Why did Rand Paul’s Embassy Attack Legislation Die?

A friend of mine asked me to share my perspective as a former Senate staffer why a recent bill by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) might have failed by a vote of 81 to 10.

Here is my response:

In looking at the bill, a few things jump to mind:
First being that this bill is all over the map, and was too broad and thus easy for Senators to nitpick and reject. The easiest way to get the Senate to do something, at least in my experience, is to make it vote on one thing and one thing only. But that rarely happens, and when it does it’s passed by a voice vote or by unanimous consent. If it’s a political vote — that the Democrats want Republicans to reject — they’ll do the same thing. They’re known as “messaging” votes and aren’t really serious votes.

It’s a whole other world where legislation that is generally accepted can be subjected to amendments that aren’t as popular, and the amendment process can get into various degrees of secondary amendments and amendments to the amendments etc.

But let’s focus on the bill:

Section 1 is pretty straightforward. It denies “direct United States assistance, loan guarantee, or debt relief” to the governments of Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan.

Between those three countries alone, there aren’t probably enough votes to pass the bill. Lots of folks think that Egypt, despite the fact it is a mess, is still strategically important to the region. Egypt is a big reason it failed. Pakistan and Libya, at least among Republicans, aren’t as popular foreign aid beneficiaries.

Section 1 (b)(4) is where we get into a bit of trouble.

(4) The Government of a host country of a United States diplomatic facility on the list submitted to Congress pursuant to subsection (c).

(c) Determination by Secretary- The Secretary of State shall submit to Congress a list of all United States diplomatic facilities attacked, trespassed upon, breached, or attempted to be attacked, trespassed upon, or breached on or after September 1, 2012, not later than 5 days after the date of enactment of this Act and not later than 5 days after any subsequent attack, trespass, breach, or attempt.

Egypt aside, this is probably why the bill stood no chance of passing. As written, any embassy or diplomatic facility that is attacked or “attempted to be attacked, trespassed upon or breached on” has to go on a list compiled by the Secretary of State. Once they are on the list, that country gets on the list, it no longer gets foreign assistance, loan guarantees (for all the foreign Solyndras!), or debt relief.

This section probably was objectionable to many Senators because if one of our big allies, let’s say Israel, has some hooligans from terrorist groups sneak in and attack or attempt to attack any of our diplomatic facilities there, we cannot give Israel foreign aid anymore.

The bill also has some general language, but oddly using “may certify” instead of “must certify” to Congress that the administration is taking a variety of actions to catch terrorists responsible and shore up defenses at diplomatic posts.

The bill also, rightly in my view, ties Pakistan’s aid to the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi.

So, the long and short of it is that the bill bit off more than it could chew, mainly because it included Egypt and was written in a way that could end up cutting off foreign aid to our allies, like Israel.

Jim

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