Week in Review: Subpoenas, Confirmation, Nixon

The president vows to stay the course in war in Iraq despite mixed reviews on progress; former White House counsel Harriet Miers ignores a subpoena by Congress; and Congress hears from a former Surgeon General who says he was muzzled by the Bush administration.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, President Bush vows to stay the course despite mixed reviews on progress in Iraq. Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers ignores a subpoena by a congressional committee investigating the firings of federal prosecutors. And Congress hears from a former surgeon general who contends he was muzzled by the administration.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott. Could I wish your wife a Happy Quatorze Juillet?

SIMON: You mean Bastille Day?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Yes, of course. Yes. Yes. She'll be delighted to hear it from you at home, as a matter of fact.

Let me ask you about the interim assessment this week on progress in Iraq. The report said that about half the benchmarks had been met, mostly the security ones and really none of the political ones that the Iraqi parliament was supposed to meet. What kind of impact will this report have?

SCHORR: Well, not very much because the important benchmarks are the ones, for example, how their armed unit is doing? Do they have more battalions ready to operate alone than they had before? No, that's slowing down. How about an oil law? Well, they're having trouble with their government. Maliki government is really hung-up, not really going anywhere very much. So however you construct benchmarks, the benchmarks don't really tell you as much to be happy about that.

SIMON: Iraqi legislators have been - a lot of them interviewed this week - have been outspoken in saying, look, we are really doing the best we can.

SCHORR: They are doing the best they can, but the prime minister is a Shiite and he tends not to be very helpful to the Sunnis or to the Kurds, for that matter. It is not a unified body. It is really a kind of a coalition, which works as some coalitions sometimes do, not very well.

SIMON: Hours after President Bush's press conference, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 120 days.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: And goal would be to have most of the troops withdrawn by next spring. What will happen to it?

SCHORR: What will happen to it is that they'll take up it, or something like it in the Senate. And if the Senate passes another bill and then they'd put them together and it would go to the president and he would then veto it.

SIMON: While we're talking about presidents and Congress and appealing to the public, a poll this week - and I guess, this has been true for several months - shows that no matter how low President Bush's approval rating is, the Democratic Congress is more unpopular. Why is that?

SCHORR: That's been true for a long time. On the other hand, ask them how they like their individual congressperson, and the answer is like it would be somewhat different. For some reason, they look at Congress as an institution, and they're not happy with what they see, but their own one who tends to worry about their problems are, it seems to be okay with regard to the individual congressman.

SIMON: The Senate Judiciary Committee is having some trouble gathering testimony from everyone they want to hear about the fired U.S. attorneys. Former White House aide Sara Taylor appeared before the committee on Wednesday and declined to answer many questions that were put to her.

SCHORR: That's right. And then you had Harriet Miers, who's called up, and she didn't go at all. I'm not sure what the difference is in the assertion of executive privilege, whether you at least have to be there even if you don't answer questions once you are there. So now, we begin hearing from Conyers -he's chairman of the House Judiciary Committee - and he's getting ready for a possible contempt of Congress citation.

SIMON: Against Harriet Miers.

SCHORR: Against Harriet Miers.

SIMON: There were confirmation hearings this week for surgeon general nominee James Holsinger. And he was asked very blunt questions about something he wrote, I guess, over a decade ago on homosexuality.

SCHORR: That's right. Well, he said he did it as a paper for some Methodist group. And so it was very anti-homosexual and suggested that a doctor would say that if there is sex between homosexuals, it can be very dangerous to your health and so on. It turns out that that's not supported by anything and he says, well, that was just something I did then. However, Senator Kennedy, chairman of the committee that has to confirm him, takes that kind of thing very seriously.

SIMON: So his confirmation's in doubt.

SCHORR: His - it's being held up there, not yet called a hearing, which means they're still trying to press it out.

SIMON: Congress also heard from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …who said that while he was serving, the administration tried to influence his public statements.

SCHORR: Oh, they censored it. They cut things out that they didn't like. He says that they asked him to bear down and not to give too much attention to a report that indicates that secondhand smoke may be dangerous to you. This is a kind of the great irony because it was a surgeon general, Luther Terry, who started the campaign against smoking is dangerous to your health. And now, we get to a point where secondhand smoke is dangerous to your health. But now, the surgeon general finds trouble with the White House trying to tell that.

SIMON: Senator John McCain, once considered the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is having considerable fundraising problems. Let me put it to you this bluntly - look, nobody has cast a single vote yet, but is he on his way out?

SCHORR: Well, he's in terrible trouble. I think it's safe to say it. If I say he's on his way out and it turns out he's not, you'll play that for me (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: So let me say he's in terrible trouble. And he's taken attitude that reminds of our history days and Henry Clay, in which he says, I would rather be right than president. He supported the president on the war, didn't go well in his district and his state, but he did it all the same. He supported the president's immigration. Didn't go very far with the base, as they call it. This is a man who may be able to fill the wish of Henry Clay - of being right but not president.

SIMON: New Nixon tapes and documents released this week. Did you notice anything in particular, given your history in the period?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: Yes. I will never tire discovering new things about this man, whom I learned to know so well. Let me just mention one thing. He gets a memo from Roger Ailes to H.R. Haldeman and suggested that the president should be nicer to his wife. And it turned out, on one occasion, Ailes said that he left without her and she had to run to keep up with him. That's my Dick Nixon.

SIMON: Thanks, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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