Rand Paul gains strength in GOP debate over cutting aid to Egypt

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is gaining momentum in the battle over foreign policy that has roiled the Senate Republican conference for the past year.

Paul, according to Senate aides, thinks he could have the votes to pass an amendment next month to cut off aid to Egypt, a proposal Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other GOP colleagues have fiercely resisted.

ADVERTISEMENT
A senior GOP aide said Paul would force another vote on ending aid to the U.S. ally. What legislative vehicle he uses remains uncertain because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has left the schedule vaguely defined.

Another Senate Republican aide said that senators have shifted closer to Paul in the wake of a bloody crackdown by Egyptian military authorities on the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It’s going to be an interesting debate to watch because I think the traditional lines appear to be shifting on the Egypt issue,” the aide said.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in the Middle East, predicted Paul will win his quest to cut off $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt next month.

“I think that in the Senate there will be a cutoff of aid,” he said.

After months of staunch resistance, McCain has acknowledged that continued assistance to Egypt in the midst of violent street clashes is not appropriate.

“We urge the Obama Administration to suspend U.S. assistance to Egypt and make clear to the current leadership of the country what steps we believe are necessary to halt Egypt’s descent into civil conflict and ultimately to restore our assistance relationship,” he wrote in a joint statement with Graham earlier this month.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), another member of McCain’s camp, said Sunday the United States should halt aid to Egypt.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from just last month, when McCain warned that Paul’s effort to stop aid would be a “terrific mistake.”

“I urge my friend from Kentucky, with respect, to realize this amendment would send the wrong message at the wrong time,” he said during the floor debate.

McCain’s recent concession in the debate was likely difficult for him to swallow after months of jabbing with Paul over foreign policy.

McCain joked last month that he would have a tough time deciding between Paul and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, if they each won their party’s respective nomination in the 2016 presidential race.

Paul’s growing influence on the Senate’s foreign policy views comes at a time when his political stock is on the rise.

A Granite State Poll published in early August showed Paul running in second place with 16 percent support among a field of likely 2016 presidential contenders. He trailed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the front-runner, by only five points.

Last month, McCain won the argument over Egypt resoundingly when the Senate voted 86-13 to table Paul’s amendment to redirect the foreign aid to repair domestic infrastructure.

An amendment offered by Paul in January to limit the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Egypt failed by the lopsided margin of 79 to 19.

That defeat, however, could sow the seeds for victory next month as several influential Republicans sided with Paul, including Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), GOP conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voted for Paul’s amendment in July.

Paul hopes his push to stop payments to Egypt will attract Democratic support as well.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said earlier this month that the United States should tie future aid to steps taken by Egypt to “return toward Democracy.”

While McCain has moved closer to Paul’s positions, they remain at odds over the nation’s foreign policy trajectory. McCain and Paul will still argue over the details of how to suspend aid, policy experts predict.

“One of the questions is, when do you restore that aid: when you come to a road map to new elections or when you actually hold new elections themselves?” said Rubin, an AEI scholar.

Rubin thinks McCain will argue for giving President Obama as much flexibility as possible to administer support to Egypt.

“He ultimately is traditional and old-school and, when push comes to shove, he’ll defer to the White House on implementation by ensuring that there are enough waivers and loopholes to get through what needs to get through,” he said.

Obama could hold backchannel talks with McCain to structure legislation in a way to limit the impact of suspending aid, Rubin said.