The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Obama’s Final state of the Union / Sixth GOP Debate / Media Reorganization / Closing Guantanamo Bay

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 15, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of January 15-17, 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: State of the Union Finale.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe in you, the American people, and that’s why I stand here as confident as I’ve ever been, that the state of our Union is strong.


Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama delivered his last State of the Union Address to Congress on Tuesday.

Notably, the commander-in-chief asked for courses of action on gun control and an increase of the current minimum wage now fixed at $7.25 per hour.

Mr. Obama also posed, quote, "four big questions" that we as a country have to answer regardless of who the next president is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how to expand opportunity in the U.S. Second, how to use technology to promote social interests. Third, how to protect the U.S. without presenting the U.S. as the world’s policeman. Fourth, how to strengthen bipartisan Democrat/Republican cooperation.

He also pushed back the curtain on his election year opinions on Donald Trump’s immigration views and the foreign policy ideas of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How did President Obama do? Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: It was a good speech as a speech, John, but it stated less the State of the Union than the state of Barack Obama’s mind. He’s very positive of where the economy is going. Bernie Sanders is out on the hustings saying, you know, the middle class is going under, the rich are getting everything.

And then, Obama says, you know, look, this isn’t like the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, all the nuclear weapons threaten us -- bunch of guys in pickup trucks.

What did we find? You got explosions in Jakarta, explosions in Paris, explosions in San Bernardino. Everybody tremendously concerned about ISIS, which is a cancer that is metastasizing.

Now, it’s not the Cuban missile crisis, but it is deadly serious. And quite frankly, two thirds of the country -- three-fourths of the country, excuse me, think the nation is going in the wrong direction, John. And that was not the mood or that was not the tenor of the president’s address.

So, what I say is, it reflected more the mind of Barack Obama than it did the State of the Union, as the American people see it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Pollyannaish.

BUCHANAN: I don’t know if it was Pollyannaish. There are good things going on in the economy, but it didn’t seem realistic, it didn’t seem to comport with the reality today as the people see it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Barely 45 percent of Americans approve of the Obama presidency. The majority disapprove. Obama is now trying to talk his way in to a better legacy than his results have actually achieved.

Is that the height of vanity, is it vainglorious?

BUCHANAN: I don’t say vainglorious --


MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please, Eleanor. Let me -- Pat, I give you two questions.


BUCHANAN: Look, the president, there are things that have improved dramatically. Employment is cut in half, although the labor force is a smaller percentage of the population that it’s been in 40 years.

So, he emphasizes the things that are positive, and there are positive things. But the larger picture the American people see does not comport with what the president said.

MCLAUGHLIN: Only 31.3 million Americans tuned in, Eleanor. This is the lowest since Nielsen started rating these speeches in the 1990s. Obama’s low ratings are a reflection of the extent to which he has polarized the country, some believe.

CLIFT: Right. Where are you getting that? From some right wing site?

MCLAUGHLIN: Where were you getting your language, from some left wing site?


CLIFT: Yes, you got it.


CLIFT: I thought it was a terrific speech. It was modeled structurally after FDR and the four freedoms. He set up four questions and he answered them.

It was a nuanced description of the problems that we see in the world. It was a realistic description and he fired back quite nicely at Republicans who want to carpet bomb our so-called enemies that would include civilian populations.

And he also noted that if you are condemning Muslims, you’re making it a lot harder to fight ISIS because we have to join in a coalition with Arab countries. It wasn’t a sound bite speech, but I think he nicely set up the contrast as we go into this election year.

And the fact that declaring this economy a disaster right on the heels of job creation of almost 300,000 jobs and 70 months straight of job creation, I believe is fiction, which is what the president said, and running down America and saying we’re weak, and, you know, everybody else is stronger is hot air. And I think that’s the argument the Democrats are going to make while the Republicans say everything is terrible.

MCLAUGHLIN: Was the speech too political with its criticisms of Republican candidates? I ask you.

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/OPPORTUNITY LIVES: No, I think that was inevitable in an election year, quite frankly, and I think the way he did it was a relatively small part of the speech.

The disagreements I would say, the problems of the speech, of course, notably foreign policy, because of his idea that everyone else is delusional, if you think ISIS is an existential threat.

Could it destroy the United States? No, but it could destroy the fabric of our societies, and you see that in the aftermath of Paris, how people interact with each other. Did they go out? Did they go out for dinner? What is their concern about their children going to school one day? And that has a really significant impact psychologically.

I would say the positives of the speech with this call for bipartisanship. The call at the end of the speech talking about what makes America great, which is true, and it deserves to be said. And the president was right to say it.

And, finally, the idea that we can expand opportunity and I think it was positive that the president, as a juxtaposition to the criticism, Republican presidential candidates had some words of praise for Paul Ryan, perhaps now going forward that can be at least a dialogue in terms of issues like poverty and opportunity that where we can come together and discuss.

And so, there were positives and negatives. But as the president’s final State of the Union, you know, inevitably, it was going to spark controversy on all sides.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will the speech lead to a positive reevaluation of Obama’s record? President Obama’s record?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, he’s certainly was talking about his legacy, without mentioning the L-word. He was looking at the long-distance future. Normally, these State of the Union speeches are laundry lists of different interests and all. He, in this occasion, like Tom was saying, focused more on the long range values.

What really struck me was his saying that his biggest regret was that he had not -- he had failed to bring the country together more, bridge those gaps, which was how he arrived on the national scene, with his 2004 Democratic Convention speech. You know, that great "one nation" address. We’ve seen anything but that. We’ve seen division.


PAGE: The division didn’t begin with his administration. I feel like his -- well, a lot of people are just noticing these divisions now because Barack Obama is president. We had them under Bill Clinton and Hillary. We’ve had them all along.

But right now, they become more of a signature part of his legacy.

MCLAUGHLIN: Would buy a used car from Barack Obama?

PAGE: I would.

I wouldn’t buy one from Donald Trump. That’s why I’m amazed that so many people are supporting him.

BUCHANAN: He doesn’t sell used cars.

PAGE: He sells a lot of things. He sells things, though.


PAGE: That’s why -- he sells things and I’d be very skeptical about buying.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let me try to persuade that you would not buy a used car from him.

PAGE: Sure.

MCLAUGHLIN: It’s detached from reality. He shirks responsibility for the state of affairs he has created and generally can’t be trusted. Just ask those who believed him when he said they could keep their insurance if they wanted.

PAGE: I think he was overselling that. That’s what it was.

CLIFT: Yes, I mean --


PAGE: Donald Trump never oversells, right?

No, the fact is that that was overselling the program, but it was still viable.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Sixth GOP Debate.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Republican presidential candidates debated each other in North Charleston, South Carolina, this week. Hosted by the FOX Business Channel, there were two debates.

The first, early scheduled debate, featured Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. Rand Paul boycotted this debate, saying he was wrongly excluded from the primetime debate.

That primetime debate featured seven participants: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. And with the Iowa caucuses just two weeks away, the major candidates jockeyed aggressively for the limelight.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to kick your rear end out of the White House.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a big question mark on your head and you can't do that to the party.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Constitution hasn't changed. But the poll numbers have.

CHRISTIE: This is the difference between being a governor and being a senator.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She might be going back and forth between the White House and the court house.

TRUMP: We have to find out what’s going on. I said temporarily. I didn’t say permanently. I said temporarily.

MARIA BARTIROMO, MODERATOR: With more than 10 million people talking about the issue, is there anything you’ve heard that makes you want to rethink this position?


CRUZ: No serviceman or servicewoman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men and women will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.


MCLAUGHLIN: Who triumphed in the debate hall? Pat?

BUCHANAN: Donald Trump did, John. It was his best debate of the entire session. The really critical moment was when he stood up and defended New York against the slur --


BUCHANAN: -- from Cruz about how New York values, et cetera. And it was very, very effective.

Secondly, even though Cruz I think won the engagement over the birther issue, the very fact that they’re discussing whether or not Cruz is qualified to run as president, that they’ve elevated this issue, is damaging to Cruz.

I think what happened in this debate is, Trump has emerged, I think even by critics, as the winner and the clear frontrunner and the two people challenging him most closely are Cruz and Rubio, with Cruz the closest. And one other figure is in it, and I would say Chris Christie. But it was Donald Trump’s best night.

CLIFT: What’s fascinating is to watch the Republican establishment begin to rationalize Trump as the nominee. They’re now saying that if he does win the nomination, nobody is talking about not supporting him, and Trump now seems to be taking on more of a teddy bear style in these debates.


PAGE: It’s true. It’s true.

CLIFT: Kinder, gentler.

But the other star was clearly Ted Cruz. I mean, he is one heck of a debater.

PAGE: That’s right.

CLIFT: And even on the 9/11 thing where Trump clearly won that and, you know, I’m a New Yorker, and when Trump said, if you’re going to criticize New York, you’ve got to come through me, I was, hey, yes, yes! But --

PAGE: All of a sudden, you and Trump together at the barricade.

CLIFT: But then --

BUCHANAN: Eleanor’s softening on Trump.


CLIFT: I’m adjusting to reality.

But then --

MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard --

CLIFT: But then on 9/11, Cruz was clapping. I mean, that was a very clever turnaround on his part, and the people in the hall are clearly with Cruz. They booed Trump a couple of times, which is interesting.

MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard of Laurence Tribe?

CLIFT: Very much so. In fact, he recently filed a brief in the Supreme Court opposing the Obama administration regulations on coal, and Obama was one of his students, just as Ted Cruz was one of his students.

BUCHANAN: Last night, Trump was on -- I mean, excuse me, Tribe was on the air, John.

MCLAUGHLIN: You think --

BUCHANAN: And he said there’s a very powerful argument that Trump is basically right and Cruz is not qualified, and it does have to be adjudicated.

And see, this is why even though I thought Cruz won the exchange with Trump right there --


BUCHANAN: The fact that the issue is out there and elevated, we’re just watching about it on TV.

PAGE: That’s right.

ROGAN: You know, very quickly, one of the key takeaways here, as well as that, is the establishment Republican candidates have a big problem. Jeb Bush is, I think Jeb Bush is really done now. I think you see Chris Christie coming up to challenge him there in that position.

But I think Rubio had a bad night in the sense that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, you know, that was the real choice that came out of it. That’s who we’re discussing. That’s the narrative. And that will generate the news cycle.

I also think at that lower level, it’s generating that primary discussion. You are seeing people from Rubio who really don’t like Trump --


ROGAN: -- potentially going towards Cruz.

MCLAUGHLIN: Did Cruz do a good job handling questions about "The New York Times" report concerning his $1 million loan from Goldman Sachs for his Senate race?

Who wants it?

BUCHANAN: Clarence?

PAGE: I’ll take it.

I thought that he did a surprisingly good job simply because the issue seems to die after he dealt with it. They went back and forth on it. But compared to the Canada issue, the birthright issue, that one still has legs. But I think he put the Goldman Sachs to rest for now.


MCLAUGHLIN: How did he describe "The Times" interview or piece?

CLIFT: Hit job, hit job.

MCLAUGHLIN: He called it a hit piece.

PAGE: Right, hit job.

BUCHANAN: Yes, but, John, let me mention something else. Where Trump succeeded is, he elevated the trade issue, the trade deficits, the tariff issue, all these things, and you saw Kasich sort of -- people starting to agree with him. The Republican Party is moving toward economic nationalism and he’s driving it there.

CLIFT: That 45 percent tariff, Trump is alone on that, with you, of course. But the rest of the Republicans don’t like that.


ROGAN: I think that trade issue is very important to have a debate.

BUCHANAN: It’s huge.

ROGAN: But I’m on the flip side, but you start having trade tariffs coming, the prices of goods that Americans don’t know are foreign, they do not want that absorb cost going out, right? But that economic costs to those families --

BUCHANAN: You tell them the Chinese are stealing our jobs. You’re going to put tariff, 20 percent tariff on Chinese goods and cut taxes on American businesses, small business. It’s a winner.

PAGE: But they’re going to come back and ask, how’s that effective the price of my shirts at WalMart.


CLIFT: Right.

PAGE: Because that’s what has kept that argument --

BUCHANAN: You’ll be making WalMart shirts in the United States.

PAGE: They’ve been hearing that for 30 years now. You know, that’s the thing. I don’t know. I’ll be very surprised --

BUCHANAN: You’ve got to change, Clarence.

MCLAUGHLIN: Question, Chris Cillizza calls Cruz and Trump the winners of the debate. He’s a "Washington Post" guy.


MCLAUGHLIN: Along with Senator Marco Rubio, who came out hot from the start.

He called Ben Carson a loser, saying the neurosurgeon has often looked out of his depth at these debates, but never more so than tonight.

Do you share these viewers of Chris Cillizza? I ask you, Clarence Page.

PAGE: I say, as far as, well, Trump and Cruz, I thought tied last night, for different reasons. They were, well, for one thing Cruz’s experienced Harvard debater, award-winning, et cetera.

Trump is not as articulate, but he came across as real, as genuine. That 9/11 moment – I don’t often say this, but that was Trump’s finest moment. He really came across with real sincerity.


BUCHANAN: We were talking before the show. You see Trump’s making all these faces. Obviously, he’s not a skilled, experienced debater.

PAGE: Right.

BUCHANAN: But there’s a reality and an authenticity that you start chuckling. And then he grimaces and does all things you’re not support to do.

PAGE: That’s right.

BUCHANAN: But it’s authentic.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Media Meltdowns.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Al Jazeera America will cease broadcasting in April. Owned by the government of Qatar, this U.S. TV news channel begun airing in 2013. Its executives had bold ambitions to challenge CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC. Towards that end, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars recruiting senior journalists from major U.S. networks, and establishing lavishly-equipped bureaus.

But while al Jazeera America won plaudits for its investigative reporting, viewers never arrived. Today, as closure looms, the channel attracts around 15,000 to 40,000 viewers during primetimes, 5 percent to 10 percent of U.S. news networks’ viewing figures.

And other major media outlets also got bad news. The TV arm of "Huffington Post", Huffington Post Live, will soon abandon live broadcasts and focus on social media video content, delivered to various outlets.

And note this, "The New Republic", a seasoned liberal magazine, was also put up for sale by owner Chris Hughes, multimillionaire cofounder of the website named Facebook. He says his magazine needs a new owner to make it profitable.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Al Jazeera America a casualty of the falling price of oil? Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: No, it’s not, John. It’s a casualty of the splintering of the cable audience, not only CNN and MSNBC and FOX, but also Bloomberg. You got Russia Today, which is in many ways a good channel. You got the BBC, which puts on good work.

I’m sorry to see, frankly, al Jazeera go because I know a lot of folks over there and some good people, and they’re going to lose their jobs.

But also, you got to admit, when you call it Al Jazeera and it’s coming out of the Arab world, there’s a sort of a recoil over here because of all our problems with that part of the world, that cause people, I think, to be skeptical of it’s product.

CLIFT: Yes, but Al --

BUCHANAN: They’re not going to drop Al Jazeera. If they drop Al Jazeera, I would agree with you.

CLIFT: That’s the point that I wanted to make. Al Jazeera America is just one arm of that network, the Al Jazeera Arab and Al Jazeera English continue. And the problem with the American channel is they didn’t get enough cable outlets. They didn’t have a big enough audience.

So, in terms of media meltdowns, the three you cite are fairly minor compared to the whole meltdown of the entire media world that we’ve lived through for the last three years, four years, which has really transformed the whole landscape.

MCLAUGHLIN: Streaming video is replacing cable. The growth trend line favors streaming video over, or instead of, cable subscriptions.

ROGAN: You did see that and those concerns. That’s why you see, for example, concerns about Disney and Starz, you know, with ESPN (INAUDIBLE). The takeaways --

MCLAUGHLIN: The failure of Yahoo and "The Huffington Post" in this sphere are not indicative of the overall trend, however.

ROGAN: Well, I think the key -- people are still going to watch cable. It’s a diversifying model.

But I think two points here, "The New Republic", the concern there was that you have a disagreement with someone who wants to shake up the industry, and quite frankly, journalists there who didn’t want to realize it’s a profitable -- you have to profitable. You know, I made nothing when I started working because there’s so much saturation of competition.

And second point, on Al Jazeera as well, look, they did great investigative reporting. But at the same time, there were people who never going to be brand into them. I would disagree with Pat about Russia Today. I think that’s all --


CLIFT: "The New Republic" never made money. It’s not ever going to make money. And Mr. Hughes really transformed it in a way that didn’t work. So --


MCLAUGHLIN: Why are you so gently -- why are you so gently criticizing Hughes? First, he alienated the staff, leading to mass resignations. Then dumped $20 million, trying to remake the magazine as a for-profit business venture. It was folly.


PAGE: It was folly.

CLIFT: I agree with that. I think I just said that, that "The New Republic" never made money and it wasn’t going to make money, and he had all these phantasmagorical dreams. But the business model for print journalism is still very tough, and he didn’t figure out how to crack it. So --

BUCHANAN: None of these little magazines, "National Review", "The Nation" make money, do they? They all depend on 501(c)3 --


ROGAN: You have to diversify somewhat to get to --


MCLAUGHLIN: I want to say that I rue the day that we will not have "The New Republic".

ROGAN: We’re going to have it.

CLIFT: Somebody will buy it. Somebody will buy it, who’s willing to lose money.


MCLAUGHLIN: I thought "The New Republic’s" editorial position is so beautifully worded. I may not --

PAGE: Don’t give up on them, John.


CLIFT: They’re not gone.

PAGE: Don’t give up on them because they’re still online and they got more subscribers online than in print. That’s the wave of the future.

MCLAUGHLIN: I’m not saying, I’m not saying necessarily point of view, but they nevertheless were able to mash sentences and talk like educated --

BUCHANAN: Those are the days of Michael Kingsley, editor, quite frankly.

CLIFT: That’s right.

MCLAUGHLIN: What did you say?

BUCHANAN: Michael Kingsley, my partner, was editor. He did a great job of it.

MCLAUGHLIN: He did a great job.

PAGE: And they still got some great articles in there.

CLIFT: That’s a long time ago.

PAGE: But, you know, the thing is, the whole media landscape is changing now. But it was never intended to be a for-profit publication, and I think that’s going to say not-for-profit --

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, thank you for that insight you’re sharing with us.

PAGE: I’m always happy to contribute, John.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Guantanamo.



OBAMA: That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. It is expensive, it is unnecessary and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.


There’s a better way.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama wants to close a U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, referred to simply as "Guantanamo".

Guantanamo, the president notably claims, feeds terrorist propaganda and is too expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, adding up to millions, some say, per detainee each year.

But Republicans and some Democrats in Congress say Guantanamo Bay protects national security. These conservatives have prevented the commander in chief from moving detainees to prisons on U.S. soil.

But note this: on its own authority over the last few years, the Obama administration has released detainees into the custody of other nations. The latest such transfer took place on Thursday of this week, January the 14th, when 10 prisoners were released to governments in the Middle East. Further releases are expected in the coming week.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is President Obama right to close Guantanamo Bay prison?

I ask you.

PAGE: Well, it was a promise he made and he’s tried to keep it. I think it’s the right thing to do, not only for international relations and America’s image abroad, but also, I never understood this logic of not putting terrorists in American prisons, when we’ve already got so many there as it is, both domestic and al Qaeda types.

But the only thing is there was some concern about treating them to a civilian court, because they might possibly actually be found innocent, or found to -- there were civil liberties violations over waterboarding, and that sort of thing, which would cause some people to be released that we don’t want to have released.

But for the most part, though, they’ve got a good vetting process and we can debate about whether or not some of that are going back to the field because there are people on both sides of that debate.

BUCHANAN: John, many of the states don’t want these guys in the United States.

Secondly, if any damage has been done to us propaganda-wise, it was long ago, because these guys are going out now, going to the Middle East.

Third, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is down there. You bring him to the United States, you put him on trial and his lawyer says, did you waterboard my client?

PAGE: Right.

BUCHANAN: Out goes the case, you know?

ROGAN: Right.

BUCHANAN: And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed walks? I don’t think so.

CLIFT: Yes, that would not happen. And it is really not the American way to hold a lot of the people there who don’t have any charges against them, and some of them have been cleared and they are trying to find places to send them to. And so, the population is dwindling.

ROGAN: I think the propaganda has less impact, because if you look at prison systems in the Islamic world, almost to a role, they are very, very tough. I think the more concern, where it is right, Clarence and I --


ROGAN: Wait, wait, wait. The way you’re right, that there needs to be more clarity, where we can get people released, declared to release. We should do that. We should pay foreign governments to take them, if that’s what’s necessary, because it is in some cases.

The problem with bringing them here, though, I think is twofold. Number one, the point that Pat makes about the judicial consequences of that federal court. And the second point is, you bring them to a domestic U.S. prison, that will place will become a magnet for terrorists and it will increase.

And the third, and the final --


ROGAN: It’s much easier to protect yourself on a military base than to protect American civilians in a local town.

MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please? Hold on. What does this imply? The use of drones, that’s us, to kill terrorist leaders -- if we had been capturing the leaders instead of killing them via remote control, we would need Guantanamo for interrogation and detention. Do you understand the line of reasoning?

BUCHANAN: Well, you may need Guantanamo in the future, is what this is saying.

ROGAN: It’s easy to kill them than to deal with the ACLU I think for --


BUCHANAN: You know, you do kill somebody. If you’ve captured some, you’d have to take them down. Suppose you capture a whole group of them in some new conflict, where you’re going to put them?

CLIFT: I believe we have --

PAGE: We have been known to get Egypt and other countries to do, Jordan, do our questioning for us.

BUCHANAN: Rendition.

PAGE: They’re quite a little rougher than we are actually.

ROGAN: I’ll be happy with that.


BUCHANAN: I saw the other day, there’s a fellow, one of them came over to Jordan and he took it down with the shotgun and I congratulate him.


ROGAN: What was that? The drone?


BUCHANAN: It showed up over his yard, and he just – bam! That’s exactly what he ought to do.

MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye!