Week In Review: Obama's Speech, First Days

NPR's Scott Simon talks about this week's news with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. Among the topics: President Obama's sobering inauguration speech. The president also dove into foreign policy this week. He visited with Hillary Clinton, his newly confirmed Secretary of State. And he named two special envoys — George Mitchell for the Middle East and Richard Holbrook for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, the world watched as Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. President Obama got right to work, too, moving to change ethic rules and public records laws and to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And let us begin with President Obama's inauguration speech. Many pundits suggested it was sobering not celebratory. What did you hear?

SCHORR: Well, I think that's right. I mean it was - it was very short on the kind of slogans that used to inform his campaign speeches. It was now, we're down to business now and that business is going to be very hard to do and a lot of terrible things there. It was - sobering I think is the right word for it. It was laying out an agenda and saying we have a lot of work to do.

SIMON: Let's talk about his first 100 hours. We'll wait on 100 days as a benchmark. He signed an executive order to make it easier to get documents under the Freedom of Information Act, announced new ethics rules that would prevent people under the administration from leaving and lobbying executive branch officials. Do you perceive a kind of tone he is trying to set?

SCHORR: Yes, the tone he is trying to set is that we really are working and working very hard and very fast. It really was quite amazing all he managed to do - the ethics rules, the executive orders, including one to close Guantanamo in a year. And in between, he sort of hopped over to the State Department, announced the appointment of two special envoys, one for the Middle East, one for Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I say, whoo, that's some hundred hours.

SIMON: We want to get - and follow up on some of that. But let me ask first, he's going to be allowed to keep his BlackBerry apparently by the Secret Service and security officials. Do you see any significance in that?

SCHORR: The significance is that he wants a way of communicating with his friends outside the bubble that he's going to inhabit. Question is, whether it is legal for him to do so. There was a Presidential Records Act of 1978 that says everything the president says has to be preserved for the archives. And these talks he has with friends or others may not be preserved, but I think they're going to humor him and let him have it.

SIMON: And let me follow up. Because he - President Obama says he wants to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: A story came out on Friday that a former Guantanamo detainee, Said Ali Al-Shihri, who'd been released in 2007, has now become a top deputy for al-Qaeda in Yemen.

SCHORR: Yeah. That was not a convenient story for the administration to come out right now just as the president talks about closing Guantanamo. He's already having a great many problems. There is a question as to where these 245 people or so can go. Who will accept them? The European Union is having a meeting on Monday to decide what they want to do about it. They're not very happy to do anything about it. And it may well be that one way or another, if you close Guantanamo, they will end up in the United States. And not to make too much of a big joke, there is Alcatraz which hasn't been used for a long time.

SIMON: Well, not as a prison. It's a museum and national park.

SCHORR: Right. But I think that would not go very far because that's in Nancy Pelosi's district.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: This week, President Obama met with leaders in Congress urging them to act on this $800 billion economic recovery package. Does he have the votes and - or does it have to be all from one party?

SCHORR: Well, he may have the votes, I'm not sure. But he wants more than the votes of Democratic majority, he wants to make this a bipartisan effort. But among Republicans as well, they're not so happy with this. They think that a little bit too much is going into spending and too little is going into tax cuts. They have other ideas about it. And we are not out of the woods on this yet.

SIMON: And significance, as you see it, for George Mitchell being appointed special envoy for the Middle East and Richard Holbrook for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

SCHORR: That is a great tradition of presidents to have their own envoys to places. He has a secretary of state. He has a National Security Council. He has a lot of other things, but he really wants to show his interest in these subjects by saying, here's one special person that I've sent to work for me on this. And whether it'll make any difference, I don't know. There are two very obdurate problems there - one of which is Pakistan and Afghanistan, and what's happening up on the border there. And the other is, here is Gaza, just - Israeli troops just have been - having barely pulled out and some question of what happens now.

SIMON: And on Friday, governor of New York, David Paterson, chose a replacement for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat and that's Representative Kirsten Gillibrand from a rural district in eastern New York. Caroline Kennedy, of course...

SCHORR: Not only rural, but upstate from New York City.

SIMON: Rural and upstate New York, what does she bring to the Senate?

SCHORR: Well, I think that the governor wanted to have a woman in the first place. So I think that that was probably one of the things that figured. For the rest, I don't know. It could've been almost anyone else. He was really taken by surprise when Caroline Kennedy suddenly pulled out. And when - she had said to him she was having second thoughts, then she told him to go ahead, I'm still in, and then suddenly she abruptly pulled out. That's quite mysterious.

SIMON: Representative Gillibrand is a supporter of gun rights and is what they refer to as a Red Dog Democrat, too conservative for New York State?

SCHORR: And yes - and so Congresswoman Maloney, whose husband was killed by guns and was elected on that, is threatening to enter into the primaries against her because of her stand on guns.

SIMON: Dan, thanks very much.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

SIMON: Dan Schorr.

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