Top lawmakers question continued aid to Egypt

Two lawmakers who serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the United States should reconsider its aid to Egypt in the wake of bloody clashes between that country's interim government and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island said on NBC's Meet the Press that the aid should be suspended as the Egyptian military and security forces continue a crackdown against pro-Morsi protestors that has left hundreds dead this week. 

"With the recent violent crackdown I do not see how we can continue aid," said Ayotte, who opposed a legislative measure in July to suspend the aid package to Egypt's military. "I believe it must be suspended because unfortunately I think that the military's gotten the impression - particularly with the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week - that whatever they do we will continue our aid." 

Reed agreed that the aid should be suspended but added that the president should be able to retain the flexibility to "engage" the Egyptian government.

"The acts of the last few days by the Egyptian military are completely unconscionable and I do believe we have to change our aid," said Reed. "I think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver because we have to give the president not only the responsibility to deal with the government of Egypt but also flexibility." 

Another Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that he supports a suspension followed by a "recalibration" of the aid package. 

"Look, I think the actions of the last week are no doubt going to cause us to suspend aid," said Corker, who serves as the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Other GOP lawmakers have argued against cutting off aid. 

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said on Fox News Sunday that he remains "reluctant" to suspend aid, saying that such a move could reduce U.S. leverage over the interim government and harm access to the Suez Canal and other strategic resources in the region. 

President Barack Obama condemned the violence this week but stopped short of suspending over a billion dollars in aid that the U.S. sends annually to its historic ally. The White House did announce the cancellation of a planned joint military exercise. 

Ayotte said that statement was not strong enough.

"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," she said. 

Reed said that the United States must send a "strong signal" to Egypt while remaining mindful of the long-term ramifications for the region. 

"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," he said.