Obama's Egypt Policy Attacked By Some Republicans

The events in Egypt have also been at the forefront of U.S. politics these past weeks. Initially, many Republicans took a similar stance to that of the Obama administration. But over the weekend, some Republican presidential hopefuls started staking out their positions and had plenty of criticism for Obama's policy toward Egypt.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The events in Egypt have also been at the forefront of American politics these past weeks. Initially, many Republicans approached the uprising in a similar way to that of the Obama administration. But over the weekend, some Republican presidential hopefuls started staking out their positions and had plenty of criticism for Mr. Obama's policy toward Egypt.

For more on this, NPR's Cokie Roberts joins us, as she does most Mondays. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So House Leader John Boehner said yesterday that the administration dealt with the tumult in Egypt in about the best way it could be handled. You know, nice words. But tell us what those other Republicans are saying.

ROBERTS: Well, Boehner's not running for president, as far as we know, but a lot of other Republicans are and they were here over the weekend for that big conservative conference called CPAC, and they were certainly ready to take on President Obama on just about everything, and that includes the handling of the situation of Egypt. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said that it was sending a bad signal to other Arab allies the way that Mubarak was treated. Former candidate John McCain said that the administration shouldn't have been so surprised by what was going on in Egypt. There was some faulting of the intelligence services there. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who's certainly in that race, said that the national security team and the president had been, quote, "the Tower of Babel," speaking in many different voices.

So you're hearing a lot of criticism, and more among the conservative commentators, that the Obama administration had dropped Bush administration attempts to promote democracy in the area. But you know, once they start getting into that line of argument, it puts those conservatives in an awkward position in terms of other conservative goals.

MONTAGNE: Well, elaborate on that. What's the conflict there?

ROBERTS: Well, the way this country has worked to promote democracy in various countries throughout the world is through helping local organizations build civil society, and that comes through the USAID, the foreign aid budget. And of course that is really right at the top of the chopping block for a lot of conservatives who are concerned about the deficit. That whole business of getting rid of foreign aid is the most popular single thing to say that they want to cut, so they have to reconcile those priorities. Now, Tim Pawlenty, again, did say yesterday he's not for doing in all of foreign aid, and in the current budgetary environment that's actually brave words for him to say.

MONTAGNE: Well, the president's budget heads to Capitol Hill today. What's likely to happen when Congress receives that document?

ROBERTS: Well, already there's a huge amount of criticism that it's doing too little to attack the trillion dollar deficit, though budget director Jack Lew says it will bring down will cut more than a trillion dollars over the next few years. But look, it doesn't deal with those big spending items, those entitlement programs that we talk about, and that's something the president thinks has to be bipartisan in order to do. But the budget chairman, Paul Ryan, says it's a failure of leadership on the part of the president not to talk about those things, but he doesn't seem to be talking about them very much.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, in addition to the big budget fights over next year's spending blueprint, there's a rather more immediate question, and that's what about this year's spending, the authority for spending which runs out in a couple of weeks. I mean the Republicans were threatening quite a confrontation.

ROBERTS: Well, they don't seem to be threatening a government shutdown. The speaker yesterday, Speaker Boehner, a couple of times said we want to cut spending, not shut down the government. And budget director Paul Ryan Chairman Paul Ryan - seems to think that they can extend the deadline if necessary. They might run into problems with their freshman Republican members though, who have been very obstreperous, and the Republican leadership might have trouble holding them in line.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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