LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen, sitting in for Scott Simon. This week, the House passed a bill to tax the bonuses received by executives working in companies that got federal bailout money. Meanwhile, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner are taking some heat over the bonus issue, and President Obama reacts to the criticism on late-night television. Joining us is NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. Dan, it's nice to be able to sit across from you again in the studio.
DANIEL SCHORR: Liane, it is my great pleasure.
HANSEN: Let's talk about the public anger over the bonuses for executives at AIG. Capitol Hill is finally reacting. As I mentioned, the House passed a bill that would impose a 90 percent tax on such bonuses.
HANSEN: Now, the Senate is going to consider a similar bill next week. Do you think this will make things better?
SCHORR: Well, I don't think it's going to work. There is a thing in the Constitution called a bill of attainder, that you cannot by legislation go after somebody retroactively for something that happened before. And there is no question that there will be a constitutional challenge to this, and my own amateurish knowledge of the Constitution is that this probably is a bill of attainder.
HANSEN: Hmm. Well, talk about Senator Chris Dodd and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. These two people are involved in trying to sort out what's going on with the country's financial situation. And they're doing a lot of finger-pointing over the bonuses. What's going on?
SCHORR: What happened here is Chris Dodd, who is the chairman of the committee, when they were working on the stimulus bill, towards the very end of it late one night, when they were adding things, subtracting things, they put in an amendment, which Senator Dodd put in, he says, for the Treasury Department. And that amendment was to the general effect that those who had received compensation that was in employment contracts previously entered into, that would be protected.
SCHORR: So first Senator Dodd seemed not to know about it. Then he did know about it. Then he said he hadn't realized what he was doing. He had been asked to do it by the Treasury, didn't mention any names. And the result of that is that the latest polls indicate that Senator Dodd, who is running next time for re-election, is in some trouble.
HANSEN: And the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, says he didn't know anything about this.
SCHORR: Well, that - that's what he says. And I imagine that what's going on there is that Tim Geithner is simply so busy trying to save this country and the world and not having a staff to help him do it, that I suppose he says, you know, it's possible that I saw it, and I was too busy to do anything about it.
HANSEN: And of course, President Obama was reacting to all of this from California, where he was pushing his budget proposal. Now, how is he fitting into all of this?
SCHORR: Well, all he can do is support his Treasury secretary and say that he has full confidence in him and so on and so forth. He probably was very happy to be in California at the time.
HANSEN: Well, we're talking about the president. He was on the stump this week to promote his budget proposal. He appeared on "The Tonight Show"…
HANSEN: …with Jay Leno, Thursday night. Do you think he might be overexposing himself?
SCHORR: Well, he certainly is exposing himself an awful lot, I mean, a town hall in California, then Jay Leno's show. And you never can tell where he's going to turn up next. You know, I think he's doing it, I'm sure he believes, because he's advancing his budget, advancing his priorities. But it is a question of whether you can overstay your welcome. I mean, you cannot hardly turn on a television set at almost any given time without seeing our president saying something about something.
HANSEN: Let's talk a little bit about foreign policy for a moment, talking about the president. The White House is reviewing its strategy on Afghanistan. What are they considering?
SCHORR: That's right. They had a task force working on a new policy, and I would assume that there would be a lot more troops going there because things are not going very well in Afghanistan. As I now understand it, aside from the 17,000 troops that are being sent this summer, they are not trying to send a lot of troops. They are planning to send a lot of civilians. They're planning to send people to train troops, train police, and simply try to work on getting the country to work by itself. It's very - it is very interesting. This is nation building, which we weren't supposed to be doing anymore, but in Afghanistan they seem to see room for nation building.
HANSEN: Hearts and minds.
SCHORR: Hearts and minds.
HANSEN: President Obama also reached out to Iran in a videotaped message. He was offering a new start to U.S./Iranian relations. What is he suggesting, and do you know how Iran has reacted?
SCHORR: Well, you know, all during the campaign President Obama said that he would always be willing to negotiate, willing to talk without conditions. He is in favor of talking. And that's it. He's pragmatic, he will talk. At the same time that he deals with Russia to try to contain Iran, he also approaches Iran directly, and it may well be that on April 2nd, when they all meet in London for the big meeting of the 20, that he will have a sit-down meeting with Iran as well as a sit-down meeting with the Russian president.
He really thinks he can almost fix anything if he goes there and talks directly to people. Who knows, he may succeed.
HANSEN: Before we let you go, I know you well enough that - I know that you are not mad about all of this basketball stuff in March. You're not the kind of guy to fill out brackets. But last week, you and Scott Simon talked about baseball.
SCHORR: Yes. And I have a correction that I have to make. I talked about baseball in Holland, when I worked in Holland, lo, 60 years ago, and I said something about - I wrote an article about Holland and baseball for the New York Times, for whom I was a part-time correspondent. It turns out - and people had to call it to my attention - that it wasn't in the New York Times, it was in the Christian Science Monitor, and not in 1948, but 1949. After 60 years, for heaven's sake, give me a break.
HANSEN: Setting the record straight as always, NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr. It's great to see you. Thanks.
SCHORR: Really my pleasure.
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