The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Obama Gun Control Measures / Immigration Crackdown / North Korea and Nuclear Weapons / Saudi-Iran Conflict

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author & Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Tom Rogan, National Review/Opportunity Lives

Taped: Friday, January 8, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of January 8-10, 2016

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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: Executive Control.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody anytime. But you know what? The rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate, we have to be just as organized in defense of our kids. This is not that complicated.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): A teary-eyed President Obama this week announced new executive actions outside of Congress to tighten gun regulations in the U.S.

Here are the key points:

One, gun sellers, including those selling online and at gun shows, will have to undergo deeper seller licensing checks, and will have to conduct background checks on buyers.

Two, states will have to provide greater information on mentally ill individuals to make it harder for them to purchase guns.

Three, President Obama is asking Congress to spend $500 million to provide expanded mental health care to Americans in need.

Four, the U.S. government will research so-called smart gun technology.

Five, gun buyers will be restricted from using trust organizations to avoid background checks.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is President Obama’s executive action on guns, quote-unquote, "common sense", or is it an excess of authority that violates constitutional rights?

Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: John, I don’t think it really is all that grave and all that serious. Background checks, I’m pretty much in favor of. They got them in Virginia.

But the real issue here, John, the American people have voted. Last year, they bought 20 million guns. Every time one of these incidents occurs, these mass shootings, gun sales skyrocket. The American people quite frankly do not believe that they are sufficiently protected, and they’re buying guns. They’re over 320 million of them in the United States already. As a political issue, the Republicans and the conservatives have the whip hand with a very powerful, admitted minority who are gun owners and gun buyers and gun believers.

But I do think the president has one issue here, and that is on background checks. By and large, Americans are basically in favor of making sure people with mental disease or people who are guilty of felonies, or criminals, do not get firearms in their hands. But they do believe in firearms.

MCLAUGHLIN: GOP presidential candidates will work to repeal Obama’s executive action when they are elected president.

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: That’s campaign rhetoric and it’s pandering to the gun lobby. And, you know, Pat is correct that the American people overwhelmingly approve of background checks -- 90 percent of the American public, huge majority of gun owners approve.

This is very common sense stuff. And the fact that people run out and buy more guns is in part because the gun lobby instills all this fear and projects this conspiracy theory that the president somehow going to be taking away all your guns, and this is just a first step.

The president addressed that in a town hall meeting he held Thursday night. He pointed out he’s only got a year left in office. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t get all the guns in hand. So, this is really the beginning -- he didn’t use the word movement in his event at the White House, but he is likening this to women suffrage, to the fight for gay rights, to the liberation of African-Americans. This is going to be a very long fight, and it is now fully engaged on the side of wanting to bring some common sense to the way we deal with guns in this country.

And the debate is moving from Washington to the states. There’s a lot of positive things going on.

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/OPPORTUNITY LIVES: And I think one of the difficulties here is that Pat is right, and that look, Americans are pretty open to the idea that you would cut away the idea that someone who is mentally ill can access a firearm, and Representative Tim Murphy in Congress has done a lot of good work on this. Unfortunately, a lot of Democrats are saying no, it’s too far, you can’t get that information, you can’t put someone essentially in the custody of the state if they really are dangerous.

But one of the concerns I think a lot of gun owners have -- certainly, the people I’ve talked to is that when they see the president saying, well, it’s all common sense, all common sense, a lot of it is. And actually, I think you saw it at the beginning of the Anderson Cooper thing last night on CNN that a lot of the stuff he was saying was actually quite reasonable.

But then he gets into the magazine capacity limits and then he gets into, well, if you’re defending your home with a firearm, actually, that isn’t -- you know, that might not work for you.

And so, Americans get concerned then that it’s over the horizon. The smart gun technology is another example that at some point that might be mandatory and that the president, when he talks about these issues, seems to be someone who really is not a gun owner and cannot get in the philosophy of a gun owner and being concerned about that longer-term slippery slope.

MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence, let me ask you a question.


MCLAUGHLIN: Give me precedence in this particular question.

PAGE: Always, John.

MCLAUGHLIN: What accounts from the fact that the NRA, the National Rifle Association, has a rating of 58 percent, while President Obama’s approval rating is stuck at 46 percent?

PAGE: Well, because a large percentage of people don’t much about the NRA. It’s an organization that, while it’s got gun owners as members, it’s largely funded by the gun industry and it’s been -- the funny thing and nobody mentioned is how 20 years, the NRA shared a lot of these positions.

I remember when the head of the NRA testified on Capitol Hill saying he favored mandatory background checks, no exceptions. They’ve completely back away from that now. They don’t want background checks, saying the government can’t be trusted.

The same thing with the whole notion of --

BUCHANAN: You know, Clarence, one of your problems is, is your hometown.

PAGE: Yes.

BUCHANAN: Chicago, they got one of the toughest gun laws, I guess, in the nation and, Eleanor --

PAGE: What’s it surrounded by? What’s it surrounded by? It’s surrounded by a state --

BUCHANAN: They shoot 55 people in one week --

PAGE: It’s surrounded by a state --

ROGAN: But you don’t see that violence in other places --


BUCHANAN: Well, why are they killing each other in Chicago, your hometown, rather than in New Hampshire where everybody up there, everybody up there has got a gun?

PAGE: New York has got a very low gun crime rate. You know why? Because they got very stiff laws about gun ownership there and they’re very surrounded by states that also have stiff laws. Use that as your example, okay?


CLIFT: Illegal guns pour into Chicago, coming through Indiana and other places because we have this unequal application of gun laws.

Look, younger people are accustomed to having their phones locked. Smart gun technology will save lives. The gun industry has squelched that. Go on Facebook, there are a lot of --

ROGAN: Do you think we’re going to get --

CLIFT: Excuse me, go on Facebook, there are lot of people who are saying I’m strong Second Amendment supporter. These gun restrictions the president has announced --


BUCHANAN: You blame the NRA -- let me say this, people read about a home invasion. You look at that young lady with Anderson Cooper the other night, she was raped by some guy in her home. She got a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. She said I believe I need a gun. It makes simple common sense.

CLIFT: Nobody’s going to take away that gun. There is nothing --


MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Too many talking at the same time.

Eleanor, please continue and avoid overtalking other panelists. Go ahead.

CLIFT: She made a very emotional statement about being raped and the fact that she feels that she wants a gun. And the president -- nothing the president has done will interfere with her ability to have a gun, to learn how to use a gun, to responsibly use a gun.


BUCHANAN: Can she have a gun in Chicago?

CLIFT: And the NRA is responsible for instilling lots of fears in people.

ROGAN: Do you think that smart gun is going to be mandatory, though? Right. Do you think --

CLIFT: I don’t think we need to think -- I mean, make it a choice --

ROGAN: But, see, that’s the concern that I think a lot of gun owners would have.

CLIFT: They got a choice --


BUCHANAN: They got 320 millions guns out there and they’re not smart guns, they’re dumb guns. You just pull the trigger.

ROGAN: That’s why people are not going to take that risk at – it the home invasion starts, if the microchip breaks. What if the person gets it and you got sweat in your hand or something. So, there’s technology. The same as unmanned plane, right? You’re always going to have pilots on a passenger plane. You always want that ease of use in the moment of imminent danger.


MCLAUGHLIN: Stop overtalking.

PAGE: Well, can I answer the question? I’m the only one here in the panel that had a chance to get a swipe at this. The fact is, while a lot of people want to have a gun to protect themselves at home, we also find that the rate of people shooting a wrong person like a family member or kids getting --

ROGAN: So, what do you want to do --


MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

PAGE: Well, this is why need some tightening up.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will Hillary --


BUCHANAN: When people vote, they’re voting for open carry, concealed carry, loosening up the gun laws so they can own guns and use them.

CLIFT: Not everywhere, no.

BUCHANAN: Not everywhere, but let’s let the people decide, OK?

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --


CLIFT: They’re deciding to have background checks in Nevada. That’s going to be on the ballot in November. They voted for it in Oregon. It is happening. It’s going to take a while, but it is happening.

MCLAUGHLIN: Please yield when you hear my voice saying "exit question". Will Hillary lose by supporting Obama gun control?

BUCHANAN: I think --

MCLAUGHLIN: Will she lose votes in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio?

BUCHANAN: She -- in Pennsylvania --

MCLAUGHLIN: Where as we all know is public support --


BUCHANAN: There’s a number of purple states and even some blue states where people do believe in gun rights and they will vote on that single issue alone.


CLIFT: I think that’s been true in the past. But I think these mass shootings, and when you have first graders gunned down, the attitudes about guns are changing enough that this is not a negative for Democrats to carry forward. It’s not a negative for Hillary Clinton.

ROGAN: I tend to think that the passion of gun owners outweighs the passion of the anti-gun lobby, as much as the emotion on television might suggest otherwise.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Immigration Crackdown.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): In various statements, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, has consistently said our border is not open to illegal immigration and if individuals come here illegally, they will be sent back, consistent with out laws and our values. The federal government is cracking down on illegal immigrants. Last weekend, immigration and customs enforcement agents detained at least 121 people for illegally entering the United States.

And observe this, in the two months of October and November 2015, the number of unaccompanied children detained at the Mexican border and the number of families detained on U.S. soil doubled from the same period in 2014. Polls show U.S. voters, Republicans especially, want tougher action against illegal immigration.

Nevertheless, prominent Democratic politicians oppose the government crackdown, notably presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. They say that the U.S. should welcome those pursuing better lives for themselves and their loved ones.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why has President Obama allowed these deportations to proceed now? Is he trying to blunt the immigration issue in the presidential race?

I ask you, Tom Rogan.

ROGAN: I think the president is taking this action because he wants to be able to say, look, I am tough on illegal immigration, as well as proposing these reforms. And I think these acts are welcomed.

But the problem is they’re grossly insufficient in terms of the broader issues about federal to state and local interactions. Especially, you would use there, the example of sanctuary cities. It is a disgrace I think quite frankly that a lot of these cities are not engaging with federal law enforcement agencies when they are moving, with court orders, to deport people who should be deported.

We absolutely should welcome people to this country who want better lives. But we should welcome those people who go through the legal process and apply.

CLIFT: Well, these latest rounds of crackdowns have to do with people coming from Central America last year and the year before. And that’s because word went out, chiefly from the smuggling operators, that if you get to this country, you can figure out a way to stay and it’s all right.

So, a lot of mothers and young children and young teens came, and the administration is trying to send them right back. And it looks heartless and it doesn’t seem like it’s in keeping with this president’s values but it is the way the law operates. And I’m not sure -- the administration could be shifting its policy on this. I wouldn’t say this is the last word.

In terms of political -- politics, the three Democrats are for immigration. That debate that you showed a segment from is about the Syrian refugees and letting them in. So, the dividing lines are clear and I don’t think it’s a negative against the Democrats.

BUCHANAN: John, the president of the United States and this administration have zero credibility when it comes to illegal immigration, securing the American border. This is why Donald Trump has taken this issue and run with it all the way to be leading the polls in the Republican Party.

What the president is doing is trying to give himself an image, I’m tough on border control so maybe he looks good and can maybe get something else and work with folks on that. But I think Hillary and Bernie Sanders, they tell where the Democratic Party is out. They basically welcome illegal immigration into the United States because 80 to 90 percent of them, after 15 or 20 years are going to be Democratic voters.

CLIFT: So, your opposition is because they’re not going to be Republican, right/

BUCHANAN: My opposition is we’ve got a country and I don’t want to see it gone.

PAGE: Obama lost credibility because people just aren’t listening. I mean, if you go out to Hispanic neighborhoods like I have over the last few years, you hear complaints about the thousands of people Obama’s been detaining in legal limbo --

BUCHANAN: Because they broke into the country?

PAGE: Well, you know, now, Obama announced when he did his executive order, he said that it was only applied to people who were already here, that they were going to be crackdowns on other folks and that’s what we’re having right now. So, now --


PAGE: Now, when he actually does crackdown, you’re complaining that he’s cracking down and saying, why is he doing that? Why is he doing what he said he’s going to do?

CLIFT: And there’s a legitimate debate that these people are fleeing violence and persecution in their countries, and generally, we do accept people as refugees when that happens.

BUCHANAN: But there’s not violent in Mexico. When they get there, why don’t they stop in Mexico?

PAGE: Mexicans are decreasing.


PAGE: Now, these are Central Americans now becoming --

BUCHANAN: But why don’t the Central Americans get to Mexico --


MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Hold on, let me --

ROGAN: But just very quickly.

MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence, go ahead.

ROGAN: One of the questions, you either have a country that enforces their laws. I mean, if you just have open borders, then you have the disintegration of the nation.

PAGE: But we don’t have open borders.

CLIFT: We don’t have open --


PAGE: Why is Obama sending people back? He’s following the law.

ROGAN: As someone who disagrees with Trump’s immigration policy --

PAGE: Thank you.

ROGAN: I think examples of this, it is not enough just to say this, that this is the alternative to Trump. The issue with sanctuary cities -- unless you are willing to assert a reform to the process that allows people come in illegally, but puts people out who are breaking the law and who should not have come in in the first place, you will never have any credibility and people like Trump will continue to win.

PAGE: Comprehensive immigration reform, both sides want that --


MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let Pat in for the final point.

BUCHANAN: Take a look at Europe. It is being invaded. And if the invasion of Europe and the United States are not stopped, these -- the continent and the country will cease to exist.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: From North Korea With An H-Bomb?


TV ANCHOR (through translator): Statement of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The test of the first of hydrogen bomb of North Korea is completely successful.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): North Korea claimed it has completed its first detonation of a hydrogen-based nuclear weapon. The North has conducted three previous nuclear tests since 2006. Still, analysts say a successful hydrogen bomb explosion would have a produced a larger shockwave than is apparent in this case.

Hydrogen based nuclear weapons produce a larger explosion than plutonium or uranium fissile weapons. Yet, if North Korea is advancing towards a hydrogen bomb capability, it’s threatening potential will increase and perhaps sensing her political vulnerability as Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton responded to this test by stating, quote, "As secretary, I championed the United States pivot to the Asia Pacific, including shifting additional military assets to the theater", end quote.


MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, she spent quite a bit of time in North Korea, and so did her husband. Her husband was sent over there as an envoy and they let him, and they let her in.

CLIFT: He freed some hostages.

MCLAUGHLIN: And you can find out a lot about this in her book.

CLIFT: Right.

BUCHANAN: What did she accomplish?

MCLAUGHLIN: There are pages and pages on it and we have to --

CLIFT: Diplomacy takes a while, Pat.

MCLAUGHLIN: We really have to commend her ability to absorb and evaluate what she has seen.

Question: How should the Obama administration respond to this nuclear test explosion?

I ask you again.

ROGAN: OK, well, I think that problem here is not so much with North Korea doing the nuclear test. They do that. They’re going to do it anyway. One of the concerns I have more with nuclear proliferation with Iran, for example, is how much that’s bound up in a religiously rooted ideology and proxy groups. With North Korea testing it, it’s because they want attention, it’s the child throwing the toy -- unfortunately, it’s a nuclear toy -- and they want concessions from South Korea and the United States. They sent the concession.

I think the key with North Korea, though, is two things. Number one, that you consolidate the South Koreans again, encouraging them and requiring them to spend more defense, so it’s not a sole American responsibility and it’s a secondary front. When the North Koreans do take action such as shelling a South Korean island or sinking a South Korean ship, the United States projects military force of the carrier groups to deter them.


MCLAUGHLIN: Let Buchanan in. Go ahead.

BUCHANAN: The key here is China.


BUCHANAN: The key is China, which controls basically two-thirds of the imports into North Korea. You tell the Chinese, Your little friends have exploded their fourth atom bomb, you said you’re going to deal with that you haven’t. If you keep it up, we’re going to give a green light to South Korea to build an atomic weapon, and a green light to Japan to build an atomic weapon, and that’s not going to make your neighborhood safe. Now, help us out and get serious.

CLIFT: Yes, we may threaten that, but I don’t think anybody in the administration wants to proliferate nuclear weapons the way you just advocated.


BUCHANAN: Nobody wants it.

CLIFT: But this is a slap at China, you’re right about that, and China has a lot more at stake here than we do, and so does South Carolina. But it’s still a problem for us because if they get a nuclear weapon or if they transfer nuclear material, God forbid, to ISIS, I mean, we could be there, too.

But this is about a Korean leader who is standing up and saying, pay attention to me, and I don’t take orders from anybody. He’s done this before as Tom pointed out. I don’t want to minimize the bluster but I wouldn’t, you know, I wouldn’t change U.S. policy and I’d still give China some room to maneuver.

MCLAUGHLIN: So, do you agree with what she just said?

PAGE: You can see what a rogue nation North Korea is, that they have offended both the U.S. and China at the same time. It isn’t the first time that that’s happened. Pat’s right that their supplies do come in from China. And China could just cut off their oil and really cripple North Korea, but at the North Korean state polls, then you’re going to have a unification of North Korea and South Korea, China doesn’t want that either.

BUCHANAN: But you can deal with Chinese and say no American troops would go north of the DMZ or you can pull all the American troops out. But ultimately, you’re going to have to take down this character. You cannot let him build and explode -- he’s building missiles. He hasn’t married the two yet.


MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of this statement with regard to Senator John Kerry? Secretary Kerry issued a statement condemning North Korea’s nuclear test. That’s about as much as can be expected from an administration which just green-lighted Iran getting the nuclear bomb. What do you think of that?


BUCHANAN: I think it’s unfair in this sense, I think the deal with Iran, I know nobody likes it. I think Iran is interested in keeping it -- at least the president is and foreign minister is.

ROGAN: Why are they breaking it?


BUCHANAN: That ignores a Security Council resolution. It’s got nothing to do with them.

ROGAN: No, it is in addendum.

BUCHANAN: It is not in our deal --


MCLAUGHLIN: Should the administration accelerate -- hello? Should the administration accelerate a deployment of anti-missile defenses to our allies in Asia, yes or no?

BUCHANAN: I think we should, but that will really tick off the Chinese, if you put the PAD System in there.

CLIFT: Yes, again, I think this is all part of diplomatic talk in backgrounds. It’s no time yet for action, that kind of action.

ROGAN: To push the Chinese, to push North Korea, you have to push the Chinese in the context of the Asia Pacific islands, because then they sense American credibility and seriousness.

PAGE: The problem is --


PAGE: The problem is North Korean regime is so unpredictable and so hard to read. We don’t really understand now why they’re behaving the way they are, and so, I would not recommend more proliferation as a response.

CLIFT: Right, exactly.

PAGE: It’s too easy to overact in this situations but China has got just as much of an interest at keeping --


BUCHANAN: Suppose the South Korean say, look, we’re going to need a nuclear bomb because they’ve got eight or 12 of theirs, and we’ve got to have a deterrent -- just like you got a deterrent Americans, we want a deterrent. What do you do?

PAGE: We need to talk about them because they don’t need a nuclear bomb.


PAGE: When they are their closest ally.

CLIFT: That’s right.

PAGE: We got plenty of them.

MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please, please.

Issue Four: New Year, Old War.


REPORTER: Killing a knowledgeable man who promoted virtue and prevented vice and had religious zeal is certainly a crime, a great crime. It is also a mistake because the spilled blood will undoubtedly bring divine retribution.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Iran’s supreme leader threatened retaliation against Saudi Arabia this week, after the Sunni Arab nation executed a Shia activist cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, revered by Shia Muslims.

After al-Nimr’s execution, protesters in Tehran stormed the Saudi Arabian embassy, setting it on fire. In response, Saudi Arabia and allies Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, cut diplomatic relations with Iran. Kuwait downgraded its diplomatic relations.

These boiling tensions are a reflection of the deep hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the two nations fight bloody, proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. And get this: in a new escalation on Thursday, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of bombing its embassy in Yemen.


MCLAUGHLIN: How dangerous is the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: John, this is very serious, and the problem is the Saudis are very, very nervous. They’ve seen the United States moved toward a rapprochement with Iran with this nuclear deal. They’re seeing the Russians come in to Syria and buttress the leader there, Assad. And they’ve seen the Iranians basically, their group, the Houthis in there, they got themselves into a war in Yemen, which is a destructive war and is very damaging.

And basically, they’ve got to look at themselves and see that monarchy is really not the wave of the future in the Middle East. And so, I think what they’re trying to do is bring the United States back over to their side, really convert this into a Shia-Sunni conflict, Sunnis outnumber Shia worldwide, 8-1. But I think the Saudis are the ones in real trouble here.

MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Listen to this answer, as proposed by me and others.

The Saudis have three incentives to strike sooner than later. One, Iran will soon get access to $150 billion in frozen assets and could use that money to purchase weapons. Two, Iran is upgrading its ballistic missiles in open defiance of the U.S. and the U.N. Three, Iran will probably build a nuclear bomb in the next ten years, definitely in the next 15.

Do you agree with that, Eleanor?

CLIFT: No. Well, first of all, the Iran deal prohibits them, it puts off any nuclear ambitions for 15 years. So, that rather cagily worded, the way you put that.

But Iran and Saudi Arabia have been in a kind of a Cold War situation for a long time. Each country sees themselves as the rightful leader of the Muslim world, one is Shia, and one is Sunni. They fight lots of little proxy wars. Those proxy wars are kind of getting out of hand. But I don’t think either of them really want a head-on confrontation. And frankly, Iran does a better job of controlling its groups like Hezbollah than Saudi Arabia, which has its hand in al Qaeda and to some extent ISIS, and they deal with groups that they can’t necessarily control.

And I agree with Pat, at some point, that monarchy is going to come to an end. And when it comes to an end, it’s not going to be replaced by Iran. It’s going to be replaced by one of these sort of dicey groups that they had allowed to flourish while they play this really double game in global relations.

ROGAN: Yes, the problem quickly here is that I think this is the whirlwind to some degree of the Iran deal. The Saudi Arabians have lost fundamental confidence in the United States because they perceive the United States is not enforcing the Iran deal with the Iranian ballistic missiles.

The problem is, however, that the Saudi Arabians have very negative political impulses, unconstrained by the United States, in terms of Wahhabism. But while influence can have a positive effect -- you saw that in 2003 where Bin Nayef actually smashed, destroyed al Qaeda under American pressure -- that is what we need more of, with people like him and Adel, who’s the foreign minister, to bring them to fold for more political reform, because the problem is, 20 years from now, if we just allow it to grow -- and this is why I disagree with the president -- is that these under pressures of young people, oil prices declining, mean that you’re going to have a massive uptick in extremism.

MCLAUGHLIN: And the answer is --

ROGAN: So, you need to calibrate against the Iranians. You need to calibrate with the Saudis. But you also need to say to the Saudis, you cannot engage in this -- killing al-Nimr was a terrible strategic decision.

MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye!