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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MENENDEZ. That should take the remainder of our time.

Mr. President, this amendment may be good politics but it is bad policy. I appreciate the concern of the Senator from Kentucky for Detroit. He and others in this Chamber have had plenty of times to vote for America's cities, but I have not seen those votes be there.

Nothing in this amendment, notwithstanding what we heard, suggests that cutting all aid to Egypt ultimately means putting that money into the cities of America, such as Detroit. So let's not be mistaken about that.

I share many of the concerns that have been raised by my colleague today about the situation in Egypt. I believe, however, halting all military assistance to Egypt at this time is misguided and it is shortsighted. It would drastically reduce U.S. influence with both the interim government of Egypt and the military at an incredibly delicate time for Egypt and its people. And in so doing, it may in fact undermine our shared goals and desire to see elections and a democratically elected government reestablished in Egypt as quickly as possible.

It has been just a little more than 2 years since the onset of the Arab spring and a revolution in Egypt that unseated Hosni Mubarak after two decades in power. During these tumultuous 2 years, Egypt has struggled as a society with the transition to democracy that its people clearly want, and with efforts to create the economic opportunities that its people clearly need. That struggle is real and ongoing.

The demonstrations that ousted Mubarak in a clear military coup were unprecedented--until they were eclipsed by demonstrations this summer which drew as much as a third of Egypt's population of 83 million people onto its streets. That is more than 30 million people who have been emboldened by the revolution, who are united in their call for reform and democracy, and who have embraced their ability and right to peaceful protests and to demand change.

If you think about it, a comparable protest in the United States involving a third of our Nation would mean that 100 million Americans would be on the streets of the cities of America. That is the equivalent of what has been happening in Egypt.

So my point is that Egypt is changing but perhaps not as quickly as we would like and with a process that has been, not surprisingly, pretty chaotic.

Abandoning our diplomacy and engagement with Egypt--a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East--because the road that leads to change is not straight or certain would be naive. It might make us feel good, at least for a moment, but in the long run it would threaten to undermine vital national security interests and set back our values.

Making such a significant change to U.S. foreign policy--with all the potential implications for U.S. national security and for our ally Israel--should not be done in haste. It should not be done carelessly or thoughtlessly. It should not be done without a full understanding of all of the ramifications of such a change. And it certainly should not be tacked onto the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. It is far too important a decision to be an afterthought to an appropriations bill. In my view, it is ill-advised to make foreign policy on the fly without due consideration of all of the consequences.

I would point out that my friend from Kentucky has introduced an identical bill that has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. Last Thursday the committee held its first extensive hearing on the crisis in Egypt. I can assure my friend from Kentucky that the committee will continue to work on this issue and to look at appropriate policy options through a deliberative process.

We need time to determine whether the process underway in Egypt will meet the demands of the Egyptian people and

lead back to democracy or if the military leadership will dig in further and thereby invoke restrictions in U.S. law with respect to assistance. Our patience is not unlimited and our assistance is not without limitations. The administration is already actively reviewing U.S. assistance.

The delivery of four new F-16 aircraft that was to occur last week was halted by the administration, clearly sensitive to the situation. At the end of the day we should allow for flexibility to deal with this delicate situation as events dictate, not precipitate an unwanted response with a knee-jerk reaction rather than deliberative reflection. The administration has a process to make its decisions.

I would say this is about--as I listen to the Senator from Kentucky--far more than Egypt. He basically opposes all foreign assistance abroad. The reality is that foreign assistance abroad has worked for the national interests and security of the United States. It has saved millions of lives through PEPFAR against AIDS and HIV. It has helped strengthen democracies. It has helped create democracies. It has helped create open markets for American products and services. As a matter of fact, these sales to Egypt--about $1.2 billion--are largely from the manufacture of equipment here in the United States that creates jobs here at home and then ultimately gets used in Egypt.

We need a more nuanced approach, one that speaks to both our values and our interests, and one which provides the President with the flexibility needed to conduct delicate and discriminating policy in a challenging and chaotic environment.

A quick end to aid at this time--meat-clever approach, when a scalpel is needed--is simply ill-advised.

Last week Ambassador Dennis Ross, whose reputation and experience as a diplomat, Presidential adviser on the Middle East, and author, has made him one of the Nation's most respected foreign policy minds on both sides of the aisle, told the Foreign Relations Committee it is imperative that America ``stay in the game.'' We cannot and should not pull out now. Ending aid to Egypt would only cause Egyptians to shut the United States out of discussions and disregard our advice. Ambassador Ross also said that such an action could be the only thing to unite all Egyptians across the entire political spectrum against the United States--against the United States. In fact, that opinion was shared by the majority panelists who feared our inability to influence events in Egypt if we were to step out of the game.

In the interim, as we further assess the situation, our response and our policy must be carefully calibrated to press for the democratic reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded and--simultaneously--support U.S. national security interests in the region.

U.S. assistance to Egypt has, for decades, helped support the Camp David Accords. It also supports our security interests in countering trafficking of weapons and people into the Sinai, and in antiterrorism cooperation with the United States.

In recent weeks, Egypt's military has launched a major crackdown on terrorist activity and extremists in the Sinai Peninsula, carrying out arrests and attempting to seal smuggling tunnels connecting the Sinai to Gaza. U.S. cooperation is essential to the continuation of these activities.

Let me conclude by saying, at the end of the day, Egyptian leaders and the Egyptian military must show that they are committed to an inclusive political process, credible democratic elections, and democratic governance that protects the rights of religious minorities, women, civil society leaders, and a diversity of political parties.

That includes, from my perspective, vacating the June 4 verdicts for the 43 individuals convicted in the politically motivated trial of nongovernmental organization workers, including 16 Americans, and permitting civil society organizations to reopen their offices and operate freely. It also clearly means an immediate cessation of arrests and use of force against peaceful protestors.

Steps that exacerbate the divide in Egyptian society, including the use of force against protestors and arrests and harassment of pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, serve only to deepen the chasm and forestall reconciliation.

The only way forward to a pluralistic, vibrant, and stable democracy lies in the inclusion of all political parties and groups, as long as they are committed to a democratic process and to peaceful change.

The United States has to move cautiously, not precipitously, in this delicate situation. The Paul amendment is not the answer when it comes to our future relationship with Egypt. The future of that relationship will be determined by our actions in the coming weeks.

Whether we will have a stable and willing partner on crucial matters of security, combating terrorism, trafficking of weapons and persons into the Sinai, and support for peace in the Middle East is up to us or we can stand aside and hope for the best. I think abandoning Egypt is a particularly poor choice. That is why I oppose the amendment and urge my colleagues to do the same.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, this has been a robust debate. Listening to my friend and colleague from Kentucky, I appreciate his views, but I strongly disagree with him. Above all, let's say what it is and what it is not about. This is not about Mubarak and chateaus. Mubarak is gone. The Egyptian people decided that. He is gone. It is not about Mobutu or anybody else. You can conflate anything you want and throw it up against the wall, but this is a question of whether we will continue to pursue our own national interest and national security in Egypt, in the Middle East.

This is, in fact, about democracy. It is about the 30 million who were protesting in the streets of Egypt, whom Senator Paul referred to. But their call is not for us to leave; their call is for us to engage with them. As the experts in this field who gave testimony before the committee said, the one uniting thing among all elements of Egyptian society we could do is cut off all aid. It would unite in what? Against us.

This is about making sure we have a stable Middle East. It is not a canard to suggest that Israel's security is at stake, because when you have hundreds of tunnels in the Sinai being used by extremists to send weapons into Gaza to attack Israel, it is about their security. I think no one knows better about their security than the State of Israel itself knows about their security.

It is not a canard. It is a fundamental element of whether we are going to have an ally that can be safe and secure. It is a fundamental element of whether we are going to have the ability to affect the outcome in Egypt in a way that will create stability and peace. It is a fundamental element of whether we have to send soldiers abroad versus keeping them here at home. Because when there is peace and stability, we ultimately do not have to engage with our military in pursuit of our national interest and security.

When terrorists cannot organize in Egypt, we are safer at home in the United States. So let's not cut off all aid to Egypt in a transportation, housing, and urban development bill when, in fact, our vital national interests are at stake. There is plenty of opportunity to help America's cities. I was a mayor. No one wants to help America's cities more. You will get to do that if you vote for the THUD bill, if you put your vote up. But this is not a way to achieve that.

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