By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Though President Obama and members of his administration spent much of this week focused on domestic policy and a reshuffling of staff in the West Wing, clashes in Egypt are quickly becoming part of the national conversation.
President Obama spoke out about the anti-government protests taking place there yesterday, emphasizing in an interview with YouTube that the importance of free speech is “no less true in the Arab world than it is here in the United States.”
Referring to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, President Obama said: “I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform — political reform, economic reform — is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt. And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets.”
The scene there this morning, according to a dispatch from the Associated Press: “Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters clashed Friday with police in Cairo, who fired rubber bullets into the crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. … They are demanding Mubarak's ouster.”
ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that President Obama has requested daily briefings from his staff on the unrest in the country, which puts the U.S. in the awkward position of standing with a repressive yet key U.S. ally.
That awkwardness was on display last night when Vice President Joe Biden refused, in an interview with the PBS News Hour to refer to Mubarak as a “dictator.” http://abcn.ws/dFxaws
“Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region,” Biden said, but also noted: “I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that — to be more responsive to some of the … needs of the people out there.”
Each day, Tapper reports, a White House interagency task force composed of officials from the State Department, the intelligence community, National Security Staff as well as U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey plan to hold daily meetings to discuss the situation on the ground.
The violent clashes in Egypt present a brand new foreign policy test for the White House under new Chief of Staff Bill Daley, a reshuffled team of advisers and a new press secretary coming soon (more on that below). So far, the administration has tried to walk a fine line when it comes to the demonstrations — expressing support for those who are protesting, but calling on the Egyptian government to use this as an opportunity to reform.
“We urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday. "We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."
For more on Egypt, watch Christiane Amanpour's report on "Good Morning America" today: http://abcn.ws/grL3r6
CARNEY’S PODIUM. Speaking of the new White House Press secretary: Jay Carney, current communications director for Vice President Biden, reported for Time Magazine from 1993 until 2008, based in places such as Moscow and working his way up to Washington bureau chief in 2008, Tapper notes. He covered President Bush and in 2003 was awarded the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the presidency. He started his career at the Miami Herald. In 2006, Carney said of the press secretary position: “It's a tricky job, I'm sure I wouldn't be any good at it.” More on other staffing changes at the White House: http://abcn.ws/g7ACMZ
EXCLUSIVE: MICHELLE OBAMA LOOKS TO 2012. “First lady Michelle Obama stands ready to campaign for her husband's re-election, but says that's still a long way off and she's focusing on other key issues,” Obama said in an interview on “Good Morning America” with ABC’s Robin Roberts. "I mean, there's so much more to do here in the present," Obama told Roberts in the interview that aired today. "I focus on what's before me, right on the work that I can do today." But the First Lady added: "Whenever it's time to campaign and they tap me on the shoulder, I'll be right there. But until then, we've got some great initiatives," she said. "And I'm rolling up my sleeves to get that work done, and we'll cross that other bridge when we get there." http://abcn.ws/gTwEkS
ON CHILDHOOD OBESITY. “Last February, the First Lady launched ‘Let's Move!,’ a campaign that seeks to end childhood obesity within a generation,” ABC’s Suzan Clarke reports. “Obesity is of particular concern for the military, she said, pointing out that some top Army officials have said young recruits are unable to train because they are either overweight or malnourished. ‘It is not an overstatement to say that childhood obesity and our need for physical education and nutrition education is a national security issue,’ she told Roberts in a wide-ranging interview that also touched on the Tucson shootings, support for military families, the government's role in people's personal nutritional choices, and criticism of her fashion choices.” More from today's GMA segment: http://abcn.ws/gTwEkS
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Karen Travers welcome Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who will weigh in on some of the goals the president outlined earlier this week in his State of the Union address. Also on the program, Peter Cook, Chief Washington Correspondent for Bloomberg News. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TUNE INTO “THIS WEEK.” As the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan approaches, “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” takes a look at his legacy. Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will discuss how the Reagan revolution influenced a generation of conservatives, what lessons politicians can learn from him, and which leading Republicans can claim the Reagan mantle. Then, former President Reagan’s three surviving children — Ron Reagan, Michael Reagan, and Patti Davis – join Amanpour for exclusive set of interviews. On the roundtable: Former Reagan budget director David Stockman joins Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, and George Will of ABC News to debate Reagan’s lasting influence on the conservative movement and how his impact measures up to the Tea Party movement.
GOP POSITIVES ON THE RISE. “Some good news for the Republican Party: A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds more Americans view the GOP positively than negatively for the first time since 2005,” USA Today’s Catalina Camina notes. “The survey shows the GOP now has a 47% net favorable rating, following its successes at the ballot box in November when Republicans took majority control of the U.S. House, made gains in the U.S. Senate and won key governorships in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin. By comparison, 43% of Americans have a negative image of House Speaker John Boehner's party.” http://usat.ly/fZxT5R
WEAK TEA? “The Republican senators who rode the tea party wave to victory in the fall are now weighing whether that label will help them on Capitol Hill or become a scarlet letter,” The Washington Post’s Phil Rucker writes. “Thursday offered the first clear illustration of their situation as the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus held its inaugural meeting without three of the senators who won election under the tea party banner. ‘I sprang from the tea party and have great respect for what it represents,’ said Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.), a polyester and plastics manufacturer who entered politics last year and defeated Sen. Russell Feingold, a Democrat who had held his seat for 18 years. Johnson emerged as one of the tea party movement's bright stars but has decided not to join the Tea Party Caucus because he fears doing so could be divisive. Instead, he wants to bring tea party ideas under the broader Republican umbrella.” http://wapo.st/g8yCcx
HUCK ON HOMELAND SECUIRTY REFORM. “For most Americans, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's inaugural ‘state of US domestic security’ speech yesterday will be notable mainly for marking the end of the useless ‘color code’ threat system. But such trifling changes can never make up for the simple fact that her department — despite its 200,000 employees and yearly budget of $56 billion — isn't up to its task,” Mike Huckabee and former army colonel Kenneth Allard wrote in an Op-Ed in the New York Post today. “Just consider our most urgent security challenge: the Mexican drug cartels. By our government's own estimates, the cartels are a deadly multinational conglomerate already present in at least 200 US cities. They've been at war with each other and with their own government for over four years, with no end in sight — and 30,000 lives lost so far.” http://nyp.st/ey08GV
NO MORE SECRETS. “The Senate on Thursday voted to end so-called “secret holds,” a procedural move used by lawmakers to anonymously block legislation or nominees,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. “The vote was 92-4, with three of the four senators voting against ending secret holds came from the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus: Jim DeMint, R-SC, Mike Lee, R-UT, and Rand Paul, R-KY. The fourth vote came from John Ensign, R-NV. ‘Today’s vote was an important step forward in the fight to reform the way Washington does business. No longer will senators be able to hold up legislation anonymously. From now on, they’re going to have to own it,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, said about ending secret holds.” http://abcn.ws/gah5AB
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. At 10:20 am the President will address Families USA's 16th Annual Health Action Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, DC to “discuss his vision for an America that is better-positioned to win the future and the importance of health reform," per ABC News' Sunlen Miller.
@LarrySabato: R POTUS '12: Pence is out, Palin may not run, Bachmann may be non-starter. Is this why DeMint may have DeBug?
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