March 19, 2009: AIG’s Bonus Scandal and St. Patty’s Day at the O’Bama White House

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times The waters of the fountains at the White House ran green to mark St. Patrick’s Day.

The President Picks His Winners for the NCAA Tournament

White House Photo, 3/17/09, Pete Souza

President’s Picks Bracket

The President picks his winners for the
NCAA Tournament.

President Obama, with the Budget Committee Chairmen

Official White House Photo, 3/17/09, by Chuck Kennedy

Budget Spratt Conrad

The President outlines the new priorities in his budget, and calls for his critics to come to the table with good ideas, not political tactics.

Read the President's Remarks

President Obama pledges help for small business, condemns AIG bonuses

White House Photo, 3/16/09, Chuck Kennedy

AIG

President Obama pledges to help small businesses, fight AIG bonuses.

Watch the video

IN FOCUS: STATS

Monica Almeida/The New York Times President Barack Obama during a town hall meeting at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Wednesday.

In Focus: Stats

  • Obama’s Approval Equal To or Better Than Bush’s, Clinton’s: President Barack Obama’s job approval rating, at 61% in the latest three-day average of Gallup Poll Daily tracking, is slightly above where George W. Bush’s and in particular Bill Clinton’s were at this point in mid-March of the first years of their administrations.
    Bush’s disapproval rating in mid-March 2001 was about the same as Obama’s is now (28%), while Clinton’s disapproval rating was significantly higher. Gallop.com, 3-16-09

THE HEADLINES….

The President Picks His Winners for the NCAA Tournament

White House Photo, 3/17/09, Pete Souza

President’s Picks Bracket

The President picks his winners for the
NCAA Tournament.

President Obama, with the Budget Committee Chairmen

Official White House Photo, 3/17/09, by Chuck Kennedy

Budget Spratt Conrad

The President outlines the new priorities in his budget, and calls for his critics to come to the table with good ideas, not political tactics.

Read the President's Remarks

President Obama pledges help for small business, condemns AIG bonuses

The Headlines…

  • President to pioneer chat on late-night TV: President Obama hasn’t been practicing one-liners, but he is going Thursday night where no sitting president has gone before: to a late-night comedy show. Obama plans to be a guest on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno at 11:35 p.m. ET. His press secretary says not to look for a comedy routine. “I anticipate that a large amount of the discussion will center around the president’s economic plans, and the president’s economic ideas,” spokesman Robert Gibbs says. “And I think the president believes it’s a unique audience with which to explain those challenges and the decisions that he’s made.” – USA Today, 3-18-09
  • Obama schedules second prime time news conference: President Obama will hold his second prime time news conference next Tuesday evening at 8 pm ET, the White House announced Wednesday. The president is expected to use the forum to promote his ambitious budget plan, which has come under fire from Republicans and conservative Democrats for its hefty price tag…. – CNN, 3-18-09
  • Dodd: Administration pushed for language protecting bonuses: Senate Banking committee Chairman Christopher Dodd told CNN Wednesday that he was responsible for language added to the federal stimulus bill to make sure that already-existing contracts for bonuses at companies receiving federal bailout money were honored. CNN, 3-18-09
  • Bush to deliver first U.S. post-presidency speech in May: Former President George W. Bush will make his first domestic post-presidency speech on May 28 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, his spokesman, Rob Saliterman, said Wednesday. Bush will be speaking to members of the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan. The event will be closed to the media. Separately, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also will address the economic club on April 30. – CNN, 3-18-09
  • Obama nixes idea of billing vets’ insurance: President Barack Obama has decided to drop any consideration of billing veterans’ private insurance companies for the treatment of combat-related injuries, the White House said Wednesday. – AP, 3-18-09
  • Chaos in the White House – Obama’s teleprompter blows up: Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen liked President Obama’s speech so much yesterday that he repeated it — for 20 seconds. At that time he realized that Obama’s speech was still on the teleprompter…. – Christian Science Monitor, 3-17-09
  • Health care overhaul may cost about $1.5 trillion: Guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans may cost about $1.5 trillion over the next decade, health experts say. That’s more than double the $634 billion ‘down payment’ President Barack Obama set aside for health reform in his budget, raising the prospect of sticker shock at a time of record federal spending. Administration officials have pointedly avoided providing a ballpark estimate, saying it depends on details to be worked out with Congress. – AP, 3-17-09
  • The McCain ‘Twitterview’: has Twitter jumped the shark?: That “Twitterview” was a little weird. Watching questions from George Stephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) and answers from Sen. John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) bounce back and forth felt like watching a tennis match on delay. But it took Twitter somewhere it hadn’t been before, and brought users an instant interview with a major newsmaker in a format that only it could manage….. – Christian Science Monitor, 3-17-09
  • Battle brews over Bush library: Former President George W. Bush is preparing for one final struggle against the odds: raising $300 million for a presidential library, museum and policy institute at a time when dollars are tight and skepticism about his presidency runs high. – Politico, 3-16-09
  • Palin to headline GOP dinner in Washington: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will deliver the keynote address at a dinner sponsored by the House and Senate Republican campaign committees…. – AP, 3-16-09
  • 8 Dems oppose quick debate on global warming bill: Eight Senate Democrats are opposing speedy action on President Barack Obama’s bill to combat global warming, complicating prospects for the legislation and creating problems for their party’s leaders…. – AP, 3-16-09
  • US says it shot down Iranian drone last month: U.S. jets shot down an Iranian unmanned surveillance aircraft last month over Iraqi territory about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Monday. A U.S. statement said the Ababil 3 was tracked for about 70 minutes before U.S. jets shot it down “well-inside Iraqi airspace” and that the aircraft’s presence over Iraq “was not an accident.”… – AP, 3-16-09
  • Obama tries to loosen credit for small businesses: President Barack Obama freed billions of dollars to help the nation’s small businesses on Monday, hoping to get credit flowing again to Main Street, not just Wall Street. He heaped praise on the little guys of American industry, often overshadowed in the blitz of government bailouts. The centerpiece of Obama’s latest plan will allow the government to spend up to $15 billion to buy the small-business loans that are now choking community banks and lenders. That, in turn, could allow those banks to start lending money again to small companies to invest, pay bills and stay afloat…. – AP, 3-16-09
  • Obama berates AIG and vows to try to block bonuses: Joining a wave of public anger, President Barack Obama blistered insurance giant AIG for “recklessness and greed” Monday and pledged to try to block it from handing its executives $165 million in bonuses after taking billions in federal bailout money. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” Obama asked. “This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values.” – AP, 3-16-09
  • Obama will try to block executive bonuses at AIG: President Barack Obama declared Monday that insurance giant American International Group is in financial straits because of “recklessness and greed” and said he intends to stop it from paying out millions in executive bonuses. AP, 3-16-09

POLITICAL QUOTES

The President Picks His Winners for the NCAA Tournament

White House Photo, 3/17/09, Pete Souza

President’s Picks Bracket

The President picks his winners for the
NCAA Tournament.

President Obama, with the Budget Committee Chairmen

Political Quotes

  • Biden: Officials must ‘get it right’ on stimulus: Vice President Joe Biden issued a stern warning to local officials Wednesday, urging them to “get it right” when it comes to spending money from the administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package.
    “The work you are doing is being watched very closely, not just by me, but by everybody…. I’ll show up in your city, and tell you it was a stupid idea… The Recovery Act will help ensure older Americans are not forced to choose between paying bills and buying food…. We will recover. The economy will grow.” – AP, 3-18-09
  • Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh: ‘Moderate Dems Working Group’ organized in Senate: A group of 15 Senate Democrats have organized their own working group, the office of Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh announced Wednesday.
    “Our group seeks to work collaboratively with the Obama administration and Senate leadership to make sure legislation is crafted in a practical way that will solve people’s problems,” Bayh said in a statement. “It’s going to take all of us working together in the Senate to get the 60 votes necessary to deliver the change the American people deserve.” – CNN, 3-18-09
  • Florida Rep. Connie Mack “GOP Rep calls on Geithner to ‘resign or be fired'”: “Well before Timothy Geithner became Secretary of the Treasury, he was working hand-in-hand with AIG and other financial institutions to provide them hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money as one of the key architects of the financial sector bailout,” Florida Rep. Connie Mack said in a statement released Wednesday. “I was outspoken against the bailouts then, and I’m even more outraged now.”
    “I’ve had serious concerns about Secretary Geithner from the moment he was nominated. In the months since, he has shown us time and again why he was the wrong choice for this critical post. This week’s news on the AIG bonus scandal is but the latest fiasco under his watch and he has lost the confidence of the American people.” “Quite simply, the Timothy Geithner experience has been a disaster.” – CNN, 3-18-09
  • GOP Rep calls on Geithner to ‘resign or be fired’: Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also called on Geithner to step down.
    “As one of the chief architects of the AIG bailout, Secretary Geithner was in a position to do what any lender of the last resort would do – negotiate concessions from AIG,” he said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
    “Secretary Geithner either didn’t know about the bonuses, and was grossly negligent, or he did know and failed to bring this to the President’s attention. Either way, the end result has been a significant waste of taxpayer dollars and he should take immediate responsibility and resign.” CNN, 3-18-09
  • Boehner says GOP budget alternative being drafted: “Mr. President, with all due respect: your budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much, and that’s going to do further harm to our economy at a time when it desperately needs our help,” Boehner says in a video message posted on YouTube Wednesday. “We believe there’s a better way – better solutions to restore some fiscal sanity here in Washington while encouraging more job creation and more investment.”Our alternative, which is being drafted as we speak by Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and others, will reflect core principles that should guide us as our nation works to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.” – CNN, 3-18-09
  • McCain: ‘Too Early’ to Tell If Obama Has Put Nation at Risk of Terror Attack: GStephanopoulos@SenJohnMcCain AIG: Would a President McCain break bonus contracts? Obama teams says that would cause more harm than good
    SenJohnMcCain@GStephanopoulos i would have never bailed out AIG, the real scandal is billions to foreign banks.
    GStephanopoulos@SenJohnMcCain ok, but today: should bonus contracts be broken? Dodd wants a targeted tax on bonuses OK with that?
    SenJohnMcCain@GStephanopoulos i haven’t seen it but i would explore every option. i repeat, we wouldn’t have this problem if we hadn’t bailed them out….. – ABC News, 3-17-09
  • Obama Defends Budget Proposal: “If there are members of Congress who object to specific policies and proposals in this budget, then I ask them to be ready and willing to propose constructive, alternative solutions,” Mr. Obama said. “‘Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs. It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party.” – NYT, 3-17-09
  • Bush refuses to criticize Obama in Canada: “I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence. I love my country a lot more than I love politics. I think it is essential that he be helped in office….
    I’m going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there’s an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened. I want people to understand what it was like to sit in the Oval Office and have them come in and say we have captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the alleged killer of a guy named Danny Pearl because he was simply Jewish, and we think we have information on further attacks on the United States….
    I actually paid for a house last fall. I think I’m the only American to have bought a house in the fall of 2008. AP, 3-17-09
  • Bush, Cheney strike different post-White House tones: “I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena,” the former president told the audience, according to the Associated Press. “It’s the risk-takers, not the government, that is going to pull us out of this recession,” the former president said, according to the Calgary Herald. “My message to policy-makrs is don’t substitute government for the marketplace. Don’t become protectionist. I’m a free-trader to the core.” But overall, the president’s demeanor in front of a friendly crowd was described as jovial. “This is my maiden voyage,” he said in his debut address on the speaking circuit. “I can’t think of a better place to give it than Calgary, Canada.” – CNN, 3-17-09
  • The President, the Taoiseach, and the Shamrocks: Now, before I turn it over to the Taoiseach, it turns out that we have something in common. He hails from County Offaly. And it was brought to my attention on the campaign that my great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side came to America from a small village in County Offaly, as well. We are still speculating on whether we are related. (Laughter.)
    I do share, though, a deep appreciation for the remarkable ties between our nations. I am grateful to him for his leadership of Ireland. The bond between our countries could not be stronger. As somebody who comes from Chicago, I know a little bit about Ireland, and the warmth, the good humor, and the fierce passion and intelligence of the Irish people is something that has informed our own culture, as well. And so that’s why this day and this celebration is so important. – WH Blog, 3-17-09
  • STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE BUDGET But the one thing I will say is this: With the magnitude of the challenges we face right now, what we need in Washington are not more political tactics — we need more good ideas. We don’t need more point-scoring — we need more problem-solving. So if there are members of Congress who object to specific policies and proposals in this budget, then I ask them to be ready and willing to propose constructive, alternative solutions. If certain aspects of this budget people don’t think work, provide us some ideas in terms of what you do. “Just say no” is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs. It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party.
    The American people sent us here to get things done. And in this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let’s show them that we’re equal to this task before us. Let’s pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity. I know Kent Conrad is committed to doing that; John Spratt is committed to doing that; I’m committed to doing that. We’re going to need everybody working together to get this thing done. – WH Blog, 3-17-09
  • REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS, COMMUNITY LENDERS AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS – Help for small business, condemnation for AIG bonuses: I’ve asked Secretary Geithner to use that leverage and pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole. (Applause.) I want everybody to be clear that Secretary Geithner has been on the case. He’s working to resolve this matter with the new CEO, Edward Liddy — who, by the way, everybody needs to understand came on board after the contracts that led to these bonuses were agreed to last year.
    But I think Mr. Liddy and certainly everybody involved needs to understand this is not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values. All across the country, there are people who are working hard and meeting their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multi-million dollar bonuses. You’ve got a bunch of small business people here who are struggling just to keep their credit line open — that they are foregoing pay, as one of our entrepreneurs talked about, they are in some cases mortgaging their homes, and doing a whole host of things just in order to keep things afloat. All they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. And that is an ethic that we have to demand.
    And what this situation also underscores is the need for overall financial regulatory reform, so we don’t find ourselves in this position again, and for some form of resolution mechanism in dealing with troubled financial institutions, so that we’ve got greater authority to protect American taxpayers and our financial system in cases such as this….
    Well, I want to say to John and to every American running a small business or hoping to run a small business one day: You deserve a chance. America needs you to have that chance. – WH Blog, 3-16-09
  • Obama will try to block executive bonuses at AIG: “It’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat.”
    Noting that AIG has “received substantial sums” of federal aid from the federal government, Obama said he has asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”…
    “All across the country, there are people who work hard and meet their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses. And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values.” – AP, 3-16-09
  • Fed chief Bernanke: recession could end in ’09: “We’ve seen some progress in the financial markets, absolutely, But until we get that stabilized and working normally, we’re not going to see recovery. But we do have a plan. We’re working on it. And, I do think that we will get it stabilized, and we’ll see the recession coming to an end probably this year.”…
    AP, 3-16-09

HISTORIANS’ COMMENTS

The President Picks His Winners for the NCAA Tournament

Historians’ Comments

  • Victor Davis Hanson “First, do no harm”: When it comes to our complex economy, President Barack Obama would do well to heed the physician’s ancient commandment to first “do no harm.”
    Instead, Obama’s administration has been prescribing all sorts of multibillion-dollar borrowing remedies without any consistent diagnosis of what is exactly wrong with the weak economy or even how bad things actually are.
    Since becoming president, Obama has offered numerous bleak economic prognoses. He has told Americans: “The situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression.” He has also warned, “Recovery will likely be measured in years, not weeks or months” and “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years.”
    But suddenly last week, physician Obama flipped and issued an entirely new prognosis: “I don’t think things are ever as good as they say, or ever as bad as they say.” He added. “(Things) are not as bad as we think they are now.”…
    Or did Obama’s change in rhetoric reflect a sort of premeditated strategy: talk down the economy to scare everyone into supporting more government spending and borrowing; then, once the stimulus bill has passed, talk up the economy to reassure us that it will work?….
    It is clear from the last two months that no one in this herky-jerky administration quite knows what is going on in the economy, which has its own self-correcting mechanisms that were already in play without vast new federal spending and borrowing.
    So before we give more toxic-debt medicine to the recovering patient, let us take a timeout from the borrowing, let nature do its work – and at least do no more harm to generations not yet born. – San Francisco Chronicle, 3-18-09
  • Julian Zelizer “White House, Congress Complicit in AIG Bonus Scandal”: Julian E. Zelizer, congressional expert at Princeton University, said the failure of policymakers to limit executive pay for bailed out banks was no accident. “Neither Congress nor the president wanted to look as if they were ‘taking over’ financial institutions,” Zelizer wrote in an email, “nor did they want to anger business.” The result, he added, was “predictable:” a bailout strategy with plenty of leeway for the companies receiving the money. – Washington Independent, 3-18-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Obama Caught In The Eye Of AIG Storm”: Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, agreed Obama had no easy way out. “He can come out and say it is bad and reprimand executives–it is another thing to formulate some kind of policy response.” “There is some kind of communication problem here,” said Zelizer. “In the campaign, the president was very good at responding to crises,” he said, refering to Obama’s elegant speech on race after a furore erupted over his fiery former pastor Jeremiah Wright. “But now he is running a government. It is not just him any more–some of Obama’s (top aides) don’t seem as skilled in the political arena as they are in the economic arena.” – mysinchew.com, 3-18-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Commentary: GOP’s “small government” talk is hollow”: As the budget debate heats up, Republicans are warning of socialism in the White House and claiming that Democrats are rushing back to their dangerous tonic of big government. …
    After the past eight years in American politics, it is impossible to reconcile current promises by conservatives for small government with the historical record of President Bush’s administration. Most experts on the left and right can find one issue upon which to agree: The federal government expanded significantly after 2001 when George W. Bush was in the White House….
    Fifty years of American history have shown that even the party that traditionally advocates small government on the campaign trail opts for big government when it gets into power. The rhetoric of small government has helped Republicans attract some support in the past, but it is hard to take such rhetoric seriously given the historical record — and it is a now a question whether this rhetoric is even appealing since many Americans want government to help them cope with the current crisis. – CNN, 3-18-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Economy tops everyone’s agenda as Congress returns”: “The economy is on everyone’s mind, and they have to show they’re thinking about what to do at this point. That’s got to be issue No. 1,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor. “But just as important is getting the groundwork ready to work with the new president. They’re desperately trying to avoid another Jimmy Carter situation.” – News & Observer, 3-17-09
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