Week in Review: Children's Health Bill, Blackwater

NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr discusses the week's top stories with Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, President Bush made good on a promise to veto an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. And the U.S. State Department issued new rules for Blackwater USA contractors operating in Iraq.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Dan, let's begin with the veto because Congress had extended funding for the program until mid-November.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Are there enough votes to override the president's veto?

SCHORR: There are enough votes in the Senate to override the veto, but not yet, at least in the House, where they need about 15 more Republican seats. And apparently between now and October 15, they're going to work very hard and try. But chances are, they will not be able to get a two-thirds majority in the House.

SIMON: I don't want our conversation about this veto to expire. Before I run by you the reasons the president has he says to veto the bill, he says it will actually hurt poor children who need the program…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …by extending coverage to families who are not actually poor.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. It is very strange that he says that it would extend the coverage to people up to $82,000 a year, which happens, according to Senator Grassley, to be not true. And if the president has lots of ideas about this bill, which are now apparently things that are in the bill, which makes it very difficult especially for the Republicans who negotiated a very careful compromise with the Democrats, which they were sure the president could sign, and then, lo and behold, the president said no. It will lead to socialization of medicine and maybe give some kids who aren't quite poor health care and so on. And so…

SIMON: I think he said the danger was that families would no longer start buying private insurance coverage. They would just rely on the government program.

SCHORR: That's right. And he says, listen, they can always go to the emergency room, which is not really quite true anymore.

SIMON: Obviously, I guess, it becomes a general election issue. But what about before then, are there Republican candidates who support extending the legislation who will make that a point of distinction now?

SCHORR: I think they will, yes. And it's very hard to see what the president's motive was in vetoing the bill, considering that it embarrasses some of his supporters in the Senate.

SIMON: Two secret Justice Department legal opinions from 2005 came to light this week when The New York Times reported the memos authorized the use of what have been called aggressive interrogation tactics…

SCHORR: Right. Right.

SIMON: …like waterboarding…

SCHORR: Right. Yeah.

SIMON: …which I believe is - was used once and has since been banned.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: And freezing temperatures. President, on Friday, maintained the U.S. government does not torture people.

SCHORR: Well, he maintains he does not torture people but that was in public. In private, in a classified memo, he, according to New York Times, he listed the various kinds of aggressive interrogation. And it sound, to me, a little bit as it might indeed be torture, but there is this way in which this is what the public is told, and then there's the part which is in the classified memos that have to do with what the president thinks is necessary for national security.

SIMON: The State Department, on Friday, ordered new rules for Blackwater security contractors operating in Iraq. A week, we should mention in which the Polish ambassador to Iraq was the subject of an assassination attempt and was evacuated by…

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: He was wounded - evacuated by a Blackwater helicopter. What's in the new guidelines? Does it help resolve some of the confusion and controversy?

SCHORR: Until now, Blackwater has been simply unaccountable to anybody. They don't come under Iraqi law. They have not come under U.S. law. And so if they kill somebody or kill 11 people, as they reportedly did in one incident, nothing happens. Somebody gets fired, maybe. Then that's about it. That's not a changing. State Department is moving in and saying, we're going to watch these people. And there is legislation going through Congress now, which will make them subject to U.S. law.

SIMON: I want to ask about events in Burma where the - anti-government protest apparently been tamped down after a crackdown.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Where does this story stand this week?

SCHORR: It stands just where it stood. The United Nations has sent somebody there to try to get the Burma junta to act in a civilized way - so far, without great success. Burma is Burma.

SIMON: Is there an aspect of international helplessness here, because the regime is widely repudiated around the world, there are a number of trade sanctions that exists and yet there seems to be nothing that international opinion can accomplish?

SCHORR: What should be done is it should come from the neighboring countries. But then you get Thailand, which itself has a military dictatorship; and China, which is no model of democracy either. And so therefore, you don't get the support where you precisely need it. But then Burma is another Darfur the world seems unable to handle atrocity.

SIMON: Let me ask you finally about a sports story this week that broke on Friday. Marion Jones, three-time Olympic gold winner in the 2000 Olympics, admitted this week that she lied to federal investigators when she told them that she did not use banned performance-enhancing drugs - steroids - and will be subject now to legal penalties, maybe even some prison time, and has certainly announced a retirement.

SCHORR: For me, being purely personal about this, it is simply the climax of a week about people who lie to us. And then we don't know whom to believe anymore. President Bush, as we discussed, on a couple things was wrong. Blackwater said they didn't kill people. We are surrounded by a wall of people lying to us, and that even an athlete, even Marion Jones, I guess, that's the way things go.

SIMON: Thanks very much. Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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