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Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) fought the resolution.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) fought the resolution. (Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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Josh Rogin
Thursday, February 3, 2011

How the Senate resolution on Egyptian democracy died

Last year, a bipartisan group of senators led a months-long drive to pass a resolution calling for greater freedom and democracy in Egypt. The resolution died in December because of a fatal mix of divided loyalties, lobbying influence and secret Senate holds.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) were the leaders of the effort to press Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to move toward more free and fair elections via the resolution, which called for "supporting democracy, human rights, and civil liberties in Egypt."

But according to three senior Senate aides who worked on the issue, the two senators who worked most actively behind the scenes to prevent the resolution from moving forward were Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had concerns about the resolution's effect on the U.S. relationship with the Mubarak government and worried that it would jeopardize U.S.-Egyptian cooperation on a range of sensitive national security issues.

Wicker, the three Senate aides said, worked against the resolution's passage in part because of his long-standing relationship with a top Washington lobbyist, Wicker's former House colleague Bob Livingston, whose firm was being paid by the Egyptian government under a years-long lobbying contract. Livingston personally called Wicker to ask him to help stall the measure.

When asked by the Cable on Tuesday about his opposition to the resolution, Wicker said, "I would have to refresh my recollection."

An aide to Wicker said the senator was simply doing his due diligence to make sure the resolution was not pushed through hastily. "Senator Wicker's main goal was to make sure the resolution was worded in a way to make sure the resolution was productive and to make sure that Egypt was recognized as an ally and a partner," the aide said.

Neither Wicker nor Feinstein formally objected to a pared-down version of the resolution when it circulated during the lame-duck session. But by that time, two unidentified Democratic senators had placed secret holds on the measure, preventing it from being brought up by unanimous consent and effectively killing its chances of moving forward.

None of the Senate aides who spoke with the Cable knows which two Democratic senators secretly held up the resolution in the end. But for the measure's supporters, the episode is a stark illustration of how Washington policy on Egypt was caught in a tangled mess of competing interests and how broad bipartisan efforts can be torpedoed by a small number of lawmakers.

For McCain, the resolution was a missed opportunity. "It was blocked by members on both sides of the aisle, and the administration opposed it, too. It was not helpful; it sent all the wrong signals to Egypt," he told the Cable.

A hero for State?

There's one senior Republican who supports maintaining the budgets for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Graham is widely expected to soon be named the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations. No final decisions have been made, but if and when Graham gets the post, he will be in a key position to make the case that U.S. national security considerations require a fully financed diplomatic and development effort.

"State Department, USAID, all of these programs, in their own way, help win this struggle against radical Islam," Graham said in an interview Tuesday with the Cable. "To those members who do not see the value of the civilian partnership in the war on terror, I think they are making a very dangerous decision."

Graham plans to use the position, working with subcommittee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), to increase State Department and USAID funding for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and increase the civilian side of various military-civilian partnerships.

Graham and Leahy will be fighting against a GOP-led House that has pledged to axe State Department and foreign aid funding.

New START to start

A host of senior officials and lawmakers are on their way to Munich this weekend, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will ceremoniously exchange the article of ratification for New START with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, officially bringing the treaty into force.

The star-studded U.S. lineup at the Munich Security Conference will include national security adviser Tom Donilon, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and others.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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