Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

This week saw an unprecedented day-long summit on health care reform as well as an abject apology from Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. Host Scott Simon reviews the week in the news with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon. A massive earthquake struck Chile earlier today. In a moment we'll hear from two people who experienced the quake firsthand. But first, we're joined by NPR's news analyst Dan Schorr for a review of the weeks other news. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first, lets get to this unprecedented summit on health care overhaul.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Maybe it didnt make a dent in the ratings of "The View" or "Dr. Phil," but was there any sign that anybody changed their position?

SCHORR: Not at all. They all did great jobs of expressing their points of view as previously expressed. They did it again. It was a great piece of political theater. Although the president said it wasnt meant to be theater, it was a theater. They locked themselves into their positions. Did it change anything? No.

SIMON: Let me follow up a bit in the theater question. Can you put any politician, any group of politicians, under television light for eight hours and expect them to change their position in public? Was this ever really meant to go back and forth and change anybodys mind?

SCHORR: Well, it would be a thrilling moment if in the course of this somebody said gee, I never looked it at that way before. Now that you say that, so on and so forth, and will get down in the history books. But it didnt happen.

SIMON: And do you think the president was able to advance his plans for health care overhaul with this conference?

SCHORR: Well, they are advancing. The president has made clear that the train is going to be leaving the station somewhere within the next six weeks. And he is simply saying climb on board or were going anyway. He is not saying exactly how he plans to go anyway, but we will soon learn about that.

SIMON: Did he give himself a stronger political hand for these next few weeks with this conference?

SCHORR: I think so. He had been losing a lot of ground on this issue. The polls were not going his way. But the fact that he was there and seemed in full command of this situation, all the knowledge and so on, I think - its hard to say but I think both sides gained from it.

SIMON: So what happens over the next few weeks?

SCHORR: Well soon find out. The big question now is whether they do, as has been threatened, go in for the procedure called reconciliation.

SIMON: Shifting gears, pun intended, the man who runs the Toyota Motor Corporation, the grandson of the founder, Akio Toyoda, appeared before a congressional hearing this week and he abjectly apologized for the problems with the Toyota cars...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...that have resulted in a number of accidents, including some fatalities. Help us understand what this means to Toyota as a brand, and even personally, in this country, around the world, and in Japan.

SCHORR: Well, in Japan, obviously, this is a great loss of face. And Toyoda didnt want to do it at first but finally he agreed to do it, making his sacrifice for the sake of the company. I guess they think that theyre glad its over. Its an awful thing for the grandson of the founder to have to say we did wrong.

SIMON: And of course there are some questions as to what actually has been going wrong with the cars. Anybody beside Toyoda in your judgment to blame?

SCHORR: Well, its very interesting to know, now that were looking into it, that the Toyota company as long had a big lobbying campaign with Congress.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: A lobbying campaign with the safety agency in this country. Yes, Toyota's deep in the United States, having plants here and having dealers here and collects a lot of money, which its being given out over the years through political action committees of its affiliates in the United States. They didnt even have to worry about a Supreme Court decision to open that spigot.

SIMON: Given the welter of issues that the administration, Congress, have had to deal with, thatll come up in the natural order of life, its always the unexpected, has it been heard to concentrate in what everyone agrees is the number one priority: jobs?

SCHORR: Well, I mean, a lot of attention has been taken away by the health care and by Toyota - Congress was busy with that all this week. They have managed to - the Senate has passed one bill rather trimmed down providing jobs by giving tax breaks to companies that hire people. That bill has going out to the House, where it is expected it will be passed. Thats only a beginning of a series of measures. It is moving more slowly than they hoped.

SIMON: The offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan continues. Whats your assessment of how successful its been?

SCHORR: Its been reasonably successful in the places where it started. But even though they go ahead down into the south, what happens then is Taliban strikes back right in Kabul. So that the resilience of this organization has been never better demonstrated, and it gets to look as though more and more this is going to have to be stretched out some.

SIMON: Dan, winter Olympic games in Vancouver end this weekend. Did you have a favorite moment? You watched, didnt you?

SCHORR: I watched some. Yes, I had a favorite moment, and I guess maybe the whole world had a favorite moment of a young woman whose mother had died two days before.

SIMON: This is Joannie Rochette,...

SCHORR: Joannie Rochette, yeah.

SIMON: ... the Canadian skater.

SCHORR: The Canadian, yes, who went out there and just skated her heart out and became everybodys sweetheart.

SIMON: Yeah, and its sort of nice, one of the most memorable moments of the Olympics is for a bronze.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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