The Egyptian military coup has gone from bad to worse, and President Obama is not helping matters.

John McCain Sen. John McCain (Jahi Chikwendiu/Washington Post)

The Hill reports:

Key senators said Thursday that President Obama should formally declare whether there was a coup in Egypt after signals that the State Department wants  to take a pass.

U.S. law requires the administration cut off the $1.5 billion-a-year aid spigot to Egypt if it determines that last month’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi was a military coup. Following a briefing Thursday with the State Department’s Number 2 official, top Republicans said the administration must make a determination but that they would introduce waiver legislation to keep the aid flowing if the administration determines a coup took place.

The GOP senators — Bob Corker (Tenn.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) — are dead right. The administration can, if it chooses, acknowledge that a coup occurred and then suggest appropriate legislation to limit or condition aid. What it cannot do is pretend that the law doesn’t exist — or that the coup is not a coup. To do so is abject lawlessness of the type Congress should not countenance.

Ironically, this face-off comes at the very time the administration has decided it’s not a good idea to deliver four F-16s to the Egyptian government. As the New York Times reports: “Mr. Obama, administration officials said, wanted to send Egypt’s military-led government a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Mr. Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood.” More to the point, there is no real military necessity for the planes at this time (“The jet fighters have little role in Egypt’s domestic unrest, and Egypt is not facing an imminent external threat that would require adding four more warplanes to its security forces, said one Pentagon official”), which raises the question why we would still be delivering them to Egypt. Surely there must have been less expensive ways for us to boost their military’s ego and maintain ties. In any event, suspending the delivery makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is ignoring U.S. law in order to keep money flowing without condition to the military government. The Obama administration might consider this as “threading the needle,” but in fact they are sending a mixed — if not undecipherable — message to the military junta.

It defies common sense to demand that Egypt embrace the rule of law while demonstrating contempt for our own laws. The president’s imperiousness when it comes to selectively enforcing U.S. law (immigration, Obamacare) is bad enough; in the international context, it is inexcusable.