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Obama reiterates faith in Geithner, urges patience

WASHINGTON - President Obama, in an interview airing this evening, told CBS's 60 Minutes that if Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner offered his resignation, the answer would be, "Sorry, buddy, you've still got the job."

WASHINGTON - President Obama, in an interview airing this evening, told CBS's

60 Minutes

that if Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner offered his resignation, the answer would be, "Sorry, buddy, you've still got the job."

Obama reiterated his support for the beleaguered secretary, who has been 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," Obama said in the interview, taped Friday. CBS released excerpts yesterday.

"Of course, then we'd still be subject to criticism," he said. "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."

Obama also struck back at recent comments by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who told CNN that plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center would make the country less safe.

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

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.

The 60 Minutes interview, which CBS said was the president's longest since taking office, came as Obama, knocked off balance by the bonuses brouhaha, relies on direct appeals to the public to refocus attention on his ambitious agenda and drive the debate.

The president has shouldered responsibility for the mess and, in his radio and Web address yesterday, sought to put the financial finger-pointing behind in favor of his policy pillars - deficit cutting, overhauling health care and energy, and improving education.

He is using a flurry of events to make his case, including a prime-time news conference Tuesday. The administration also is expected, as early as tomorrow, to roll out its plan to rid banks of their toxic assets and speed the flow of loans.

Being heard above the din may prove difficult. Lawmakers are wrangling over taxing people who got big bonuses and worrying that Obama's budget could generate $9.3 trillion in red ink over the next decade.

"I realize there are those who say these plans are too ambitious to enact," Obama said in his weekend address. "To that, I say that the challenges we face are too large to ignore. I didn't come here to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation - I came here to solve them."

Over the last week, Obama sought to spread his message unfiltered to people, tapping his massive e-mail list to promote his agenda one on one and speaking to enthusiastic supporters at town-hall meetings in California. But dominating all else was the disclosure that American International Group Inc. had paid out $165 million in bonuses to employees, including to traders in the financial unit that nearly collapsed the insurer.

Later, Obama scrambled to apologize for an offhand remark on NBC's Tonight Show With Jay Leno in which he compared his inept bowling with "the Special Olympics or something." By Friday evening, the White House was fending off dismal new deficit estimates from congressional auditors.

Republicans seized on the missteps and used their Saturday address to condemn Obama's budget as a breathtaking spending spree. As states and families struggle to cut spending, his budget "spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

"Absolutely it was a bad week for the president," said Thomas Mann, a Brookings Institution congressional scholar. "But he's not someone to shy away from an ambitious agenda. He's aiming very high, and he's not going to trim his ambitions in response to this."

Mann said it was important for Obama to understand the public's anger over the bonuses and channel it, using his leadership skills and high approval ratings to regain people's confidence.

Obama said yesterday that people were more concerned about having a paycheck and being able to pay college or medical bills than they were about "the news of the day in Washington."

Those are the concerns, Obama said, that he addresses in his budget, which he calls an economic blueprint for the future. It is "a vision of America," he said, "where growth is not based on real estate bubbles or over-leveraged banks, but on a firm foundation of investments in energy, education, and health care that will lead to a real and lasting prosperity."