Week in Review: New Orleans, Roberts, Iraq

Topics include big plans to rebuild New Orleans; confirmation hearings for chief justice nominee John Roberts; steady violence in Iraq; and developments at the United Nations.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.

SIMON: President Bush speaking Thursday from Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr is with us.

Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And the president's speech on Thursday night. After all the criticism of the federal relief effort in the days and hours following Hurricane Katrina, did the president manage to now identify himself as the spearhead of the recovery?

SCHORR: Well, I think he managed to do it in two ways. He acknowledged that the government on every level had not been coordinated. He all but admitted that lumping it all into a home security department was a colossal mistake in the first place, which may be now--be undone. But then he outlined this vast recovery effort, a large part of which is supposed to be underwritten by the federal government, but not by raising taxes.

But there was another very interesting portion. He spoke quite frankly about the way that the issues of race and poverty had surfaced during the flood, and he promised that these would be attacked, quote, "in one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen."

SIMON: He mentioned several specific ideas for reconstruction, and we'll mention them now: tax relief for small businesses, job training, home ownership incentives for evacuees. Does he have the support of his own party on these initiatives? What's the chance that Congress is going to sign on to this?

SCHORR: Well, we'll see. There may be a little more of government participation than some of the House Republicans, at least, would like to see. But I think that President Bush acts as though he's going through some kind of an inner conversion. You remember the way President Reagan in his second term began working on a legacy of peace with Gorbachev and so on? And now it sounds to me as though President Bush may be thinking of dealing with race and poverty as part of his legacy.

SIMON: Do you think it's possible that Federal Emergency Management Administration is going to be taken out of Homeland Security?

SCHORR: I think it practically has now. What they've done now is to get rid of the director and decided that it would be--`autonomous' was the word used from now on.

SIMON: Judge John Roberts faced Senate confirmation hearings this week; of course, was the president's nominee to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the court. Three days of testimony; the Senate vote is in two weeks. First, any doubt in your mind he'll be confirmed?

SCHORR: Not in my mind. I think with the Republicans having a margin of 10 seats in the Senate, and they have a 10-to-8 edge in the Judiciary Committee, and during the hearings that were conducted, the judge conducted himself with extraordinary aplomb. The Democrats apparently never laid a glove on him, so I see no way that he will not be confirmed.

SIMON: Many people, I think, will remember the moment that Judge Roberts looked over at I believe Senator Schumer of New York in response to a question and said, `I think even though I've only been a judge for two years, you will agree I've not conducted myself as an ideologue, and I think we both agree we don't want an ideologue on the court.'

SCHORR: That's right, and that's one of the interesting things that he said. Not many things that he said were very interesting because he was so busy defending himself. But there was another interesting note when he said that he believes in a constitutional right of privacy. That might be interesting because the right of privacy undergirds the right to an abortion as well, and so it was one of the few things in three days of testimony where he said something where you said, `Hmm, that's interesting.'

SIMON: What kind of Democratic support's he going to get?

SCHORR: The Democrats are caucusing behind closed doors, I think, next Tuesday to decide just what they're going to do. People on the Hill that you talk to say that maybe about half of the 44 Democrats will vote to confirm; generally expected that he'll end up with 75 to 80 votes, somewhere in there. The margin of victory is considered important because it could influence the president's choice of a successor for Sandra Day O'Connor. The White House is calling a meeting for next week to start discussing that, and so it may be interesting to know what happens to this one before you choose the next one.

SIMON: May I share an observation with you that has just struck me (unintelligible) to these hearings?

SCHORR: Sure.

SIMON: My historical memory doesn't go back as far as yours, to state the obvious, but certainly from reading accounts of the election of 1960, there was concern when John Kennedy ran for president among some people in the country, that we would label certainly as bigoted now, that a Catholic would let his faith intrude on his...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...conduct...

SCHORR: And the pope would reign in Washington.

SIMON: Exactly. And now it's--I think it's irresistible to observe there are some people that were hoping or even fearful--except they've switched sides--that...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...Judge Roberts' Catholicism is going to play a part...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...in his feeling on decisions on something like...

SCHORR: That's an interesting ob...

SIMON: ...Roe v. Wade.

SCHORR: That is an interesting observation. To think now that it was hardly even mentioned--I mean, if you read his biography then you got to know that he was a good observing Catholic and so is his whole family. It's nice to know there is one thing we don't fight about anymore.

SIMON: Well, we turn now, however, to events in Iraq, an extremely violent week. Several hundred people have been killed, hundreds more, in a spate of suicide bombings. Wednesday was the worst single day of violence since the start of the war in 2003. Most notably, of course, there was that huge attack against people who were lining up to apply for jobs...

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: ..in Baghdad. What do you make of the violence that we are seeing now?

SCHORR: Well...

SIMON: Sectarian...

SCHORR: ...nobody is any longer calling it the last throes of the insurgency. If the timing had any significance, it may have been to undercut President Talabani, the Iraqi president, who was appearing before the summit session of the United Nations Assembly, and it was as though to say, `You can go make speeches all you want to, but we'll keep you from ruling over here,' if there was any reason. But don't ask me to dope out what those people are doing and why.

SIMON: A huge week in New York City at the United Nations. About a hundred and fifty--and I guess there are so many world leaders coming and going that count has to be approximate--world leaders attended the United Nations World Summit meeting.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Two major issues have been on the agenda as the UN meets now, and one is administrative reform of the UN--this is, of course, coming in the wake of that devastating report of the Volcker Commission on the oil-for-food program that the UN administered; and then there's the Millennium global initiative...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...to reduce global poverty, which has been Prime Minister Blair's most treasured initiative and the countries of the European Union and the United States have each pledged some individual assignments of their national treasury. All the discussions lead to much progress on either of those counts?

SCHORR: Well, apparently not very much. They sort of divided up into two groups: Those who have suffered from terrorism want to fight terrorism as the major priority. Those that are poor think that global poverty is the main question that should be attacked. Then little progress was made on reforming the Security Council, which is a big issue for the United States. And I think the whole session could be summed up by the remark of President Putin, who said, `There is need to adjust the organization to the new historic realities, but the process should be constructive.' I like the way they talk.

SIMON: I guess that says it all. And the ideas, the hopes that even some people had that, for example, that membership in the Security Council might be expanded to include a couple of developing nations...

SCHORR: Yes, but you can only do that...

SIMON: ...India, Brazil...

SCHORR: ...if the present members of the council are willing to let you do that, and so, therefore, Germany and Japan, which have been trying to get in, won't, and won't for quite a while.

SIMON: OK. Thank you very much, Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure, Scott.

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