WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday questioned why assessments by U.S. intelligence did not appear to be ahead of the upheaval in Egypt, though he said the Obama administration responded appropriately to the crisis. [See photos of the Egyptian uprising.]
Boehner, R-Ohio, said the administration "handled what is a very difficult situation about as well as it could be handled." The protests in Egypt and Tunisia, which led to their leaders giving up power, surprised everyone, including U.S. intelligence officials, he said.
"I think there's going to have to be a reassessment of why didn't we have a better feel for this," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when asked if there had been an intelligence failure or a misunderstanding, pointed in general to "a failure to realize that a sophisticated, educated, freedom-yearning people, sooner or later, were going to demand their rights."
Nearly three weeks of protests in Egypt led President Hosni Mubarak to give up his powers as president and turn over the government to the Egyptian military. A "people's revolution" in Tunisia forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on Jan. 14.
A caretaker government met on Sunday in Cairo for the first time since Mubarak stepped down. The country's military leaders suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, both actions meeting the demands of protesters seeking democratic rule.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the State Department said. She also discussed regional developments with leaders from the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, England, France, Italy, Greece and India.
Vice President Joe Biden called Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to discuss the developments in Egypt, according to the White House.
McCain said he worried that the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood would play a role in the new government, but he added that trying to dictate the group's place in Egypt's future could prove harmful to the U.S.
In testimony on Capitol Hill last week, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, raised eyebrows when he referred to the Muslim Brotherhood as "largely secular." His office later issued a statement clarifying his description of the group, saying: "In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak's rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization."
Clapper's remark came as lawmakers questioned intelligence agencies and their analysis of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
"I worry about our own intelligence services understanding what the heck is going on," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "When the DNI of the United States says the Muslim Brotherhood is mostly a secular organization, that sent chills up my spine. It makes me wonder, do we really know what's going on in Iran?"
Boehner appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." McCain spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation" while Graham appeared on CNN's "State of the Union."