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Obama's Forget The Charm Offensive


This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, "He's Just Not That Into You;" what the critics say about that movie and others released today. First, January jobless numbers are out today. They're the highest in nearly 35 years. Employers cut nearly 600,000 jobs last month. President Obama responded to the news, saying it is, quote, "inexcusable and irresponsible" for Congress to delay passing the stimulus package. This morning, he also introduced his team of economic advisers from outside the government. And joining me now is NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, first of all, who are these new advisers, and what will they do?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, I think we're familiar with Paul Volcker, and he's going to be - the former Federal Reserve chairman, and he will be the chairman of the group. Austan Goolsbee, another well-known economist, will be staff director and chief economist. But what you're seeing here is not the same old names, and that's the big surprise here, Madeleine. You're seeing people that come from a range of backgrounds. We're talking about Monica Lozano, who's the publisher of La Opinion, a Hispanic newspaper. You're seeing people like Penny Pritzker, who was close to candidate Obama when he was running for president. She's chairman and founder of Pritzker Realty Group in Chicago. And also, people like Jim Owens, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar; Roger Immelt, the GE chairman - chief executive, I should say; and also, Rich Trumka from - the leader of the AFL-CIO. So, you're seeing a range of voices here, and the idea is to bring these people in, and President Obama is modeling this on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that was created by President Eisenhower to bring new voices and new views on intelligence to the White House, and that's what President Obama wants to do in terms of the American economy.

BRAND: Well, meanwhile, he's still trying to get his stimulus package passed, and I guess there's going to be a vote in the Senate on Monday. Do you think that he and his advisers, the president and his advisers, have been surprised by this pushback from congressional Republicans on this?

WILLIAMS: You know what? I think they're surprised that they're losing the argument. They feel as if they're being absolutely pushed to the margins in terms of saying that there's an emergency situation, in terms of the American economy; people are losing jobs, the numbers that you cited on top of this segment, and somehow, people are locked into what President Obama has called, you know, bad old habits, the same kind of arguments that he says - when he was speaking to the Democrats yesterday - the same old arguments that led us into this economic tailspin. But I think that what's frustrating at the moment to them is that you have a group of about 12 to 18 senators who are sort of in the middle, led by people like Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat, who are trying to figure out ways to cut the package. And you know, President Obama is saying, stop all the nitpicking; let's get something done. He wants it to be as bipartisan as possible, but he is emphasizing the notion of a national economic emergency.

BRAND: And so, do you think that his rhetoric is going to get a little more pointed? Because until now, he's been talking about bipartisanship and being collegial, and do you think he's just going to come out and just, you know, be a little more forthright in what he wants done?

WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely, and he's going to have his first national address to the country; it's going to be sort of a press conference and address on Monday. And what he's going to say is, pretty simply, a repeat of what he said last night in Williamsburg to the Democrats. He's going to say, Republicans are the ones who have so much responsibility for the nation's economic crisis; why are they acting as obstructionists? So, he's going to take on not the bipartisan tone of inviting people up to the White House or going over to the Capitol to meet with folks. He's going to become much more aggressive, take the offensive and say, if you're not with me, you're not just against me, you're against the American people.

BRAND: And Juan, what was your best political conversation this week?

WILLIAMS: Well, it all has to do with what's in and out of the stimulus package, and you know, there's so much sort of back and forth about everything from, you know, condoms to building infrastructure, building schools, and I remember - I was up on Capitol Hill this week, Madeleine. Someone - one of the Republicans was saying to me, which schools, Juan? Which schools? Now, tell me, how are they going to decide which schools they're going to build? And I'm thinking myself, well, gee, you know, I didn't think that was the point. I thought the point was simply to build schools. But they are that level of simply saying, where are the details here, and how will they be settled? And we're not going to approve this money - and there's a huge pocket of discretionary spending there - we're not going to approve this money until we know the details. And the complement to that conversation was one that I had with the White House official yesterday - last night. She was saying, what does that matter? At this moment, the president is off in Williamsburg and he's saying we have an emergency. So, it's as if you're having conversations that don't quite match coming from two very different groups, and we'll see how it plays out, Madeleine.

BRAND: NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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BRAND: There's more coming up on Day to Day from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.