The standoff between Rand Paul and the Senate leadership over the Kentucky lawmaker's demand
for a vote cutting off aid to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan is threatening to
derail the confirmations of new ambassadors to Iraq and Pakistan before the upper
chamber leaves town.
Paul stopped all work on the Senate floor today over
his demand for a vote on two amendments he is proposing to the veterans' jobs
bill under consideration.
One amendment would withhold all U.S. aid to
Pakistan until the Pakistani government releases Shakil Afridi, the
doctor who worked with the CIA to help positively identify Osama bin Laden.
Afridi was sentenced in June
to 33 years in jail for treason.
The second would prohibit aid to Libya and Egypt
until anyone involved in this week's attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts was
arrested and transferred to U.S. custody.
Paul is objecting to unanimous consent on all Senate
business until he gets his way, dragging out the process of taking votes for
Late Thursday evening Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the
Senate would not stay in session all weekend due to the stalemate, as many on
Capitol Hill feared. The Senate will come back Sept. 19 to an enormous pile of
urgent business, including funding the government, before its planned
adjournment the following weekend.
The Democratic leadership has no intention of allowing a vote on
Paul's amendments, partially because lawmakers don't want to be put in the
position of voting for the aid so close to the election. If the amendments
actually passed, moreover, the sudden impact for America's foreign policy would
create huge problems for the Obama administration as it struggles to tamp down
spiraling unrest in the broader Middle East.
But if Paul doesn't get his vote, he intends to
maintain his existing hold on the nomination of Richard Olson be the U.S. envoy in
Islamabad and work to thwart the building effort to quickly confirm Robert Stephen Beecroft as the new ambassador
"We are continuing our hold on the ambassador until
we are allowed time and debate on a Senate vote to cut U.S. foreign aid to
Pakistan," Paul's Communications Director
Moira Bagley told The Cable today.
The Beecroft nomination was just announced this week,
and is therefore not in front of the full Senate yet, but Bagley said that Paul
is prepared to use his prerogative to object to quick passage of any
legislative action, including the two nominations, if Senate leadership doesn't
allow his vote.
On Wednesday night, Reid taunted Paul, saying, "I
just think my friend from Kentucky maybe should have run for secretary of state
rather than the Senate."
On the Senate floor Thursday, Paul got into a heated
exchange with someone who actually is
said to be in contention to become secretary of state, Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman John Kerry
"My position is not one penny more for Libya or
Egypt or Pakistan until they act like our allies. Some say we've got to keep
sending it. Fine. Let's send it when they act like our allies. Let's send it
when they start behaving like civilized nations and come to their senses," Paul
said. "Let's memorialize those people who sacrificed their lives and the
veterans by saying we're not going to give money to a country that disrespects
and disavows everything we've done over the last 10 years to combat terrorism."
Kerry called Paul "arrogant" for saying these
countries weren't civilized and he argued that the attacks on the diplomatic
outposts were not the fault of the Egyptian and Libyan governments, so punishing
them would be counterproductive and self-defeating. He said pulling the aid out
of Pakistan would hurt the effort in Afghanistan, where thousands of American troops
Kerry then called on Paul to travel to those
countries, and he said the U.S. role must be to help countries in their
struggle for democracy and stability, not abandon them.
"Whatever happened to the great commitment of the
conservative movement in America to freedom and democracy and to help it
develop?" Kerry said. "Just turn your back on it, pull the aid out? What the
Beecroft's nomination hearing is scheduled for Sept.
18, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting
Sept. 19 where Beecroft, if he is on the agenda, is expected to be approved. Paul
has not cited any problem with Beecroft personally, or Olson for that matter --
they are just his leverage.
If Beecroft and Olson don't get confirmed by the end
of next week, the United States won't have ambassadors in Iraq or Pakistan
until after the November election.
Kerry says he will push to get it done, but there
are no guarantees.
"Make no mistake: Our
embassy in Baghdad is one of our most important and what happens there is key
to our bilateral relationship and our work in the Middle East. By all accounts,
Steve Beecroft is a highly capable career Foreign Service
officer who has ambassadorial experience, and it is in America's best interest
to get him on the ground as quickly as possible," Kerry said in a statement to The Cable. "I will work to get him
confirmed without delay."
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