By Julian Pecquet - 09/20/12 10:00 AM EDT
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Congress on Thursday in an attempt to beat back Tea Party pressure to cut foreign aid to Egypt and Libya in the wake of anti-American violence in those countries.
Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter are expected to brief members of the House and Senate on the unrest in the region, which included an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“We are continuing to work with the Hill on the support that we think is important to support those very forces of moderation, change, democracy, openness in Egypt that are very important for defeating extremism of the kind that we saw,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said earlier this week. “It’s a conversation we obviously have to continue to have, and the secretary will be having it with the Congress as well this week, we expect.”
Conservative Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration rethink its aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan, arguing that the countries have not lived up to their commitments as partners of the United States.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter that he would seek to block passage of must-pass spending legislation and prevent the Senate’s adjournment at the end of the week unless the Senate votes on his proposal to cut $4 billion in annual spending on Libya, Egypt and Pakistan. Paul has long sought to punish Pakistan for imprisoning Shakil Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden.
Paul urged House members to pass legislation demanding accountability from all three countries.
“If you want to get aid from our country, if you want to be an ally, you have to act like it,” Paul told reporters Wednesday. “Certain behaviors need to be adhered to [if you’re going] to get money from the U.S. government.”
Along those same lines, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have introduced legislation that would require a report to Congress on the embassy attacks in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. DeMint said the report would help lawmakers decide what countries are deserving of foreign aid.
“What we want to do in our proposed legislation with Bob Corker is get a report of what’s gone on over there so that we can assess our foreign aid and make sure we’re not supporting those who are against us,” DeMint told The Hill.
The senator said he’s being flooded with calls from people who are angry about U.S. support for the Middle East following the American deaths in Benghazi, Libya.
“Frankly, my phone calls from South Carolina and around the country on foreign aid — there have been a lot of them,” DeMint said Wednesday after a hearing on President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq. “People were frustrated with foreign aid in the first place, and now they feel like we’ve been giving money to a lot of countries that just did not protect us.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) won’t allow a vote on the bill, according to DeMint. Kerry said Wednesday that the State Department is putting together an independent board to look into the deadly attack in Benghazi, making the legislation from DeMint and Corker redundant.
The boiling anger at Egypt, meanwhile, was on full display Wednesday in the House, where Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) lambasted the Egyptian government during floor speeches before voting on a resolution honoring the four dead Americans.
“American assistance is not an entitlement, and Congress expects Egypt’s new leaders to respect the parameters and conditions of our generous aid,” Cantor warned.
Lawmakers have expressed dismay that it took Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the newly elected leader from the Muslim Brotherhood, about 24 hours to criticize a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The demonstration culminated in the burning of the American flag on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“This cannot happen again,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “and Congress will be closely monitoring the ongoing protests and reassessing our assistance packages and our approaches based on the responses of these governments to assaults on our embassies and our institutions.”
Republicans are split over whether to continue engaging with Islamist governments as the Middle East undergoes a period of change that has toppled authoritarian governments.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), champions of deeper U.S. involvement in Syria, said they disagreed with their Tea Party colleagues, but understood their frustration.
“That’s the libertarian view and not the dominant conservative Republican view,” Graham said. “I think Sen. McCain and myself speak for the Ronald Reagan tradition of peace through strength. I don’t think it is wise now to gut your military and to disengage from a region that’s going through fundamental change.”
Clinton “needs to talk to Congress, because [the administration] has had such abysmal failures in their entire national security policy,” McCain told The Hill. Lawmakers “are going home and they’re going to hear from their constituents.”
“You just don’t know,” McCain said, what lawmakers will do when they return after meeting with voters who, “understandably, are very unhappy.”