Senators rebel against Obama on Egypt 'coup'

Several GOP Senators said Thursday that President Obama should formally declare whether there was a coup in Egypt after signals that the State Department wants to take a pass.

U.S. law requires the administration to cut off the $1.5 billion-a-year aid spigot to Egypt if it determines that last month's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi was a military coup. Following a briefing Thursday with the State Department's No. 2 official, top Republicans said the administration must make a determination, but that they would introduce waiver legislation to keep the aid flowing if the administration determines a coup took place.

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“My feeling is we should look and make a determination, is what took place a coup,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. “In the event that it should be necessary, it would be very easy to pass a law to give a waiver.”

Inhofe said he's already prepared a one-page draft bill.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, shared similar views.

“We all understand this has got to be dealt with. We can't stay out here in the land of not knowing what [Morsi's ouster] was or it wasn't,” he said. “We are a nation of laws, and we need to figure a way of dealing with that legislatively.”

He said it's past time for the administration to make a call.

“For a period of time, it's OK to try to look into the situation and understand where you are,” he said. “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.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has made similar comments in the past, as has House Intelligence panel chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

Lawmakers who control the nation's purse strings, however, worry that such legislation would take too long and that the United States would lose its leverage on the Egyptian military in the meantime. Both the House and Senate spending panels adopted foreign aid bills this week that retain funding for Egypt, albeit with new conditions stipulating a rapid return to elected government.

“I will tell you that in the appropriations process, we have to do a bill now,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a member of the House Appropriations subpanel on State and Foreign Operations. “We can't wait until this legislative process takes place, wait a year or two, and in the meantime what happens? It's a great decision and position, but as an appropriator I don't have the luxury of waiting.”

Corker said lawmakers are already discussing a way forward.

“I think that very soon you're going to see a legislative solution to the dilemma that we find ourselves in,” he said.

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