President Obama says treasury secretary’s job is secure

Published 8:40 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says treasury secretary is one job that’s not up for grabs.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” Obama said that if Treasury chief Timothy Geithner offered his resignation, the answer would be, “Sorry buddy, you’ve still got the job.”

Obama also took the opportunity to strike back at recent comments by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who claimed that plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center will make the U.S. less safe.

Obama contended that the Bush administration’s policy of holding detainees for years on end with no trials is “unsustainable,” and has only fueled anti-American sentiments. At the same time, Obama said that U.S. authorities haven’t done a good job determining who should be released from the Navy base in Cuba.

On Geithner, Obama reiterated his support for the beleaguered secretary who has been roundly criticized over the recent corporate bonus flap and steps to revive the economy. And he urged patience.

“It’s going to take a little bit more time than we would like to make sure that we get this plan just right. Of course, then we’d still be subject to criticism,” he said in the interview, taped Friday and set to air Sunday evening. “What’s taken so long? You’ve been in office a whole 40 days and you haven’t solved the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

CBS released excerpts Saturday.

Obama also said corporate executives would better understand the public’s outrage over bonuses if they ventured out of New York and spent time in Iowa or Arkansas. There, he said, people are thrilled to be making $75,000 a year with no bonuses.

Public outrage spilled over last week after revelations that struggling insurance giant American International Group Inc. doled out $165 million in bonuses to employees, including to traders in the financial unit that nearly caused the company’s collapse.

On the Bush administration’s detainee policies, Obama criticized the failure to bring terrorists to justice, despite holding hundreds of men at Guantanamo for a number of years.

Among those who have been released, more than 60 former Guantanamo detainees are believed to have rejoined the fight, the Pentagon says.

“There is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals to make sure (they) are not a threat to us,” Obama said.

Since taking office, Obama has taken aim at Bush administration policies, suspending military trials for suspected terrorists and announcing he will close Guantanamo and other overseas sites where the CIA has held some detainees. The president also ordered CIA interrogators to abide by the U.S. Army Field Manual’s regulations for treatment of detainees and denounced waterboarding, part of the Bush program of enhanced interrogation, as torture.

On CNN last weekend, Cheney charged that those moves have made the country less safe and raised the risk of another attack.