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Capitol Hill conflicted over whether to withdraw aid to Egypt

APTOPIX Mideast Egypt
A man displays a bloodied shirt of ousted President Mohamed Morsi's supporter outside a local hospital in Cairo on Monday. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Congress is divided over what to do with $1.5 billion in aid the United States had committed to Egypt, as deadly clashes continued Monday between the Egyptian military and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says that while he would prefer U.S. aid to Egypt continue, the law mandates that foreign assistance be cut off in aftermath of a military coup against an elected government.

"The law offers no ability to waive its provisions," he said Monday. "I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time."

McCain said Congress and the Obama administration should explore "creative and lawful means to cooperate with the Egyptian military on a limited basis," including deploying Defense Department personnel "to safeguard vital national security interests such as counterterrorism, intelligence sharing, border security, and the maintenance of regional peace."

“In light of this worsening situation, it is essential for all people and parties in Egypt to refrain from violence and work together immediately to begin a transition back to an elected democratic government," he said.

His position has drawn fire from some conservatives. Larry Klayman, founder of the Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, said the U.S. should support the troops who toppled Morsi’s Islamic Brotherhood-backed regime.

“McCain is an irrational blowhard; a senile dinosaur whose time has come and gone,” Klayman said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said aid to Egypt should continue because the “Egyptian military is the one stable factor there.”

“So they should, I think, continue to be rewarded for that type of activity,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I would support them continuing with the money.”

But others on Capitol Hill are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“There will be plenty of time to assess the aid issue,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Trying to jump to what we are going to do relative to support at this moment is not the place that we need to be.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said U.S. aid should be used to “leverage” pro-democracy actions in Egypt.

“This is an opportunity to have a pause and say to the Egyptians, you have an opportunity to come together. You have to have the military understand that that’s what we are looking for,” Menendez told NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday.

The American public seems less conflicted on how to handle the political unrest in Egypt. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday shows that 73 percent of likely voters believe the United States should leave the situation alone. Just 10 percent think the U.S. should get more involved, while 17 percent said they're not sure.