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In Congress, GOP backs Obama's Egypt stance, Dems not so much

Some Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, are breaking with the White House, calling for Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to 'step down.' Republicans are deferring to President Obama's policy.

By Staff writer / February 1, 2011

Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts pauses while making a statement on the Egypt crisis on Feb. 1 in Washington. Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of a handful of Democrats who have gone beyond President Obama's position by publicly calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to 'step down.'

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Washington

Congress is taking a cautious approach to the massive street protests sweeping Egypt – encouraging cries for reform, but wary that a more radical regime in Cairo could damage US interests, including the survival of Israel.

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In a rare display of bipartisanship, both Democrats and Republicans have largely deferred to the White House’s balanced tone and handling of events, including avoiding calls for 30-year President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

But as protests intensified in the streets of a key US ally, some Democrats are breaking ranks, while Republicans are largely standing behind President Obama's position. Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts called on Mr. Mubarak to “step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure,” including an interim government before a planned September presidential vote.

“For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy,” he said in an opinion essay in Tuesday's New York Times. “Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.”

On Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida urged Mubarek to take himself out of presidential elections in September. “Mubarak must immediately open these elections to international observers and give his written assurance that his name won’t appear as a contender,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill. “I believe this could help quell the protests.”

By contrast, Republicans are signaling strong support for Mr. Obama’s calls for the Egyptian government to adopt reforms and avoid violence against protesters. “We ought to speak as one voice during this crisis,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Speaker John Boehner told Fox News Sunday that reform was needed in Egypt. “We have one president and one secretary of state, McConnell added, at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We’re all watching with great interest….We hope by the end of the day we still have a strong ally.”

“Senate Democrats are getting ahead of the president, while Republicans are not,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator McConnell. “Gitmo notwithstanding, we’ve had pretty consistent comity with the White House on foreign policy.” At a weekly communications meeting on Monday, GOP leaders urged staff to close ranks and back President Obama.

At issue is not just support of the president but avoiding responsibility for moves that could be seen as undermining a key ally in the region. Congress spent at least a decade debating “Who Lost China?” after the communist takeover in 1949. Congress is reluctant to challenge the White House for ownership of policies that could produce an anti-American regime in Cairo.

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