By Jeremy Herb - 08/16/13 08:26 PM EDT
Republican senators intensified the congressional pressure on President Obama to cut off aid to Egypt as more than 60 people were reportedly killed in Friday's "Day of Rage."
“The interim civilian government and security forces — backed up, unfortunately, by the military — are taking Egypt down a dark path, one that the United States cannot and should not travel with them,” the senators said in a joint statement.
“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, which has historically served U.S. national security interests.”
At least 60 people were killed Friday in clashes between tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and armed vigilantes, according to The Associated Press. The protesters were taking part in the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Day of Rage,” which was organized after 600 people were killed when the military cleared two sit-in demonstration sites on Wednesday.
The AP reported that at least 52 civilians were killed in the clashes across the country, along with eight police officers, according to Egyptian security officials. At least 12 people were killed in Ramses Square in Cairo after pro-Muslim Brotherhood protestors marched to the square.
This week’s violence prompted lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to press the Obama administration to suspend $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, raising the pressure on the administration to take action in response to the violence.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both said Thursday that the aid should be frozen because the military overthrew former President Mohamed Morsi, who was democratically elected.
Obama on Thursday canceled a large joint military exercise between the United States and Egypt, but he did not say that aid to Egypt would be suspended. The Obama administration had refused to make a designation as to whether Morsi's ouster was a military coup.
McCain and Graham were two of the earliest senators to say that a coup occurred and to call for suspending roughly $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt after the military removed Morsi from power.
But the senators led the opposition to an amendment from Paul that would have cut off aid to Egypt, arguing against an abrupt suspension of aid while still taking issue with the administration’s refusal to say that a coup took place in Egypt.
Earlier this month, Obama sent McCain and Graham to Egypt to meet with the leaders of the military, interim government and Muslim Brotherhood, where the senators urged a peaceful democratic transition to a new elected government.
Before the military crackdown this week, McCain warned last Sunday that if violence broke out, “I’m afraid the Congress of the United States would have to consider carefully the elimination of aid.”
The GOP hawks blamed the Obama administration for failing to exert its influence.
“U.S. influence over events in Egypt, and the Middle East more broadly, has always been limited, but it is still considerable," McCain and Graham said. "Whether it is Egypt, Syria, Iraq, or the wider region, the failure of the Obama administration to use our influence to shape events in this critical part of the world has only diminished our credibility, limited our influence, and constrained our policy options."
—This report was originally published at 2:21 p.m. and last updated at 4:26 p.m.