POSTED: Sunday, August 18, 2013 - 9:53am
UPDATED: Sunday, August 18, 2013 - 11:58am
(CNN) — It's high time for the United States to cut off its $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt as the military regime cracks down violently on protesters, Sen. John McCain argued Sunday.
The Arizona Republican added the U.S. has lost its credibility in the region after failing to follow its own law that requires suspending aid to states overtaken by a military coup--though the U.S. has not officially described the recent regime change in Egypt as a coup.
"We have no credibility. We do have influence, but when you don't use that influence, then you do not have that influence," McCain said on CNN's "State of the Union."
McCain, along with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, traveled to Egypt earlier this month at the request of President Barack Obama to implore military leaders to begin holding elections and transition into a democracy.
While McCain voted late last month to maintain aid to Egypt, the longtime senator has since had a change of heart and is now joining others, including Republican Sen. Rand Paul, in calling for the Obama administration to suspend aid.
Breaking from his vacation in Martha's Vineyard last week, Obama made a statement about the renewed unrest in Egypt, saying the U.S. will cancel its upcoming joint military exercises with the country. But he stopped short of suspending the aid.
With much of that $1.3 billion going to the Egyptian military, McCain argued the continued assistance will further spur tension and anti-American sentiments in the region.
"With Apache helicopters flying overhead (in Egypt), nothing is more symbolic of the United States of America siding with the generals," he told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who initially voted to maintain aid, also said Sunday that U.S. should withdraw assistance.
"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 ... (and) suspend aid, until you restore democracy," Ayotte said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
On the same program, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said recent acts by the Egyptian military are "completely unconscionable, and I do believe we have to change our aid."
Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, however, said while the U.S. may not have as much influence over Egypt as it once did, he believes Egypt's military leaders don't want to obliterate its relationship with the U.S. and therefore the Obama administration still has "substantial influence."
"It's a little bit bizarre to understand why they're doing what they're doing, but I don't think you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Egypt's an important country, and I think we have to be very careful before we willy-nilly just cut off aid," Engel said on ABC's "This Week."
As for why McCain and others supported the aid in the Senate vote last month, McCain said he wanted to give the military regime in Egypt an opportunity to enact a democratic government. He and other senators also argued that a cutoff of aid to Egypt would ultimately hurt Israel.
Asked Sunday if he still believes a suspension would indirectly damage the Jewish state, McCain said there would be a "risk."
"But I also would point out that the Mubarak regime and this regime is stoking anti-Americanism to a large degree, and anti-Israel rhetoric is very high," he said. "I believe that Israel can defend itself, although it may be of some cost to them, but look at the cost of American credibility."
McCain said the Obama administration's handling of Egypt is just one sign of what he described as the president's lack of foreign policy in the Middle East.
"There is no policy, and there is no strategy. And therefore, we react and we react poorly," he said.