The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Barack Back Biden / Chaos in the College / Israel’s Migrant Crisis / Misery in the Market

John McLaughlin, Host
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner
David Rennie, The Economist

Taped: Friday, August 28, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of August 28-30, 2015

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

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Barack Back Biden?


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The vice president is somebody who has already run for president twice. He has been on a national ticket through two election cycles now, both in 2008 and the reelection of 2012. And so, I think you could make the case that there’s probably no one in American politics today who has a better understanding of exactly what is required to mount a successful national presidential campaign.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): That’s White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest seemingly endorsing a Joe Biden presidential candidacy -- reaffirming President Obama’s belief that selecting Joe Biden as vice president was his best political decision.

Mr. Earnest also appeared to offer an implicit rebuke of Hillary Clinton. After all, Mrs. Clinton also served in President Obama’s cabinet as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013.

And get this -- Mr. Earnest suggested Mr. Obama might endorse Joe Biden if he enters the 2016 presidential race.

With Hillary Clinton struggling in the polls and allegations that mishandled classified material on her private email server, some Democrats believe the party needs another candidate. Mr. Biden has allowed these activists to build a buzz around his name as a possible alternate.

Indeed, just last weekend, the vice president returned to Washington, D.C. from Delaware to meet with liberal Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Ms. Warren is seen as a potential Biden running mate.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If Joe Biden runs for the president -- presidency, will President Obama support his candidacy?

I ask you, Eleanor.

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I think President Obama would love it if Joe Biden succeeded him. It would be a total vindication of eight years of Obama-ism transferred into Biden-ism. But I strongly doubt that he will enter the primary race and vocally support either candidate before it becomes clear what’s happening.

I think Joe Biden wants to run. The only cure for -- once you get the presidential bug -- apparently is embalming fluid. This would be his third time.

I think people who know and actually love Joe Biden, there’s a great deal of affection for him in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. They don’t want to see him humiliated. I’m not sure there’s support out there. I’m not sure he can raise the money.

And on the other hand, what if there is a lot of support? Then you have a bruising fight between the Democratic Party because Hillary Clinton is not going to go quietly. She’s kind of sawed up the establishment. She’s got a lot of money.

So, I think if Biden does get in the race, I don’t think anybody begrudges him. It’s his right certainly as a Democrat and as a sitting vice president.

But I’m not sure in the end that this would be good for him or for the Democrats.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, without breaching Democratic protocol, what he can do is publicly lavish praise on Biden as a vice president. Privately let it be known to key insiders that he likes to see Biden win. Can he do it that way? Sure he could.


CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: He could, yes. But that’s the question, is does he want to be very public about this, you know? I think he wants to be even-handed.

My theory is that he cares about -- President Obama cares about his legacy more than anything else, and whether Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden wins, that helps his legacy. Whereas if the party is divided and goes into the convention as a fractious Democratic Party that we used to know in the olden days, then that won’t be good for Obama’s legacy.


SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: -- not as so much if they’re divided, because they were divided in 2008 and they won decisively. So --

DAVID RENNIE, THE ECONOMIST: But no, but then eventually, it had to stop because he won decisively.

Let’s not forget that the one thing President Obama’s legacy requires is for a Democrat to win the next election. And the single most poisonous split in the Democratic Party in the living times was Clinton world versus Obama world.

If he signals too much about Joe Biden, that roars back into life. And that only helps the Republicans.

MCLAUGHLIN: What will it do to Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy if Biden does get in the race?

FERRECHIO: Well, I think they’re already in panic mode at the possibility of Biden getting into the race. But he has to do well. In past attempts at running for the presidency, Biden has not done well in the polls. He’s not been a strong -- he’s not, you know, far to the left of Hillary Clinton and he’s not providing alternative the way Bernie Sanders is.

So, he’s just running really as a vice president, as someone who was Barack Obama’s vice president, a very popular president with Democratic primary voters.

So, there’s his advantage.


CLIFT: His rationale --

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Hillary has to leave her attacks on the Republicans and focus on Biden.

RENNIE: But she can’t attack him too much because, let’s not forget, he tragically lost his son Beau Biden the other --


CLIFT: They’re friends and they actually don’t -- I can’t think of anything they disagree with. I think Biden’s rationale is that, coming from his middle class background, and his personal life, that he is a better messenger of the populist issues, particularly on the economy, than Hillary Clinton is. But, you know, we can’t --


CLIFT: -- on a lot of issues, particularly concerning women and girls. She’s been fighting for those her whole life.

FERRECHIO: But she’s also created this opening for Biden with her own ethical problems, the issue with her email server; the upcoming Benghazi hearing in October is not going to help her.

So, she’s created this opening for Biden, and that is the problem to --

PAGE: It might be good for her, though, because she does need to get out more. I mean, the fact is she’s taken a fortress mentality too much of the time and not been more candid with reporters and other people she ought to spend time with.

MCLAUGHLIN: Does Hillary already have too much of a head start on Biden, especially when it comes to fundraising?

PAGE: Oh, she got a big head start. But that doesn’t meant that Biden can’t --

CLIFT: Also organization. Hillary lost in ’08 in part because she didn’t organize in the caucus states.

RENNIE: We’re talking --

CLIFT: She’s got people on the ground in all 50 states now. So --


CLIFT: But Biden is the vice president. He has significant resources that he -- that he can put to work. And again, there’s a lot of affection for him.

MCLAUGHLIN: There are 700 or so bundlers who are sitting on the sidelines. And suppose they line up with Biden, can they close the fundraising gap with Hillary?

FERRECHIO: I wonder if those bundlers will do anything without some kind of signal from the president. As you said at the beginning of the segment, what role he might play in all that in terms of making some kind of endorsement but maybe not in front of the podium, but in some more -- a way that’s a little more hidden from public view.

PAGE: It’s possible. One thing about Biden is he does tremendous appeal, not putting too fine a point on it, with white blue collar males, which the Democratic Party has been weak on since the ‘60s. And that’s something that Bill Clinton did well in ’92 and not quite as well in ’96.

But right now, that is the kind of thing that can really help Biden decide.


FERRECHIO: And he’s more personable, he’s better at the podium than Hillary Clinton is, who’s often accused of being a little too remote or distance herself from voters. And, of course, Biden could --

RENNIE: He’s another great campaigner. He’s another great campaigner.

CLIFT: He’s got a lot of gifts but he’s got problems, too. He’s kind of a gaffe machine. Let’s remember that. We love --


FERRECHIO: But picture -- if Donald Trump and Biden --

PAGE: Oh, heavens!

RENNIE: In a bowling alley.

FERRECHIO: Which, they cancel each other out, I guess, in some ways of the way they are at the podium. They’re very spontaneous, very off the cuff, you know? It could be an interesting challenge to the two of them.

PAGE: Speaking at the microphone, that’s right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Protocol dictates that sitting president refrain from endorsing a candidate. But he can do a lot short of outright endorsement, can he not?

And Obama has signaled that a Biden run conforms with his blessing, correct?

PAGE: You sound like you’ve been sitting there with a decoder, John. I see the signal now, Josh Earnest’s ears are wiggling --


MCLAUGHLIN: The people ought to know about some of this and the war chest.


MCLAUGHLIN: And 52 of the war chests are currently aligned for Hillary, 52. But there’s a heck a lot more than that.

Hillary’s campaign has raised $47 million.

PAGE: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: That’s been noted.

PAGE: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: So, there’s still time for Biden to narrow the gap.

PAGE: We’re almost talking about raw money here, aren’t we?


PAGE: But I still don’t see what is in it for Obama to get on one side or the other. Certainly, not right now.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s get out of this issue. We’ll be back -- we’re going to be revisiting this a lot. I can see that coming.

Political probability scale of zero to 10 -- zero meaning no likelihood whatsoever and 10 meaning metaphysical certitude -- how likely is it that Joe Biden will run, zero to 10?



CLIFT: Five-point-two.

MCLAUGHLIN: Five-point-two?

CLIFT: Slightly, ever so slightly leading toward running, simply because he loves it, can’t help himself.

FERRECHIO: I’m about a 6.2.

PAGE: I’d say 4, which is about one point higher than last week.


MCLAUGHLIN: I will give him a seven.

PAGE: All right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Chaos in the College.


BILL MAHER, TV HOST: It’s just certain words that set people off. This is what Jerry Seinfeld was complaining about last week when he said college audiences. Just want to use these words. That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudiced. They don’t even know what they’re talking about.

An opinion echoed by Chris Rock, who said he stopped playing colleges because of their unwillingness to offend anybody.

And Larry the Cable Guy concurs. He said it really is a shame that nobody can handle comedy anymore.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Once citadels of free expression and occasional revolutionary ideas, today, many American colleges have endorsed political correctness. Terms such as micro aggression, describing an inadvertent act of offense, have entered the college lexicon, empowering an atmosphere of prior restraint on speech.

And many colleges are also disinviting speakers in fear of offending certain elements of their student communities.

In April 2014, for example, Brandeis University disinvited political theorist Ayaan Hirsi Ali after some Muslim groups raised protests.

In October 2014, Scripps College disinvited conservative writer George Will following a column he wrote on women’s issues.

Also in 2014, comedian Bill Maher was invited from University of California-Berkeley after some students raised objections about his views on religion.

What’s clear is that American colleges are now increasingly reflexive in maintaining politically correct dialogue over controversy. And some say universities have lost sight of education’s ultimate purpose.


MCLAUGHLIN: How do colleges and universities rationalize stifling the views some students find offensive? How do they rationalize it?

I ask you. As a matter of fact, you wrote a piece for "The Economist" magazine June the 13th, titled "Trigger-Unhappy". "Student safety", quote-unquote, has become a real threat to free space on campus.

What’s the general proposition of this and related to the matter at hand?

RENNIE: So, people will remember the row about political correctness going back decades. But something new is happening. So, back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, it was -- you can’t teach this text from a great white -- dead white man sort of philosophy. You should teach more so relevant things. So it was what you can teach.

There’s a different row going on now, which is that students are so hypersensitive that they must be shielded from anything that upsets or makes them feel kind of threaten. So, these descriptions of rapes or descriptions of -- even things like description of racism or slavery in texts are seen as triggering and you have demands to have trigger warnings, so students before they’re given a book are told beware that this book describes racism or describes slavery. Therefore, you may find it very upsetting. And professors are told that some students may not wish to attend their class.

So, this idea of safety is taking over and it’s about making the most sensitive person in your class sort of arbiter of what may be taught.

CLIFT: Well, I don’t think it would be a lot of fun to attend a university that was so carefully monitoring what everybody said, because the whole point of going to college is to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints.

But I can see where this is coming from. The style of parenting has changed. We’re now into helicopter parenting, over-parenting, parents who talked to their children every day while they’re away at college.

And so the colleges now feel like they have to provide this safe space for the students or else they’re going to hear from the parents. So, I think a lot of people are complicit in this change of attitude. I don’t think it’s a positive one.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is the mechanical way in which this problem has been solved by the collegiate, what, hierarchy and I guess professorial communities. Some colleges have designated specific areas on campus as the only places, so you got an area --


MCLAUGHLIN: -- where controversial ideas can be expressed, without sanctions.

PAGE: It’s a free speech zone.

MCLAUGHLIN: A free speech zone. If controversial ideas are discussed outside of these free speech zones, the offending students can be sanctioned up to expulsion.

What is this?

PAGE: Do you know how the campus unrest began in the ‘60s? With the free speech movement and Berkeley.


PAGE: Ironically enough, that was students wanting more free speech. Nowadays, we’ve got various establishments, either a student body group or some other interested parties, who want to shield students from being exposed to too much in the world, which is the exact opposite of what universities are about.

There’s always some censorship going on on campus. Back in my day, when I first came to college – excuse me -- at the student radio station, they didn’t allow to anything that sounded like rock and roll. I mean --

CLIFT: Right.

PAGE: That’s how old I am.

But, you know, that changes. So, now, you’ve got a different set of --

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it also says a lot about what these promoters of this idea think about the quality of college students, and they imagine them, I guess, as frail creatures and they have to be sheltered from disturbing thoughts lest they become afraid or insecure.

RENNIE: But, you know, when I went to a couple of colleges to report that column, what I really came away with is the impression that, actually, this is just an old fashioned power struggle. You know, since there were colleges and since you had students and professors, since the days of Socrates and Aristotle, young people have liked to try and grab power and frighten and intimate their elders.

This is just the latest iteration. I think this is actually really about students trying to grab power and declare themselves as the arbiters of what goes on.

CLIFT: Well, students rate professors. And so the professors live in constant fear that they’re going to get a bad rating; that’s lead to the grade inflation and all of that.


CLIFT: But, you know, to give the devil his due, students today have grown up, we have -- know much more about bullying and the effects of that. Students today have witnessed these massacres that go on in schools. So, I think there is kind of an impulse -- you want your child to be safe. And I think the colleges are responding to that.

But we’re talking about a kind of elite group of students who are protected and coddled. There are a lot of young people out there who see some horrible things before they reach even the age of 10.

PAGE: But it’s getting so, though -- I mean, look at the censoring of "Huckleberry Finn" because it’s got the N-word in it. This is something that has filtered up, from middle schools, all the way up to colleges. And that’s just one book. There are many others that get censored because they might upset somebody.

Whereas maybe the author, like Mark Twain, wanted to upset you but in a positive way. And so we shouldn’t be too casual about this. But, yes, the censorship bug is always there. They’re always thought police there. But we need to encourage people to be more open-minded.

FERRECHIO: Well, they’re also going to be out in the real world soon. So, what is going to happen when these coddled, you know, young adults transition into the workforce? Can you bring that mindset with them? What’s that going to mean for society as a whole going forward?

MCLAUGHLIN: Whatever happened -- this is an exit question -- to the American childhood maxim, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" What happened to that?

RENNIE: They got a lawyer to sue you if that ever happens.

FERRECHIO: That’s right.


FERRECHIO: -- come the lawyers and the lawsuits. I think that is --

MCLAUGHLIN: The lawyers and lawsuits, now there’s an angle. Oh, there’s money to be made here. Hey, Herman, meet me down at 6th and 24th. Let’s get over to that college.


CLIFT: Actually, words can be very cutting. I’m, you know, but I think people have to learn to handle that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Sure they do, sure they do, and these kids are up to it. They want it. They want controversy. They don’t want to learn true controversy, a conflict of ideas.

CLIFT: They should all join the debate society, form their own MCLAUGHLIN GROUP.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Israel’s Migrant Crisis.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Between 43,000 and 50,000 African migrants and asylum seekers are in limbo in Israel. They came seeking escape from war and poverty. But Israel does not want them, fearing their presence undercuts Israel’s existential nature as a Jewish state.

Until recently, many of these migrants were held in challenging conditions at detention facilities in remote areas of Israel. But earlier this month, Israel’s judiciary ruled that migrants who have been held for more than a year must be released. And now these migrants are desperately searching for work and housing.

It is easier said than done. After all, under Israeli law, these migrants are not entitled to public support, in welfare or health care, and are banned from working in major cities like Tel Aviv and El’ad (ph).


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Should Israel do more to support African migrants?

Clarence, would you like to handle that?

PAGE: Well, it’s a very debatable subject, and it’s more complex than a lot of us Americans know. For example, a lot of Africans are Jewish. They are around Somalia and Ethiopia. There were controversies going on for 30-some-odd -- 30-40 years, and they are, for the most part, accepted into the mainstream society.

But they are having the same kind of problems with diversity in Israel that people have in other countries. And, ultimately, they have to work it out in such a way the people can be mainstream. And that’s not an easy thing to do, to say than do. But I think, for the most part, the Israeli people are trying to have a melting pot, such as it is.

CLIFT: I was in Israel several years ago and they were very proud of an Ethiopian-Jewish community. The difference now is they’re being overwhelmed, just as much of Europe is being overwhelmed, and the refugees in Israel now are coming from Sudan and Eritrea. They’re refugees really kind of trying to escape from wars.

I think when we look at Israel, though, we kind of expect them to be more welcoming, because they were created, you know, for people who were escaping horrible conditions.


CLIFT: But, you know, they’re reacting like much of the rest of the world.

MCLAUGHLIN: What do Donald Trump and Israel have in common regarding illegal immigration?

FERRECHIO: Well, Donald Trump, as we have heard, wants to stem the tide of immigration -- illegal immigration coming over our borders. And so --

MCLAUGHLIN: They both insist that the illegals must return home.

FERRECHIO: Well, the problem is, too, that going back isn’t a great option for these folks. I mean, in Israel, Africa, parts of Africa now are so unstable. And so inhospitable of people that they’re -- you know, we’ve had this huge migrant crisis. We need to --


RENNIE: Exactly. You need to make -- you have to make a big political distinction between economic migrants from a place like Mexico, coming across the borders to better themselves --

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that’s --

RENNIE: -- and refugees.


RENNIE: And I think what we’re really seeing here in Europe, in Israel, and lots of places, is the world made a series of promises to welcome refugees at the end of the Second World War, which were great promises, but made at a time when the world was just a lot less mobile.

And now the numbers of people who can turn up on your border to cash in that check are just gigantically larger and I think policies --


MCLAUGHLIN: You need the hit the nail right on the head, because Israeli officials insist that the migrants have come for economic reasons. And Trump says the same thing, and that they must return to their countries.

The Israeli parliament will resume to take up legislation to provide funds for repatriation, or to send the migrants to a third country.

CLIFT: Well, the Israeli supreme court ruled that you cannot hold people in this detention center that you pictured in the middle of the desert for more than a year. And so they’re now -- so, the wheels of justice there understand what the right thing is to do.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Misery in the Market.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Monday was a miserable day on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones dropped 588 points and the S&P 500 dropped 78 points. And the NASDAQ dropped 179 points. Though the markets recovered some of these losses during the week, investor confidence has clearly been shaken by the markets’ performance over the past two weeks.

Experts believe the downturn has three main causes. First, growing fears that China’s economic slowdown and recent currency revaluations will reverberate into the global economy. Second, the belief that some U.S. stocks were overpriced and due for a price readjustment. Third, continuing doubts over the health of the U.S. economy.

So, within one hour on Monday morning, two presidential candidates took to Twitter to offer their explanations.

Donald Trump remarked, quote, "Markets are crashing, all caused by poor planning and allowing China and Asia to dictate the agenda. This could get very messy. Vote Trump," unquote.

And Bernie Sanders tweeted, quote, "The results are in. Unfettered free trade has been a disaster for working Americans. It is high time we ended our disastrous trade policies," unquote.


MCLAUGHLIN: What explains the volatility of stock markets around the world?


RENNIE: The big picture is that people have had way too much confidence in the ability of the Chinese government to run their economy. And what we’ve seen for the last couple of weeks is that when the going gets tough, actually, the Chinese government, they’re not magicians. They’re not wizards. They’re just as incompetent as every other government and just as buffeted by market forces.

So, it’s not really the crashing of the Chinese stock market as the dumb stuff, the knee jerk stuff, that China was doing when these forces hit.

CLIFT: And what happened --

MCLAUGHLIN: Chinese growth rate is about 7 percent. How low is that?

RENNIE: They need -- 7 sounds fantastic, but remember that the size of China, they need to create --


RENNIE: -- you know, tens of millions of jobs every year.

And the Chinese growth numbers are very dodgy, but we need to separate out, you know, a lot of countries that had a huge China bent (ph) for years, countries like Australia, countries like Brazil, they will just dig up iron ore from the middle of Australia, ship it to China.

The assumption was China would never stop building new airports, never stop building new high speed rail lines, never stop building motorways. Well, at one point, eventually, you have enough airports. And China now has enough airports.

They need to change to a different kind of economy where people go to the shops and buy stuff and become more like in a regular middle class consumer economy. Managing that transition is going to be very, very tough. We’re now less confident that the Chinese government knows how to do it.

CLIFT: What happens in China doesn’t stay in China. So, the rest of the world is slowing down because this behemoth economy is slowing down. They’ve way overbuilt. They have had ghost cities with skyscrapers and nobody has the money to be able to move in.

And the fact that the two politicians, Sanders and Trump, each used these problems in China to validate their own approach, I don’t put that much stock in either of them, to be honest. And I think that the U.S. stock market is very healthy. The Chinese stock market is really a Potemkin village.

I mean, you’ve got -- you know, people are in there and they not -- they don’t -- they buy companies that don’t really exist. They’re shell companies.

And I think what astounding this week is the way the U.S. stock market rebounded. Go Apple!

MCLAUGHLIN: There’s also this: Are Trump and Sanders right? Is China the main factor driving the instability?

The answer, I think, you will agree with that, is yes.

FERRECHIO: Well, it’s the second largest economy in the world and we are dependent on China buying our goods for our exports, exports to survive in a healthy way. And I think with our own stock market, it’s been on a bull run since 2006. Part of it is tied to the fact that we have these really low interest rates that may not remain low for very long. We’ve gotten that signal from the Fed.

So, I think that this past week shines a spotlight, you know, that there could be some more volatility ahead for the stock market, just given our own economy; our growth is not all that great either. We’ve got these artificially low interest rates that could change, and change the way the stock market is moving. And I think people are now a little bit, you know, a little bit wary of what lies for our stock market.


PAGE: I disagree.

MCLAUGHLIN: Is this getting much attention on the Hill?

FERRECHIO: Well, right now, Congress isn’t back in session yet, and so it’s not really being talked about in the Hill yet. But when they do get back, of course, everybody is interested in what’s going to happen with interest rates in the fall. I think you may see an increase and that may change the way stock markets --


FERRECHIO: I don’t think we will. Not yet, maybe December.

PAGE: The Fed is holding back now.

FERRECHIO: Well, they’re holding back, but at least maybe by December we might see an increase.

PAGE: Maybe December, maybe January.

FERRECHIO: Eventually, we can’t be a zero forever, you know? Eventually --

PAGE: I only disagree with folks who say that China is responsible for it. Because I think anxiety about China and their stock market and their economy are responsible, especially earlier in the week. But the fact that -- I think the more we look at this, the more we’re going to see the China stock market is a casino. That’s the metaphor I use, that they’re still new to capitalism.


PAGE: They’ve only been doing this since around 1980.


PAGE: And that they still don’t know -- the stock markets don’t just go up. They go down, too. And the fact that -- I’m not feeling anxious, whereas I was feeling anxious ’87 and ’08.

CLIFT: This is not like ’08.


PAGE: I am an American. I know how to get used to this kind of thing. China is still learning.

MCLAUGHLIN: And never forget that the U.S. economy is very resilient.

We at the MCLAUGHLIN GROUP offer our heartfelt sympathy to the families of the two journalists brutally murdered in Virginia this week.

Out of time. Bye-bye!