86 Senators Just Voted to Break the Law

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has unsuccessfully attempted to get the Senate to cut off aid that had been slated for Egypt. On Wednesday his amendment, which would have halted aid to the country was tabled and thus effectively killed by an 86-13 tally. Paul’s amendment to would have halted $1.5 billion in aid until Egypt holds a free and fair presidential election. The problem in the funding arises from the legality of the aid according to the Foreign Assistance Act.

The 1961 Act requires that the United States withhold aid to countries that have experienced a military coup. The bill specifically states that “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree” must not continue to receive aid. This legal issue is what led Paul to propose the amendment. The sticking point may be that one could make a (weak) case that the military’s removal of former President Morsi was a direct result of the public’s “revolution” against the government. 

Clearly, the military government in Egypt did not take power in Egypt to gain control of the country. The military acted and specifically stated that its actions were done in coordination with the will of the people. So that could be used to make the assertion the military seizure of power was done in the essence of democracy; however, what cannot be ignored is the clear legal wording here. A military coup, even one with democratic intentions, still legally is considered a military coup. There are understandable reasons for continuing funding Egypt, as Senator John McCain (R-Ari.) explained, "It's important that we send a message to Egypt that we're not abandoning them... [Egypt is] descending into chaos. It's going to be a threat to the United States." 

The 13 who voted not to table the amendment included Republican Senators like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The rest of the Republican Senators were in support of the aid to Egypt, likely as a result of fear over the possibility of further instability in the region, in addition to alienating a valuable ally. There was a clear Republican divide over the bill.