Meet the Press   |  August 18, 2013

Conflict in Cairo: Senators weigh in

NBC's David Gregory talks with Sens. Jack Reed and Kelly Ayotte about the most recent spike in conflict in Egypt about U.S. aid to the country.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> straight to you. several weeks ago, this question came up -- should we keep the u.s. aid flowing to egypt ? you said yes then. have you had a change of heart now?

>> well, i think, david, in light of recent actions, we tried to give some time to the administration. they obviously tried to get the military government to not crack down in a violent way, to restore democracy, to move to elections, to release political prisoners. they have ignored all of those requests. and now with the recent violent crackdown, i do not see how we can continue aid. i believe it must be suspended because, unfortunately, i think the military's gotten the impression, and particularly with what the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week, that whatever they do, we will continue our aid. so, i do support suspending aid at this time.

>> so, you talk about the change of heart because you've given them a little bit of room and they haven't responded. the egyptian military closely aligned with the u.s. government , but they're not listening, they're not sort of honoring that alliance.

>> right.

>> what leverage does it give the u.s. to take the step you're advocating this morning?

>> well, i think at this point, they're obviously getting the impression that no matter what they do, our aid will continue, so we do need to exercise our influence by saying we're going to follow the law, particularly in light of your recent violent crackdowns, suspend aid until you restore democracy, until you move to an inclusive process for elections, and obviously, a new constitution that allows all people to have a say in it, to respect people's rights. i think that's what we have to do at this point. we've tried to go down a road to get them to do the right thing. they're not doing that. and also, i would say this, david. the best way to marginalize the muslim brotherhood is in the ballot box , not through arrests and killing people. in fact, you're just going to encourage them to martyrdom, rather than just defeating them at the ballot box . they blew it when they were governing, and if we go to a democratic process , if the military does that, rather than taking this over in the power grab they're involved in right now, then the muslim brotherhood can be defeated through the democratic process .

>> so, senator jack reed , you know, this is summertime, you're in rhode island , you've got to be hearing from your constituents who are saying, hey, senator, why are we sending $1.5 billion to egypt every year, most of that to the military, when they're crushing protesters in the streets? just another strong man after mubarak that seems to be quelling dissent. senator rand paul tweeted, president obama says he deplores violence in egypt , but u.s. foreign aid continues to help pay for it. senator ted cruz said we're encouraging the violence by our aid. have you had a change of heart with regard to keeping the aid flowing to egypt ?

>> well, the acts of the last few days by the egyptian military are completely unconscionable, and i do believe we have to change our aid. i think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver, because we have to give the president not only responsibility to deal with the government of egypt but also flexibility. and we have to recognize, this is not just for the moment, this is a long-term process. one of the obvious facts of a transition from our totalitarian government to a democracy, it takes a long time and it's not a straight line. and so, we have to have a policy that expresses our outrage, really, at the military, but also gives the president the tools to, we hope, engage them. and then moreover, we have to engage the regional powers , the saudis, the qataris, because they provide significant-and-they also provide economic aid . finally, we have to recognize longer term that there are other strategic issues here, including the safety and stability of israel and transit of the canal. so, i do believe that we can send a strong signal by suspending aid. the president also suspended the f-16 transfers. i believe he suspended bright star , our military exercise . but if we do, and i think we should, pass legislation, it has to have a waiver so that the president can be able to engage or attempt to engage the egyptian government .

>> well, here's how the president is engaging. he came out during his vacation on martha's vineyard, spoke on thursday. this is part of what he said.

>> we've sustained our commitment to egypt and its people, but while we want to sustain our relationship with egypt , our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.

>> so, ratchets up the pressure, senator ayotte, but is the president more or less on the sidelines or do you think he's been doing the right thing?

>> well, i agreed with his suspension of the military exercise . obviously, his condemnation of the violence. but i think he fell short when he really didn't come out and call out the real question on the suspension of aid, because that is the real influence that we have with egypt . so, i thought that he could have been stronger on that coming very clearly against the violence and saying we're going to suspend aid until you restore democracy.