By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
There were words we heard over and over again yesterday on the opening day of one of the country’s largest annual conservative gatherings like “repealing Obamacare” and then there was one word we hardly heard at all: Egypt.
As the crisis there entered one of its most dramatic days with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s refusal to step down and a surge of protesters on the streets in Cairo, the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates who spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington were largely silent on the developments overseas.
Newt Gingrich alluded to it only briefly, saying that he recently lunched with former Secretary of State George Shultz to ask him how “he thinks Reagan would approach” the situation, and Rick Santorum offered some criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt — though mostly in the context of his approach to Iran.
“This time, what does the president of the United States do? He sides with the protesters,” Santorum said. “President Obama has refused to look at the situation in Iran and Egypt and around that world and to call evil, evil — to identify the enemy.”
As thousands of protesters march in Egypt today will we hear any of the handful of possible presidential hopefuls who will speak at CPAC today address the issue with greater clarity? That will be up to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., and others who take their turn at the podium.
Meanwhile, at the White House, President Obama had his say late yesterday in a sternly-worded statement assuring the Egyptian people that “they will continue to have a friend in the United States of America.”
“The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient,” Obama’s said in a written statement. “The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.”
Even larger demonstrations are expected today as Egyptians call for Mubarak’s resignation and his exact whereabouts are a mystery. The crisis, which is in its 18th day, remains a vexing foreign policy test for the Obama administration. More from ABC News’ Jake Tapper’s report on a day of “chaos and confusion” at the White House: http://abcn.ws/hnKmXa and the latest developments from “Good Morning America” today: http://abcn.ws/gKTf1E
ROMNEY, PAWLENTY PREVIEW. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are among the biggest names addressing CPAC today. Will Pawlenty take on the Egyptian crisis? Yes, an aide told the Note. Will he criticize the Obama administration? Yes, on that score too. Will he make any news? That remains to be seen. Pawlenty also plans to hit Obama on fiscal policy: “Just because we followed Greece into democracy, does not mean we need to follow them into bankruptcy,” he will say, according to remarks prepared for delivery. “Of course, the government spenders come with excuses. … I know something about the spenders — I’m from the state of McCarthy, Mondale, Humphrey, Wellstone, and now — United States Senator Al Franken. … But we cut government in Minnesota, and if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere.”
Romney: “President Barack Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history. And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history.”
Here is Jonathan Karl’s GMA report on goings-on at CPAC:
NO CLEAR 2012 FRONT-RUNNER. An energized crowd of conservative activists listened closely to yesterday’s speeches by some of the most prominent names in Republican politics. But, while they are united in their goal — beat President Obama in 2012 — there wasn’t much consensus on who they’d like to see as the Republican nominee, ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes. “Part of the reason I came here,” said Mary Ann Davies of Pennsylvania, “was to hear some of the people who are potentially throwing their hat in the ring.” We asked some CPAC participants to weigh in on what they thought of the current field of potential 2012 candidates, and got a wide variety of answers. A sampling:
Sudipta Bandyopadhyay, New Jersey: “I think the 2010 election showed that we are looking for new faces, new conservative faces. I think some of the newly elected Governors like Chris Christie [NJ] or fresh faces like Mitch Daniels [IN] really get at that.”
Edwin Taylor, South Carolina: “We need a rock star to get the job done. We need another Ronald Reagan. The closest person I’m seeing right now is Rick Santorum. He’s young. We need a young guy in there. He’s conservative. I think he’d go after the national debt and try and solve that immediately.”
More reactions from CPAC attendees: http://abcn.ws/h1sPQQ
Newt Gingrich: “I want the elite media to know something, I knew Ronald Reagan, I began working with Ronald Reagan in 1974 when I first ran for Congress, and I hate to tell this to our friends at MSNBC and elsewhere: Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan.”
Donald Trump: “The United States has become a whipping post for the rest of the world. The world is treating us without respect — they are not treating us properly. America today is missing quality leadership and foreign countries have quickly realized this.” http://abcn.ws/efYIu6
Rick Santorum: “We have a country that doesn’t allow failure, that gives people 99 weeks of unemployment. … I know it sounds tough, but my grandfather didn’t come to this country because we have 99 weeks of unemployment benefits — and he came here at a tough time.” http://abcn.ws/i6rZA
WHERE’S SARAH? Last week, Sarah Palin declined an invitation to address CPAC citing a scheduling conflict, marking the fourth time in as many years that she skipped the annual conservative event. But did conference-goers notice, and do they care? As ABC’s Devin Dwyer reports, the answer, perhaps surprisingly, is not really. “Where’s Sarah Palin? Probably on a reality show,” said Brian Jencunas of New Jersey, shrugging his shoulders. “Instead, we got Sarah Palin lite – Michele Bachmann. They’ve got the same hair, the same voice, the same issues.” … “Sarah is in our hearts,” opined Texan Nick Burt, 24, who was working the crowds in an Uncle Sam suit. “Sarah is probably on TV. I don’t know, but I don’t really care. She’s just a media personality to me.” http://abcn.ws/hX5RHM
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Amy Walter and Jonathan Karl will sit down with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington State, to talk about her efforts to repeal the health care reform law and other issues. Also on the program, Reid Wilson from National Journal. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
GOODBYE GIBBS. “For [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs, the days of walking down the hall into the Oval Office to see the president are coming to a close,” The Hill’s Sam Youngman writes. “The press secretary will hold his last briefing on Friday, and will then turn to his new role of helping Obama with his messaging from the outside. ‘I don’t doubt that I will have opinions to share from time to time on TV,’ Gibbs said in an interview with The Hill. But first, after cleaning out his West Wing office this weekend, Gibbs insists he will take some real time off before jumping into the 2012 reelection fray.” http://bit.ly/ehjWNM
GOP SPENDING DIVIDE GROWS. “An already wobbly week for House Republicans turned chaotic Thursday as their unruly new majority flatly rejected a spending plan crafted by House leaders, saying its cuts fell far short of fulfilling a campaign pledge to slice $100 billion from federal programs,” The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery reports. “House leaders offered to redo the package but were struggling to identify the massive and unprecedented cuts that will be required to meet their goal. Dissatisfied conservatives, meanwhile, were pressing for even sharper reductions that could prove difficult to push through the House, much less the Democratic-controlled Senate. The uprising exposed serious divisions among Republicans bent on reducing the size of government, the defining issue of the campaign that swept them back into power in the House this fall.” http://wapo.st/hz9Bat
ROMNEY, PAWLENTY TAKE THE HILL. “Likely Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are quietly but aggressively wooing Members of Congress for endorsements and political support in campaigns that have yet to officially take flight,” Roll Call’s David Drucker notes. “The field of potential GOP candidates is crowded. But Minnesota’s Pawlenty and Massachusetts’ Romney appear to be among the most active in recruiting Members’ support. Each former governor has a small team on the ground in Washington, D.C. The team responsibilities include building the foundation for extensive backing among Congressmen and Senators, particularly those who serve in the early primary states, once their candidacies become official.” http://bit.ly/goH9aW
PALIN ON THE GOP ‘OLD GUARD.’ “Sarah Palin isn’t at CPAC with most of the other Republican presidential hopefuls this week, but she’s still getting in some jabs at the GOP establishment,” Politico’s Jennifer Epstein reports. “‘Tea party Americans and I thank God that tea party Americans were elected into this new Congress to kind of show some new ways to the old guard, if you will, to let them see that what happened in this last election, I believe, was a big wake-up call for some of the old guard,’ she said Thursday night on Fox Business Network. ‘I think with all due respect to those who have served honorably for many years, but perhaps, I’ve gotten a little bit off track in terms of spending too much money that we do not have.’” http://politi.co/gy8jpX
@camanpour: Senior egyptian official tells me Mubarak has left Cairo. Remains in Egypt as figurehead Prez. He left last night after speech to nation
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