President Obama's nominees to serve as chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, United States Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank, and United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill