WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republican Senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain has been unpredictable regarding his opinion on foreign aid.
Most recently, McCain announced that he would cut foreign aid to Mexico and some Central American countries. He hopes that decreasing aid would incentivize Mexico and nations such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to control their outflow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and lock down their borders. The declaration comes as a surprise to conservatives and liberals alike, as McCain has previously supported comprehensive immigration reform, and has even favored paths to citizenship. Nearly as surprising, yet no more predictable, has been McCain’s recent denouncement of foreign aid.
McCain’s position on foreign aid has always fluctuated, much to the chagrin of both Democrats and McCain’s Republican party members. In September 2012, McCain supported continued foreign aid to Egypt and Libya when other Republicans called for its end. Their calls came after attacks on American presence in the region left one U.S. ambassador and three more Americans dead. McCain held firm on the issue, siding with the Obama Administration despite their long-standing disagreement on Middle Eastern policy. McCain declared that those who wanted to cut aid to Egypt and Libya—mostly members of his own party—didn’t understand the situation in that region and that the very idea of cutting aid was “idiocy.”
Yet, in July 2013, after the Egyptian military overthrew elected leader Mohamed Morsi, McCain was one of the first politicians to call for a freeze on U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. He decried the takeover as a coup when most politicians were hesitant to say the word. McCain blamed the coup on an absence of U.S. leadership in Egypt, and argued that withholding foreign aid would force Egyptians to better heed America’s position . The move seemed a far cry from his stance less than one year earlier, but resembled some of his recent stances more closely.
Further complicating McCain’s foreign aid stance was McCain’s December 2013 praise of Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic leader who has called foreign aid “one of the best bargains for American taxpayers.” Though McCain had demanded gutting aid to Egypt five months prior and would criticize similar aid in the future, the Republican senator lauded Biden for his consistent support of foreign aid without any apparent hesitation.
It is hard to say for certain whether McCain is a critic or supporter of foreign aid. Though McCain has encouraged its continuation and praised its champions, he has also fought hard to end it and place pressure on governments that may post a threat to U.S. interests. Which of these moves are motivated by politics and which are motivated by McCain’s own sense of right and wrong remains uncertain. What is certain is that neither party should expect McCain to fall blindly into line behind them in matters of foreign aid.