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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.

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“Support for Mubarak has been such a long-standing principle in American history, going back to President Reagan. It’s hard to see a fundamental partisan fault line on this issue,” says Michael O’Hanlon, senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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Politics aside, says Mr. O'Hanlon, "Congress has the luxury of critiquing in response to administrative moves – in a way that will be more easily forgotten if the critiques turn out to be wrong."

A strong theme emerging on Capitol Hill – consistent with the Obama administration’s response – is to call for guarantees that Egypt’s presidential elections will be fair and open. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona called on Mubarak to restore access to social networking sites, repeal the emergency law, and “open greater space for political parties to organize and compete peacefully for power,” including independent monitors in next fall’s presidential election.

“I strongly believe the Egyptian military has no role to play in resolving the current situation,” said Mr. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, in a statement.

But lawmakers are divided over how to avoid an outcome that could produce a more radical regime in Egypt, hostile to Israel.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that only parties who support Israel should be allowed to compete in fall elections.

“The U.S. should learn from past mistakes and support a process which only includes candidates who meet basic standards for leaders of responsible nations – candidates who have publicly renounced terrorism, uphold the rule of law, recognize Egypt's international commitments including its nonproliferation obligations and its peace agreement with the Jewish state of Israel, and who ensure security and peace with its neighbors,” she said in a statement.

Reps. Gary Ackerman (D) of New York and Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio called for cutting off $1.5 billion in annual US aid to Egypt, unless Mr. Mubarak accepts a transitional government and steps down. Rep. Howard Berman (D) of California, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel, called for a “constructive dialogue” between the Egyptian government and opposition leaders, but balked at cutting off aid.

“So long as the Egyptian military plays a constructive role in bringing about a democratic transition, the United States should also remain committed to our ongoing assistance programs for Egypt, both military and civilian, “ he said in a statement on Jan. 31.

But many Senate Democrats Tuesday were holding back comment on events they said were so critical for American interests. “This is a really delicate situation, as it relates to the entire Middle East region, especially as so many Arab states are our allies,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri. “I don’t think many of us should say much until this thing has had a chance to work itself out.”

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