The McLaughlin Group

Issues: The State of the Union; ISIS Demands Ransoms; Miss Universe Pageant and Politics

John McLaughlin, Host
Tim Carney, Washington Examiner
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, January 23, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of January 23-24-25, 2015

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue: Hail to the Chief.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.


With a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production -- we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address, urging an ambitious program of middle class economies for the new Republican majorities in Congress.

The Democratic president went big, bold and liberal. Just watch how 38-year veteran of the Senate, Republican Orrin Hatch reacted to the president’s tax plan.

OBAMA: And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.


MCLAUGHLIN: The midterm elections were disastrous for Democrats. Republicans now hold majorities in both houses, the Senate and the House.

Question: in light of the GOP majority, are the president’s tax proposals serious policies or unserious posturing?

Carney, Tim Carney?

TIM CARNEY, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think you have to see it as setting the stage for 2016, that he wants to make this piece sort of class warfare. The president wants to paint the Republicans as a party of the rich and the Democrats as a party of the little guy.

But it’s not just empty posturing. It is also a statement of values. I thought it was interesting that his child tax credit proposal only went to families where both people were working outside the home. He wants to expand the child daycare credit that did that. So, that’s a state of values that he doesn’t value stay-at-home mothers. That’s not just political posturing. That’s the president using this to say this is what we stand for.


ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, instead of coming in like a deflated Super Bowl game ball, I couldn’t resist that.


CLIFT: He came in strong and positive and confident and it’s both policy and it’s politics. There are some aspects he may get. I think Speaker Boehner said he’s open to child care tax credit. And the president really turned the tables on the Republicans by calling for a tax cut on the middle class. And this is generally Republican turf.

And what the president called for, child care, day care, community college, raising the minimum wage, these are policies that are very popular among ordinary regular Americans that are out there. And I think it really puts the Republicans on the defensive. There may be some parts that they’ll pay us.

But as Tim said, it’s mostly about setting the stage for 2016. And the economy is now strong enough that you’ve got Republicans playing on Democratic turf, talking about closing the wealth gap and talking about economic inequalities. So, we’re in for some very fascinating debates.

MCLAUGHLIN: Was this speech not so much starting a dialogue with Republicans, but starting a dialogue with the Democrats?

TOM ROGAN, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: I think that’s right. I thought it was interesting. I think the cameras were panning a lot to Elizabeth Warren during the speech and that was a recognition on the part of the producers that yes, this is much more on the Elizabeth Warren style of policies, than it is with Hillary Clinton.

So, I think the president is doing two things. Number one, he is outlining his ideological viewpoint, and actually, to (INAUDIBLE) in a very honest way, the expansive state, taking childcare, college, retirement, across this range of issues. But at the same time, actually anchoring I think the Democratic Party as he comes towards the end of his presidency on the left. So, you know, it was a big, bold, liberal speech, as you said.

MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see anything in there that explain why the Democrats are losing working class citizens and followers?

MORTMER ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: No, frankly. What I did see in there, however, was the best speech that I’ve seen him gave, period, full stop. It was a brilliant speech as a speech. The substance is a whole another matter.

The problem with what he was talking about is it doesn’t address what is happening in this country, which is the erosion of the quality of work. It’s not just the quantity of work. You have today, if you take in people who are involuntary part-time workers and you count them as what they really are, the sort of half-employed, the real unemployment rate is about 11.2 percent according to the government.

The economy is very weak and he’s got to find some ways to improve the economy, had a lot of good programs, and a situation in which you get passed the issue of employment. But to my mind, employment and good employment is the key of everything.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. The president also demanded money for infrastructure, what he says is crucial to America’s economic wellbeing.


OBAMA: Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure -- modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is that Keystone XL pipeline eligible? Is it an infrastructure spending?

Mr. Carney, Tim?

CARNEY: Well, it is. But the problem is that the Democrats -- really, this is a rare base issue for them, where they feel like they can’t violate their base. President Obama has offset his liberal base on a lot of issues. And very importantly, there’s a liberal billionaire, Tom Steyer, who provides a ton of money to the Democratic Party, and Keystone is such a symbolic fight for them that they’re unwilling to give up on it.

CLIFT: Well, Keystone has been so elevated beyond its importance by both the right and the left, and the price of oil has now collapsed to an extent where it’s no longer good economic investment. We do not need the oil, and you have in Yellowstone River, you have an oil leak there in the river, people in Montana are drinking bottled water. I mean, that boost the case of environmental that we don’t need to be building another pipeline.

So, the president is going to veto it and it’s not clear that the Senate can override them. I don’t think they can.

MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear Eleanor say that it’s been elevated beyond its importance, the Keystone pipeline?


MCLAUGHLIN: Do you believe that?

ROGAN: Well, to some degree, I think that is true, as an individual thing. But the problem is, it’s not just about Keystone, right? The supporters of Keystone are not in favor of that just because of Keystone, but about energy infrastructure generally, right? That it could be one of many, that it could be one set (ph) on a development train that creates more jobs, that provides more energy security. I mean, the shale oil gas boom is the big one.

But again, if we’re talking about infrastructure, we’re talking about upward mobility, energy jobs pay well paid salaries to people who are currently unemployed. So, what is it somehow off-limits?

MCLAUGHLIN: You seem to be pretty good on this issue, right, the Keystone pipeline? If you’re so good, what is the geography of the Keystone pipeline?

ROGAN: The geography of the Keystone pipeline is from Canada --

MCLAUGHLIN: From Canada, what part of Canada?

CLIFT: Nebraska.


MCLAUGHLIN: Where does it go from there?

CLIFT: Nebraska.

ROGAN: Down to the Gulf Coast, right?

CLIFT: Through Nebraska.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Gulf Coast, how does it get to the Gulf Coast?

ROGAN: Through a pipeline?


CLIFT: Through Nebraska.

MCLAUGHLIN: One shot now? Does it go through several states, do you know?

ROGAN: It goes through several states.

MCLAUGHLIN: Which of the states?

ROGAN: I don’t know, but Nebraska is one of them. The broader issue is --

CARNEY: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana.

MCLAUGHLIN: Where does it empty? It empties in Texas.


MCLAUGHLIN: And how many states are affected? And is it a worry for the environmentalists? What is he concerned about?


ROGAN: The Native American communities are concerned about it.

CARNEY: The worry is that the pipeline will spill underground and it’s one of the ways I filed this, in Nebraska, there are landowners who don’t want to give up their land because they’re worried about it and this is from a free market perspective can rub the wrong way, as they’re using eminent domain to taking land away from farmers, that farmers don’t want to sell.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Are the positives of the Keystone pipeline overwhelming positive?



MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning that they exceed anything on the negative side?



MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment.

CARNEY: I think that sort of prediction of the future of what the effect of infrastructure will be is exactly the hubris I guess to the big government trouble in the first place, I don’t know. I don’t know.

MCLAUGHLIN: Is he playing to his base? In other words, it’s an environmental issue with him and he knows where his base is?

CARNEY: It’s a symbolic fight.

MCLAUGHLIN: You care to comment on this?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, listen, you know, energy’s got to be one of the most critical things this country is facing. The shale production has really transformed that world. But that’s not going to go on forever, and this is something that is going to actually help the United States in terms of its energy production and independence.

MCLAUGHLIN: You take this as a serious issue?

ZUCKERMAN: It’s not an overwhelming issue. It is a serious issue. It’s going to be a huge infrastructure investment for this country.

MCLAUGHLIN: Are the intervening states worried about the environmental impact?

ZUCKERMAN: A lot of people are.

CLIFT: In Nebraska, there were a number of lawsuits. But they have been settled.

Right now, I think it’s the economics of Keystone. It’s unnecessary. It does not create that many jobs.


CLIFT: Under a hundred permanent jobs.


CLIFT: And the infrastructure we need, we’re way behind infrastructure with bridges and highways, everything else. That’s where the money should go, that’s where the thinking should go.

MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to accept what she just said?

ROGAN: Well, I just -- I disagree with that. I respect Eleanor’s viewpoint on that. But I do think it’s important for us to create energy jobs. I think it’s a little easy for us to say we care about social mobility as long as it’s the kinds of jobs we like. I think we should be caring about economic opportunities, first, the macro national level, and individual level.


CLIFT: We happen to be almost energy independent. We don’t need more oil right now. Keep it in the ground. We might need it later. Save it for a rainy day.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Foreign policy.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The president was self-assured when it came to foreign policy. But again, Republicans were not impressed.

Watch how Speaker of the House John Boehner had been relatively expressionless found this Obama analysis unbearable.

OBAMA: In Iraq and Syria, American leadership -- including our military power -- is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is President Obama right? Is his foreign policy working?


CARNEY: So, the president is trying to really find his foreign policy. He hasn’t figured out what it is yet. He does a drive-by war in Libya, and then he decides that that’s a mistake. He wants to stay out of ground wars, but do these strikes. He’s very hesitant. He’s putting us half-way to war.

So, no, it’s not working. He had pointed to Yemen as a great sign of success, and that’s not -- in the past, now, that’s not looking like a success. I don’t think the president knows what his foreign policy is.


CLIFT: A couple of months ago, everybody thought ISIS was going to run the table. They’ve now been halted for the most part, in Iraq and they’ve been rebuffed in Syria. I think that the president is correctly keeping us out of another ground war. It’s hard to look at Syria and say it’s a success. But I think the strategy is to keep it from getting worse.

And what’s happening in Yemen, the government there has been overthrown. But the Houthis who are coming in to power hate al Qaeda and they’re likely to continue the same anti-terrorism policy, fighting al Qaeda.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, they hate the U.S. as well.

CLIFT: So, you know, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the administration because of all the chaos. But I don’t think they’re necessarily in the worst position.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is a closing question on this issue. Why have people tuned Obama -- President Obama out? His audience is falling precipitously from its high point of 52.4 million in 2009, to only 33.3 million last year, to 31.7 million this year. And it’s not technology.

Such a dramatic drop is not explained by viewers by using other hard to measure platforms like iPads to stream the speech, because they’ve been around for at least 10 years. Why has he -- why has he --

CLIFT: Well, we have an election every eight years. He’s six years in, you know? People have gotten used to him. So, I thought this was an excellent speech that he delivered and they did disseminate it through social media. So --

MCLAUGHLIN: He got 52 million in 2009. He got 33 million last year. And 31 --

CLIFT: In 2009, he was newly elected. Why don’t you look and see what Ronald Reagan got the first year he was in office --


CLIFT: -- and in six years in.

MCLAUGHLIN: There was no comparable drop.

ZUCKERMAN: No, absolutely.

CLIFT: Oh, I don’t know about that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely.


ROGAN: He used Yemen as an example of what his ISIS strategy was going to be back in September, shortly before the Houthis took over, sponsored by Iran. So, now, we have Yemen in control essentially by, if not an Iranian policy, a very proximate group to Iran, the isolation of American power there, the empowerment of al Qaeda in the south.

And so, we’re in a world of trouble. And the president thinks this a celebrate -- he says that -- he said that Yemen was good on the ground in Iraq, the spread of political sectarianism. ISIS advancing, continue to hold vast areas of territory. Abusing people, it’s spilling into Lebanon and Jordan.

The idea that this president’s foreign policy is anything other than a joke --


ZUCKERMAN: We took our troops out, went too early in Iraq. We did not stand behind what we said we would do if Syria got engaged in the way it went. Our credibility in that part of the world is virtually eliminated.

CLIFT: I haven’t heard anybody offer any credible solution other than what the president is doing. Everybody talks tough.


CLIFT: But nobody says to have any better ideas.


ROGAN: Empower the Sunni tribes.

CLIFT: We’ll see.

MCLAUGHLIN: Have you offered a credible solution to the president? You heard what the lady said.

CARNEY: I’m in Pat Buchanan’s chair. So, I’ll say let’s not get involved in wars that we’re not ready to win and fight.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Ransom Calculus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Two hundred millions dollars, the ransom demanded by Japan by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The terror group warned that failure to pay would result in the execution of two Japanese hostages.

The $200 million figure is carefully chosen. It is exactly the same amount committed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to underwrite the campaign against ISIS.

Last year, ISIS videotaped its beheading of at least 50 hostages, including three American.

The family of such American, James Foley, was ordered by the U.S. government not to pay 100 million euro ransom, about $116 million, which his mother Diane Foley and her family wanted to do.

Mrs. Foley spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the ransom.

DIANE FOLEY, MOTHER OF JAMES FOLEY: We were told we could not raise ransom, that it was illegal, we might be prosecuted. We were told that our government would not exchange prisoners, would not do a military action. So, we were just told to trust that he would be freed somehow miraculously. And he wasn’t, was he?

MCLAUGHLIN: This behavior is not unique to ISIS. Terrorist groups of all ideologies have always relied on ransom money to fund their terror. But today, jihadist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda used videotaped executions as an added means of extortion and they profited from this gambit. Multiple reports suggest many nations, including France and Germany, have paid tens of millions in ransoms to recover their citizens.


MCLAUGHLIN: Why is ISIS so concerned about ransom?


CARNEY: They are acting like a country. I mean, people don’t like calling them a state, but they’re sort of like a state. They operate roads and towns and that sort of thing, and they don’t have much of an economy. So, they need to --

MCLAUGHLIN: They’ve got a cash flow problem.

CARNEY: They have a cash flow problem and they see this symbolic value with regards to the $200 million vis-a-vis --

MCLAUGHLIN: What does it get most of its money?

ROGAN: Well, they have to have a good cash situation. But they’ve got a lot of money from capturing banks and taking control. They got some money --

MCLAUGHLIN: How about selling oil?

ROGAN: Selling oil is one of it.

MCLAUGHLIN: That’s the biggest number.

ROGAN: But they also get money from alternative sources, private donors, the group are capable, but the ransoms also served a propaganda advantage in the sense of being able to advertise to people, come and join our cause, we’re taking on the West, we’re in control, they’re on their knees, et cetera, et cetera.

MCLAUGHLIN: Oil prices are plunging. That’s their problem.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I say they are plunging. It is, though, the biggest drop in oil prices that we have seen in our lifetimes and such a short period of time, and having a huge effect on that whole area, frankly a huge effect on our economy because we are saving a lot of money for a lot of people because oil prices are so much lower and they may stay that way for quite a while.

CLIFT: That footage you showed is really chilling of the, you know, beheadings and people awaiting their fate.

And Mr. Foley’s mother is correct when she says that under U.S. law, they have been vulnerable to prosecution if they had tried to ransom their son. I doubt that any jury would have carried out any punishment. But that is the policy of the U.S. government, because if you give ransom, you only encourage more.


CLIFT: And so far, we’re unwilling. The Japanese apparently paid ransom in the past.

ROGAN: But I don’t know -- I think this time, you know, they haven’t. But the problem is not just saying someone. It’s a deferred debt payment, right?

CLIFT: Right.

ROGAN: You are praying for someone else to die, because they will use that money to go and as we’ve seen in the video. And that --

CLIFT: But if it’s your loved, you’re willing to tweak the law.

ROGAN: And that’s why I’m not going to criticize Diane Foley. But the government has to take --


ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Know that if you stop the payment of money, you will reduce the incentive to kidnap these people. That’s a huge issue for a country like the United States.

MCLAUGHLIN: Here’s one I have here. Should Internet firms be legally prohibited from helping to publicize ISIS killings by letting their services be used in net-casting, pleading hostages and beheadings? You follow me? Is that a form of enemy propaganda?

CARNEY: We have freedom of speech in this country. But I would say that everybody, ought to, out of decency, not carry that propaganda, I mean, I don’t even know if I would show the B-roll clips that you’re showing here of some of this. If it is carrying their propaganda --

ROGAN: You have to educate.

CARNEY: -- on TV over the Internet. I think that is helping him and I think, out of decency you ought to avoid, because of the First Amendment, I don’t think legally you can prevent it.

MCLAUGHLIN: My thoughts, seriously, about putting that up and I decided to go with it, because it’s been announced so many times before. Maybe there is a built-in resistance to it.

ROGAN: You got to show people what they’re like, Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ISIS, you have to show people it’s a battle of ideas, and if you don’t --

MCLAUGHLIN: How serious -- are there financial problems?

CLIFT: Actually, they are the most.

ROGAN: ISIS is in good shape.

CLIFT: They are most well-heeled terrorist group that we’ve ever known.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Universe Comes to Florida.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): This Sunday, the 2015 Miss Universe pageant will arrive in Doral, Florida, adjacent to Miami. The pageant was acquired in 1996, 19 years ago, by real estate mogul Donald Trump. The gathering ladies will be judged on their, one, beauty, two, intellect, and three, quote, “plans for making a positive difference in the world,” unquote. The city of Doral believes the pageant will reap long term economic benefits from hosting Ms. Universe. It’s costing $2.5 million.

But some insist that beauty pageants are a sexist anachronism.

Here’s what Sally Alexander, who protested the 1960 Miss World competition, told the BBC last year.

SALLY ALEXANDER, PROTESTER: Our argument was with, you know, why do have to be beautiful and look at like this before you get noticed as a woman.

MCLAUGHLIN: Sally Alexander was certainly noticed especially by Bob Hope, who hosted the 1970 competition at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Today, beauty pageants remain controversial. In 2013, the Miss World competition in Bali, Indonesia was meant by protest from Islamic fundamentalist.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do beauty pageants have a place in the 2021s century?

Eleanor Clift?

CLIFT: They seemed a little anachronistic, but you know, they really have modernized it and some of these women are really formidable. Not are they, you know, be beautiful to look at. They have -- they have brains and they do have causes they care about.

So, I’m not write-off the beauty pageants. I think they’re here to stay.

MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Mort?

ZUCKERMAN: I think the exhibitionism in women in that particular form is absolutely not something I would support, unless it takes place in my living room, in which case they’re all invited.


ZUCKERMAN: I mean, it’s been a part of American entertainment really for so long. I don’t think it has the winning dimensions --

MCLAUGHLIN: We have all kinds of contests. We have rodeos, we have pie-eating contest. I have the list to, the Iditarod. We have muscle building competitions, athletic contest from all kinds.

So, you have no problem with it?

ROGAN: No, I think if people want to watch it -- fine. It’s not something I’ll be watching. But --

MCLAUGHLIN: Are two high-minded?

ROGAN: No, I don’t mean that. I just mean -- I wouldn’t find it interesting.

MCLAUGHLIN: You are not?

ROGAN: No, it took me a while to get into American football, because I hadn’t grown up watching that, right?


ROGAN: And so, that shocks people. But it’s up to the individual, if the women want to participate, if the event wants to happening in Doral, let people do that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let me try this one you. Miss Universe and international relations.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Look at this photo. It was taken as the Miss Universe contestants arrived in Doral. The lady on the left is Miss Israel, and the lady in the middle is Miss Lebanon.

This sparked uproar in Lebanon, where Israel is quite unpopular. And so, Miss Lebanon issued a rather unconventional apology, quote, “Since the first day of arrival to participate in Miss Universe, I was very cautious being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to have a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself. Suddenly, Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie and put it on her social media”, unquote.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is it likely that Miss Lebanon fears retaliation by Hezbollah if she appears too friendly towards Miss Israel?


ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think that’s exactly -- I think she’s already being condemned and really thrashed in her home country when they saw this selfie come out there. So, that just tells you how -- in a sense, how intense the hostility is towards Israel.

MCLAUGHLIN: If she is seen as legitimizing Israel, then she better watch out.

ZUCKERMAN: Any particular contact with Israelis or with Israel is absolutely in most of the Arab world.

MCLAUGHLIN: You think the Olympics is far more, what, far more nationalistic in overtone than this kind of contest?

ZUCKERMAN: Oh, no, this is -- look, the Olympic tradition is something that is being around for a very long time and it’s a very unique and widely accepted kind of, shall we say, presentation of countries’ abilities and talents. This is something that is something that just come up in the last century more or less, and it’s a very different kind of event, I would say. I --

CLIFT: And if these two women were probably left to their own devices, it would be wonderful to have them pictured together. But you have to respect the culture that Miss Lebanon comes from and the kind of backlash that she’s going to get. It’s against the law there.


CLIFT: I have to respect her and the situation she’s in. That’s what I’m saying. I’m not defending their attitudes.

ROGAN: Two young women. I think, you know, it’s easy for us to condemn Miss Lebanon, but the political pressure in that situation shows the political rut (ph).

MCLAUGHLIN: Prediction. Tim?

CARNEY: The New England Patriots will be so distracted by deflate-gate that they will lose the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks.


CLIFT: There will be backroom maneuvering in Saudi Arabia because after the death of King Abdullah, his half brother at 79 who is ascending to the thrown is considered not up to the job. And so, there could be repercussions for U.S. policy, including the price of OPEC oil. So, turbulence in Saudi Arabia.

MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.


ROGAN: Even though in some ways they’ve tried to control their impulses towards aggression, the Iranians will exert pressure in the coming days in Yemen to try and push the United States out. They sensed an opportunity and the Iranian theological project in the long time requires American absence from the Middle East.

MCLAUGHLIN: We’re going to do Yemen next week.


ZUCKERMAN: The Republican Senate and House will completely overhaul Social Security disability, which has gone up six times in the last number of years, despite the fact that we’ve had a much, much lower rate of issues --

MCLAUGHLIN: What will be the upshot?

ZUCKERMAN: There’ll be a dramatic reduction in it.


ZUCKERMAN: Dramatic reduction.

MCLAUGHLIN: My prediction: despite China’s assertion at the Davos, Switzerland forum, its economy is in freefall. I predict true economic growth of 4 percent, not the 7 percent that China claimed, 7.4 percent.