Gauging Obama's First Days In Office

NPR's Scott Simon talks with NPR news analyst Juan Williams about President Obama's decisions during his first week in office. As promised, Obama signed off on closing down the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year. But it's not as easy as that.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR's news analyst Juan Williams has also had his eye on the Obama administration this week. He joins us in our studio. Juan, thanks for being with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: We just heard Don say that all the public amity and vows to work together - to the contrary, the stimulus package seems to be a pretty much one-party affair so far. What's in the House draft of the stimulus package and what are some of the sticking points?

WILLIAMS: Well, in the House draft is - it's been devised by the Democrats, who are in the majority, as you know. There's like $5,000 tax credit for anybody that makes less than $75,000 a year. They also want to boost the earned income tax credit for people who aren't paying taxes in the country. And they want to put money in, of course, for things like colleges and alternative fuels and the like. And that really has set the Republicans on edge because their argument is more of this money should be going to, let's say, small businesses and tax breaks in the form - in forms that would generate job creation and economic activity.

Now, yesterday there was this wonderful exchange, as reported at the White House, the president meeting with all the leaders. And Jon Kyl, the senator from Arizona, says he doesn't see why there should be these tax breaks for low-income people, to which Barack Obama, President Obama, responds, I won. There was a November election, and I won. Argument's settled. Republicans are taking this to be kind of a slap in the face from a man who had promised that there would be a bipartisan approach.

The other thing that's in there that upsets them are things like money for contraception, for energy savings plans, money that goes to the states to help with Medicare and Medicaid. Some of the Republicans say that's just going to allow the states to waste money on other items because the federal government's covering their expenses on required spending, entitlement spending for health care.

SIMON: And let me steer over to Guantanamo. President Obama signed off on closing - shutting down within a year. It happens in more or less the same day it got reported that a prisoner who was released from Guantanamo in 2007 has become an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen. Now, does this suggest that closing Guantanamo is going to be more complicated?

WILLIAMS: It's complicated. I don't think anybody ever thought it wasn't complicated. Now there was a gesture made this week - and I think about how I use that word, gesture - by President Obama in signing an order saying we're going to close Guantanamo Bay. But of course he hasn't dealt with the complexities of it. How do you deal with these people? Do they go to military courts? Do we have to have legislation that creates new vehicles for dealing with people where you couldn't have evidence introduced because the evidence against was gained through intelligence or maybe even coercive measures? Are other countries willing to take some of these people from Guantanamo? And what happens if that country is Yemen that took, for example, this man we're talking about and now has allowed him back onto the battlefield.

SIMON: We're going to play a clip from "The Daily Show" that I think - of course, there are some - some of our listeners want us to play - only play clips from "The Daily Show," as a matter of fact, when we're on the air. Well, let me go ahead and suggest it - play it and get your reaction.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Daily Show")

Former President GEORGE W. BUSH: We can usher in a new era of enhanced prosperity and peace.

President BARACK OBAMA: America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Former President BUSH: Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?

President OBAMA: We carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Ms. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show"): Why are you doing this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Of course, Jon Stewart. Does this suggest that where you stand depends on where you sit, and Mr. Obama now sits in the Oval Office?

WILLIAMS: He sits in the Oval Office. He's getting all the briefings that President - former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney ever got. He's under the pressure to make sure the country is not attacked again. He's got to deal with the weight of those issues. This morning, there came news that he'd approved an air strike in Pakistan, despite protests coming from the Pakistani government. So he's continuing so many of the policies of the Bush administration.

And the language - you know, if you think about the inaugural language where he talked about not terrorists - don't make any mistake, the American spirit's not going to be broken - where he spoke to the Arab world about understanding it's not what they destroy, but what they build that will allow their people to prosper. I think Jon Stewart is on to something here. If you're president, there is certain language that you have to use, but of course I think it's off-putting given the call for change that came from the campaigner, the candidate Obama.

SIMON: Before you go, finally, this morning, Juan, you of course were the - you wrote "Eyes on the Prize."

WILLIAMS: Right.

SIMON: I don't mind saying the definitive history of the American civil rights movement. What's this moment like - to see Barack Obama as president of the United States?

WILLIAMS: Scott, it's stunning, you know. President Obama didn't really use the language of the movement in his speech. I think he spoke as the American president. But Joe Lowery, who helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr., when he started quoting from "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in his benediction and talking about silent tears and talking about days that he could not have dreamed of with Dr. King, I just - I started to get emotional. It's unbelievable, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah. Thanks very much, Juan Williams.

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