Obama Administration Taking Cautious Approach to Unrest in Egypt

BY Terence Burlij  January 31, 2011 at 8:46 AM EDT

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden

In this White House photo taken Friday, President Obama talks on the phone with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as Vice President Joe Biden and the national security team listen in the background. Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As thousands of protesters in Egypt continue to call for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the Obama administration is being careful not to advocate a specific outcome in the conflict, instead calling for an “orderly transition” to a more representative form of government in the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit the airwaves Sunday calling on Egypt to move toward a more open political system, but stopped short of calling for Mubarak to step down.

A former senior White House official who has spoken to people in the current administration told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration is preparing for an Egypt without Mubarak and “want to be on the right side of history.”

“They don’t want to push Mubarak over the cliff, but they understand that the Mubarak era is over and that the only way Mubarak could be saved now is by a ruthless suppression of the population, which would probably set the stage for a much more radical revolution down the road.”

Obama administration officials “recognized that change was coming and they needed to be on the right side of history and not try to keep Mubarak in power against all odds,” the former official told the Times, adding:

“It’s a very difficult balance to be struck. Mubarak is, after all, a friend of the United States for the last 30 years. A lot of our allies in the region — the Saudis, Jordanians and Kuwaitis — will be particularly nervous if it looks like the U.S. is doing in one of their friends.”

Clinton, who appeared on every major Sunday public affairs television program, emphasized that some sort of democratic reform is inevitable in regimes such as in Egypt.

“The world is moving too fast. There is too much information. People’s aspirations and certainly the rise of middle classes throughout the world demand responsive participatory government. And that is what we expect to see happen,” Clinton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, supported the administration’s response.

“I think the administration, our administration so far, has handled this tense situation pretty well. Clearly reforms need to occur in Egypt. And frankly anyplace around the world where people are calling out for freedom and democracy, I think we have a responsibility to respond,” he told Fox News Sunday.

As protests continue in Egypt, Al Jazeera English reports that a “mega protest” is planned in Cairo on Tuesday, ensuring that this foreign policy crisis won’t be fading from the White House’s view anytime soon.

SPENDING BATTLES LOOM LARGE

While Egypt dominated the headlines over the weekend, U.S. lawmakers and Obama administration officials continue to go back and forth on the issue of government spending.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called on the president to “be more bold” in addressing the national debt.

“Our annual deficit, completely out of control; we’re going to send the president a lot less. We’re going to allow him to sign on to a lot less spending than he recommended the other night and that he’s likely to send us in the budget,” Sen. McConnell said.

William Daley, the president’s new chief of staff, challenged congressional Republicans to come forward with specific cuts of their own. “It’s the old saying, ‘Where’s the beef?’ Let’s see exactly what cuts they’re talking about,” Daley said.

Daley added that the president would “lay out a very substantial cut” in his upcoming budget. He also highlighted the projected $400 billion in savings that would come from the president’s five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending.

Daley, the former chairman of JP Morgan Chase, said the president is taking a business-minded approach to running government. “What the president has talked about is investing, and the time to invest, while you’re cutting, is to take some of those cuts, invest them in things that will have a return as you come out of this recession. That’s what successful companies do, and that’s what the government has got to do,” Daley said.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected those “investments” as simply more wasteful government spending. “The American people want us to cut spending. They don’t want more stimulus spending,” Rep. Boehner said.

House Republicans have pledged to reduce spending to pre-2008 levels, but Rep. Boehner would not detail specific cuts, except to say he expects the House Appropriations Committee to target specific areas rather than trim across the board. He said details of their spending plans would be made public in the next “10 days or so,” which should line up with the scheduled release of the president’s budget on Feb. 14.

Rep. Boehner spoke to “Fox News Sunday,” while Daley appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Sen. McConnell was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

HUNTSMAN’S PLANS

The newest member to the club of possible 2012 GOP presidential contenders is current U.S. Ambassador to China and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

Hunstman is “expected to resign his post this spring to explore a bid for the Republican presidential nomination,” Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns of POLITICO report.

Martin and Burns note that Huntsman met recently with the party’s 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and that Huntsman allies have formed a Political Action Committee “to serve as a placeholder for his political apparatus.”

President Obama was asked about Huntsman’s presidential prospects at a recent White House news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao. “I couldn’t be happier with the ambassador’s service, and I’m sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future. And I’m sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary,” President Obama joked.

Humor aside, Martin and Burns report that administration “officials are a tad irritated at the barely-veiled presidential moves of their own ambassador in one of the most important countries in the world.”

LATE START

Conservative activists in New Hampshire are complaining that the 2012 GOP primary hasn’t started soon enough.

Roll Call reports that activists in the state that holds the first presidential primary are chomping at the bit to start the process:

“New Hampshire’s top Republican activists report that the next cycle is off to the slowest start in decades. The private meetings and phone calls needed to build a grassroots network simply haven’t happened yet — at least not to the extent that the Granite State political class has grown accustomed.”

Ovide Lamontagne, a Manchester attorney and former Senate candidate who is among New Hampshire’s most powerful conservative voices, tells Roll Call:

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who the top 100 activists are in New Hampshire — the people they should be calling if they’re really serious about running for president. And those calls, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t being made. We’re in a perpetual state of political activity in New Hampshire. This is our state sport. People are anxious to get involved.”

While former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the favorite right now, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty have made several stops in the state, Roll Call reports.

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