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Politics

Congress divided on aid to Egyptian military

Lawmakers split even within political parties

President Obama

AP/File

President Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises set for September, and delayed delivery of four F-16 jets.

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are divided on whether the United States should cut military aid to Egypt, which highlights the difficult choices the Obama administration faces as violence intensifies on the streets of a pivotal Middle East ally.

Democratic leaders generally have supported the president’s approach. But Sunday, Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress; he is cochairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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‘‘I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path toward democracy,’’ he told ABC’s “This Week.’’

‘‘In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders,’’ Ellison said.

Among Republicans, there were calls to end military aid to Egypt. Others were hesitant.

Representative Pete King, Republican of New York, said curtailing aid could reduce US influence with Egypt’s interim government, which controls access to the Suez Canal.

‘‘We certainly shouldn’t cut off all aid,’’ said King, who chairs a House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.

King said on “Fox News Sunday’’ that there are no good choices in Egypt. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.

‘‘The fact is, there’s no good guys there,’’ King said. ‘‘But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military.’’

The split among members of the same party illustrates the uncertainty facing President Obama as he tries to navigate volatile developments in Egypt, where crackdowns in recent days left nearly 900 people dead and thousands injured.

Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises set for September, and delayed delivery of four F-16 jets. But the White House has refused to declare Morsi’s removal a coup — a step that would require Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Obama insists that the United States stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government. But he says America cannot determine Egypt’s future.

The New York Times, citing administration officials, reported Monday that the State Department halted financing for economic programs directly involving the Egyptian government.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, renewed a call to end military aid.

‘‘For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for,’’ McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.’’ “We’re not sticking with our values.’’

The military ousted Morsi July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand he quit, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.

But Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, said he supports the president’s approach.

‘‘These are very, very difficult choices,’’ said Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel.‘‘I’m very unhappy, obviously, with the crackdown. But we essentially have two choices in Egypt. And that’s a military government, which hopefully will transition as quickly as possible to civilian government, or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is a choice.’’

Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said Congress should give the president flexibility in dealing with Egypt.

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