The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Resting Supreme; Pontiff, Prophylactics and Trump; Marco Versus Mexico; Message on a Street; Hacking the Apple

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

Taped: Friday, February 19, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of February 19-21, 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: Resting Supreme.



INTERVIEWER: Was it political?

SCALIA: Gee, I really don’t want to get in. I mean, this is -- get over it. It’s so old by now.

The principal issue in the case, whether the scheme that the Florida Supreme Court had put together violated the federal Constitution, that wasn’t even close. The vote as 7-2.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic, Italian American hunter and supreme judge for over 29 years, known for his quick wit and sharp prose, left 2016 dead, a year to decide the composition of the U.S. executive and legislative branches.

Justice Scalia rejected social policies such as abortion and homosexuality. But he was a keen defender of free speech, individual rights, notably gun ownership and opposed to unreasonable government searches and seizures. And Justice Scalia was known for his opposition to Supreme Court liberals on issues relating to climate change, the death penalty, unions, affirmative action and immigration.

President Obama may nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia in the coming weeks. Prediction on Mr. Obama’s choice included names such as Sri Srinivasan, Patricia Millett, Merrick Garland, Kamala Harris, Alberto Jordan, Loretta Lynch, Paul Watford, and Jane Kelly, among many others.

Still, Republicans say they’ll oppose any liberal nominees.


MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Should Republicans approve President Obama’s nominee? Yes or no? Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: No, they should not approve it, John.

First, about Antonin Scalia, he is an originalist. He’s one of the great Supreme Court justices, and he is really the father almost of a school of Supreme Court, you know, theology, if you will, which argues not for conserving, say, the decisions of the Warren Court, but going back and see if they’re consistent with what the Founding Fathers intended.

With regard to President Obama, he’s certainly going to appoint someone. And whoever he appoints should be treated with respect, not the way Bob Bork was, not the way Clarence Thomas was.

But they should be rejected on a simple ground: the president says, I’m going to be a transformational figure. In the Congress, the Senate is going to say, no, you are not going to transform the court. We’re going to let the presidency be decided in this election, that Congress will be decided in the election, and the direction of the Supreme Court will be decided by the American people, Mr. President, not by you. Go ahead and send us your nominee. But we’re not confirming.

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: That’s a wonderful political speech --

BUCHANAN: If it will work.

CLIFT: --with all due respect, it was a bunch of hooey.

The president is elected to a four-year term. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says after three years, you give up your right to nominate someone. The Congress, the Senate may well do what Donald Trump suggested, delay, delay, delay.

But I think if this president comes up with a well-qualified individual, and I’m sure he will, that that person does deserve a hearing and deserves a vote.

You mentioned Clarence Thomas. He is on the court. He got 52 or 53 votes in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

They didn’t filibuster him. They didn’t block him. They gave him some tough hearings, and I expect there will be some tough confirmation hearings.

But I’m Sandra Day O’Connor, former justice who is greatly admired on both sides of the political aisle, who says simply, "Let’s get on with it." And that’s really what we should be doing.

MCLAUGHLIN: Don’t forget the 1987 election, President Ronald Reagan nominated the ultraconservative who?


MCLAUGHLIN: Robert Bork, who was rejected.

CLIFT: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Justice Kennedy was confirmed instead.

CLIFT: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Question: August 1960, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a resolution, S.R. 334, expressing the sense of the Senate that the president should not make recess appointments to the Supreme Court.

What about that?

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/OPPORTUNITY LIVES: Well, I think, you know, the idea here is this, going back to the Thurmond Rule that you -- in the last year of a presidency where the majority in the Senate is held by the opposite party, that you should not appoint someone.

Look, I think President Obama will appoint someone. I agree with Pat that that person deserves respect in terms of how they are treated. But I also think that you look at the uniqueness of Justice Scalia in terms of both his prose, but also his reasoning in terms of constitutional interpretation. There is -- I think he is very different actually in terms of if, for example, Justice Kennedy’s position had been vacated. There, I think you would see a lot more willingness by Republicans to entertain the idea of a replacement under president’s leadership.

I think here, though, that the right course of action necessarily is to wait and see who wins the election. And then, on that basis, the next president will make an appointment to the court.

Scalia is that unique, I think, to American jurisprudence.

MCLAUGHLIN: Here you go. Well, if no nominee is confirmed this year, and Trump wins the presidency, who should he nominate?

I ask you.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, who should he nominate? That’s a wonderfully subjective question for you ask me, John. He should nominate somebody I know he’s not going to nominate, as far as I’m concerned.

No, let’s get serious here, which is the Republicans are not doing. They’re playing games with this whole process, and this is the longest, I think, on record that an out-party has been requesting that the president hold over until the next administration, and both parties do do it.

But this is getting ridiculous now. We’re saying that Obama is a lame duck, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned. I agree, if it comes to that, let the people decide, and I hope the people decide in favor of rationality and fairness, and that the backlash against the Republican game-playing here will result in a Democratic president --


PAGE: -- who will shift it all.


PAGE: Originalism, I do not like originalism. I do not want to judge today’s behavior by the era of muskets. And I think that’s the big loss for conservatives here, and I understand what they’re fighting for.

BUCHANAN: Let me tell you what the problem is -- is, look, let’s be honest. The Supreme Court is no longer simply a judicial body. It has become a legislative body. They discover a right to an abortion in the Constitution, a right to same sex marriage in the Constitution.

It has become legislative. It has become legislative. It has become executive, as well as judicial. And I think it’s time that the American people decided which way the court should go.

CLIFT: What I love is the confidence that Republicans appear to have that Donald Trump is going to be elected. You know, they could be, this is a big gamble they’re making --


CLIFT: -- President Obama, in order to get the votes to get somebody confirmed would have to nominate somebody who’s well within the parameters of mainstream political thought. Not somebody who was so far left to the left -- someone perhaps that the Senate has already confirmed by over 90 votes.

So, if they pull that off, and Hillary Clinton is elected president, you’re going to get a much more radical, progressive, liberal, choose your term, from the Republicans’ point of view. So, this is a big bet they’re making. I think, you know, let the process go ahead and let’s see who the person is, and I think the control of the Senate rests on how the Republicans handle this.

They could really lose the Senate over this.

BUCHANAN: I agree, I agree.

MCLAUGHLIN: If no nominee is confirmed this year and Trump wins the presidency, whom should Trump nominate?

BUCHANAN: What Trump should do -- let me tell you who handled it best, was Ed Meese, Department of Justice, after Sandra Day O’Connor --


BUCHANAN: -- which was for Mrs. Reagan.

What he did, he had two nominees, one was Robert Bork and the other was Antonin Scalia. Both of them were vetted completely, brilliant justice, nobody disagreed. They’re brilliant judges and great tradition, was right exact -- that’s we ought to do. Go to the Justice Department, find the very finest, most brilliant conservatives, like a Scalia, if you can find somebody like that, in the court system and nominate them. That’s what you would do.

ROGAN: Trump will pick Cruz. That’s what he’ll do.

CLIFT: What was that little comment you made about Mrs. Reagan’s Justice Department nominated --


BUCHANAN: Mrs. Reagan was the one that pushed for -- you got to appoint a woman. That was the first woman --

CLIFT: I think that President Reagan agreed with it.

BUCHANAN: He did agree.

CLIFT: All right. And he did it, and I’m going to give him full credit.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Pontiff, Prophylactics and Trump.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Pope Francis retuned to the Vatican following visits to Cuba and Mexico. While traveling, he observed that condoms would be justified in regions afflicted by the Zika virus. But the pontiff insisted that abortion can never be justified.

The pope believes condoms can help stop the suffering caused by microcephaly, abnormally developed heads in babies, which scientists believe Zika can cause.

The pontiff also said that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is, quote/unquote, "non-Christian" in his stance on immigration.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: is the pope right? I ask you, Clarence.

PAGE: Yes. I think -- well, the question, the statement that Trump’s attitude of building a wall instead of bridges is not Christian did not startle me. It’s just kind of thing that ministers say, that a liberal progressive minister would say in off-the-cuff conversation.

And it was something that Trump reacted to, of course, as he often does, with thin-skinned overreach. And this suddenly becomes a feud between the pope and Trump, which I suspect will help him politically in states like South Carolina. But when it gets to the Rust Belt, where there are more Catholics, it could be a real detriment. We’ll see.

CLIFT: That got all the attention, but what was really important about what the pope said was sending a message to all the priests in Latin America that it’s OK to counsel women that -- and men that prophylactics are OK and this is very -- a virus that has terrible consequences for the unborn. And so, I thought was a very significant message that he sent.

BUCHANAN: Well, let me go to the question, of I think what the pope said was a terrible mistake. First, you said he’s liberal progressive. He’s Argentine, he’s anti-capitalist politically. He’s not speaking as -- he’s not speaking ex cathedra as pope on faith and morals.

PAGE: Right.

BUCHANAN: He engages in politics, and when he does, there’s an element of anti-Americanism in there, if you will.


BUCHANAN: Anti-capitalism. And to come out and intrude into an American election was a terrible mistake on his part, I think.

And I think that Donald Trump should have answered him. I would not have used the term "disgraceful." But I think he should have answered him and just said, look, you know, there’s Vatican walls around Vatican. Every inner city in Europe has evolved.

ROGAN: Here’s the problem, very quickly. I think on the condom point, absolutely -- very good. Important. The medical benefits of that are obvious. The moral benefits are obvious in terms of making sure that when people want to have kids, the kids have the best chance of being healthy.

But on the politicization point, I think that Trump is -- sorry, I think the pope is wrong, because as much as Trump is a narcissist who floats around with these different ideas, changes his mind every day, the pope has a responsibility to provide that theological leadership to the church, and I don’t think that talking about walls does that.

BUCHANAN: You know, to call him un-Christian --

ROGAN: Right, that’s a big comment there.

BUCHANAN: -- what is the pope doing, making a judgment about the moral character and religious beliefs of someone he never met and he doesn’t know?

PAGE: The verses in the Bible, you know, to be open to the stranger, et cetera, you know? Very welcoming.

BUCHANAN: (INAUDIBLE) talked about building walls.

PAGE: That’s what debates are about.

ROGAN: He doesn’t talk about countries like Cuba and Venezuela, which are essentially wolves of communism or socialism that imprisoned their people. And there’s --


ROGAN: No, but, Cuba, Cuba --

PAGE: The people are, but not the government.


CLIFT: In the political context of the South Carolina primary, Trump versus the pope, Trump won.

BUCHANAN: Right. But, you know, he visited Cuba and Mexico. There’s a reason why people are running away from Cuba and Mexico and trying to get into the United States and why the United States can’t take everybody on earth and needs to build a security fence or some kind of wall to protect our country.

PAGE: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let’s not forget either that the Vatican in and Rome is surrounded by walls. Should those walls be taken down?


BUCHANAN: Those walls were there to prevent various invasions, Muslim invasions and other invasions. I mean, the pope -- one of the popes, as you know, John, had to deal with the Taliban. Would you like to have a wall to protect yourself against them?

PAGE: I’ve been across the bridge right in front of the Vatican.

MCLAUGHLIN: Darn right I would.

PAGE: Vatican’s got a bridge right in front of it. I’ve been across it, so they got walls and bridges.

BUCHANAN: Is it a drawbridge?

PAGE: That’s what the pope was saying, you know? That it’s better to build bridges than walls.

BUCHANAN: Isn’t that nice?

PAGE: And that was a very benign statement in my view. But --

CLIFT: And the audience that he spoke to in Mexico, I mean, he really is a beacon of hope for a lot of people who feel like they’re marginalized in this world. So, I think that’s his message overall.

ROGAN: Unless they’re coming here.

CLIFT: And he’s not going to decide the political election in this country. He made as many enemies among Catholics, namely you, as he might have made friends.

BUCHANAN: He’s not an enemy. He’s not an enemy. He’s a religious leader of my church, you know? But he ought to be talking about the next world and not to how to deal with this one.


CLIFT: No, this world – this world is -- for many people, it’s more important than the next world, which may or may not be there.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Marco Versus Mexico.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): State Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, testified last year before the Senate on U.S. policy towards Cuba on which Mrs. Jacobson plays a key role.

ROBERTA JACOBSON, BUREAU OF WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: The comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require congressional action to lift the embargo, and the president has urged Congress to begin that effort.

MCLAUGHLIN: Jacobson’s negotiations culminated with the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. That infuriated Republican senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, whose parents were born in Cuba and lived and worked there for years.

And now, Senator Rubio is hitting back. Secretary Jacobson has been appointed as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico. What Senator Rubio is using, a Senate procedural process to prevent a vote on her appointment.

Still, Senator Rubio’s actions are expected to fizzle, since Mexico is America’s third largest export market.


MCLAUGHLIN: Why has Senator Rubio placed a hold on Roberta Jacobson’s nomination?

I ask you, Clarence.

PAGE: Well, it looks personal to me. I mean, I don’t see a constituency for him on this. I certainly understand why his family is upset. I know of many Cuban-American families who have similar situations. But let’s face it, are we going to go and blame this woman for a policy that was her job to try to enact and she succeeded?

We’re moving in the right direction on Cuba. She helped us to do it.

CLIFT: Right.

PAGE: And Marco Rubio appears to be just standing to thwart progress needlessly.

CLIFT: To quote the late great Justice Scalia, when asked about Bush v. Gore, “Get over it.”

PAGE: Get over it.

CLIFT: “It’s so long ago.”

PAGE: There you go.

CLIFT: The Cuba policy has been decided, and Marco Rubio is preaching to a very small choir. It may play well in the primaries. But if he is the candidate, that’s not a winning position.

ROGAN: I think very quickly. Look, I think there are real concerns, and I share them about our policy towards Cuba, especially this rush to go there with the president in terms of a very authoritarian, nasty regime.

But the policy has been made. It has been. And, look, you know, I’m biased partly because my father was a foreign service officer. But I think far too often, we have a great diplomatic corps, and we politicize on both sides that we send stupid people who are not qualified, who say they’ve given a lot of money.

When we have officers who are doing their job, we should send them. And, look, Mexico is a very important country. Rubio should not be doing this.

PAGE: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Should Rubio lift his hold on Jacobson and allow her nomination to go to a vote, yes or not?



BUCHANAN: It’s got to do strictly with politics.

CLIFT: Yes. And now that he’s got other things that he’s thinking about, like the presidency, he may not be so consumed with being a pain in the neck in the Senate.

ROGAN: I think he should lift it, but criticize the policy on Cuba.

PAGE: You are right. Rubio’s protest will fizzle, and it should.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Message on a Street.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This resolution is to use the same power of moral clarity, the same power of shaming, the same power of speaking the truth to shining light on the oppression in China.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Senator Ted Cruz wants to change the address of China’s embassy in Washington. Last Friday, the U.S. Senate approved Mr. Cruz’s bill to change China’s embassy address from 3505 International Place NW, to 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza. The bill aims to honor Mr. Xiaobo, an activist imprisoned by China’s communist government for calling for political freedom.

But while the Republican-led House of Representatives is likely to support the address change campaign, President Obama is threatening to use his veto.


MCLAUGHLIN: Should Congress change the address of China’s embassy?

Eleanor Clift?

CLIFT: No. This is silly gamesmanship, and the Republicans have run this up the flagpole once before, a couple of years ago. And the Chinese said, if you know, we change the street here, they whould the street by the American embassy, and they’ve come up with some good ideas -- Edward Snowden Street, 9/11 Street.

So, I just -- think diplomacy has better things to do than this.

BUCHANAN: This shows you the lack of seriousness of the Congress of the United States -- in particular the Republican Party, John, who are free traders. Last year, they gave the Chinese communist $365 billion trade surplus, $4 trillion in the last 20 years, which the Chinese have used to build up their military, their navy, become a mighty and potentially malignant power. And these guys are interested in changing names on Reno Road in Washington, D.C.?

CLIFT: Is that a no?

BUCHANAN: It is frivolous, and it’s foolish --

CLIFT: Right.

BUCHANAN: -- and I blame the Republicans. They’re the free traders. And look, for all I care, they can name it Chiang Kai Shek Boulevard.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, before you get too high on your high horse, listen to this. There is precedent. In 1984, Senator Alfonse D’Amato introduced a bill to rename a section of 16th Street outside the Soviet embassy Andrei Sakharov Plaza. That’s the name he gave it, for the Russian dissident and physicist. The bill passed, and Reagan signed it into law.

BUCHANAN: The last I saw it, was 16th Street, right next to the University Club where I work out.


MCLAUGHLIN: What about that? There’s precedent for it.

BUCHANAN: It’s frivolous stuff! It’s grandstand politics.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Five: Hacking the Apple.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Isaac Newton, the brilliant 18 century physicist and mathematician had it easy. Today, grasping an Apple is far tougher. Just ask the FBI.

This week, approving the request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a federal judge ordered the company Apple to bypass a security feature that deletes all data after 10 wrong attempts to unlock an iPhone 5. Whose phone? Syed Farook’s, one of the two terrorists responsible for the San Bernardino terrorist attack that took 14 lives.

Apple’s encryption software, the FBI says, is precluding effective investigation of the attack and endangers the nation. This incident is only the tip of the iceberg. The ISIS terrorist group uses high-encryption technology to conceal their plots, forcing the U.S. government to fear the terrorist plotters may go undetected.

But technology companies and civil liberty groups disagree. They are vowing to fight the government in court.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: should Apple be forced to cooperate with the FBI?

I’ll try this on Tom Rogan.

ROGAN: Yes, absolutely. Under judicial order, they should, with due process requirement.

And I’ll tell you what, as much as there is a momentum perhaps against the FBI, I guarantee you that when an Islamic State plot happens -- and sadly, I think it’s very likely -- an encryption has been shown to be able to prevent those messages through different digital platforms from being intercepted by the NSA or other elements of the government. Or in Europe, with the U.K. is very concerned as well. These people are out there -- then the public opinion will change, because the kind of plots that the Islamic State are planning are designed to create mass impact and be very brutal, make al Qaeda look nice in some ways.

And when that happens, Apple and Google have a big problem.

PAGE: What troubles me about that is people always want to clamp down on rights and privacy and all after a disastrous terror attack.

ROGAN: Right.

PAGE: That’s a very poor argument actually, Tom. I mean, the problem is that there is a slippery slope here. I mean, several. For one thing, if the U.S. government forces Apple to unlock the phones, there will be international demands from other countries. Well, we want to unlock our phones, too. And like in China, we better say don’t unlock those phones over there.

This is the kind of thing, it’s a very difficult issue. I tend to agree with you, as far as the need, the immediate need for national security interests. But there are repercussions down the road.


MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, does this change your mind any? The FBI cherrypicked this dispute with Apple, hoping it will escalate into legislation, forcing the tech companies to stop encrypting smartphones.

CLIFT: Well, I think Congress is looking at this because public opinion, the reflexive reaction would be, why can’t Apple, which is the most sophisticated advanced digital company in the world, can’t they just go in a little room somewhere, figure out how to get into this phone and not bother us with all these other details?

They’re getting more editorial support for their position, explaining that this could make matters worse in the long run. But frankly, you know, I think they ought to find a way to get into this phone.



BUCHANAN: Let me agree with Eleanor, John.

MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment. Does the name Richard Burr mean anything to you?

ROGAN: A senator.

CLIFT: He’s senator, yes.

MCLAUGHLIN: He’s chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee.

BUCHANAN: North Carolina senator.

MCLAUGHLIN: He’s working up legislation making it a crime for a tech company to refuse to decrypt a smartphone if the FBI wants access to it.


MCLAUGHLIN: The timing is one day after Apple’s refusal.

BUCHANAN: Hey, John -- John, can I use a Latin phrase that might -- "salus populi suprema lex." The safety of the people is the highest law. I find myself in uncommon agreement with Eleanor.

I think you’ve got to get into that phone to get this and save those people. But -- in the future and to security and safety --


BUCHANAN: -- however, she’s exactly right. You ought to get into a room and get into this phone and do this single off-operation. And I can understand the desires for privacy. This is a battle between libertarians and traditionalists, and they’ll split right down the middle on this.

PAGE: That’s what Ben Franklin said, didn’t he?


ROGAN: -- secure, you know, what are called skiffs. There are places we can go, and there’s a judicial read for due process. There’s a balancing here --


ROGAN: -- and that’s what the United States, that’s the great tribute. We can do that.

PAGE: Yes.


MCLAUGHLIN: Sorry. Should President Obama signed a bill, forcing Silicon Valley to give the government access to encrypted smartphones if legislation reaches his desk? Yes or no?

BUCHANAN: If a Republican Congress passes it, you know, I think I would wait and see if the Congress passes it.

CLIFT: Yes, and I would wait and see what happens in the courts. I mean, I think maybe let the courts resolve this one.

ROGAN: I think you want an individual warrant-based process, where you can do that. But you don’t want, for example, what the U.K. is trying to do, where everything, you know, is immediately accessible without warrants.

PAGE: Yes, I want to see more details in the legislation, whether -- what it actually calls for. This is a highly technical issue.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, the answer is yes.

Last October, he said he didn’t support such legislation. But after Paris and San Bernardino, he’ll sign a bill if it reaches his desk.

Forced prediction: the Federal Reserve will resume its gradual increase in interest rates at its mid-June meeting. By then, the economic data will show the U.S. economy is in decent shape. Yes or no?


BUCHANAN: More likely, the Fed will move in the other direction.

CLIFT: Yes. The rest of the world is hurting. So, not necessarily so.

ROGAN: No, but I think consumer spending in the United States will prevent another recession in immediate time.

PAGE: No, but the domestic economy is doing better. So, I’m hopeful for the future.

MCLAUGHLIN: What is that, yes or no?

PAGE: No. No. N-O. The answer is no.


MCLAUGHLIN: Predominantly no?

PAGE: The answer is no!

MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a simple no.

PAGE: Yes, a simple no.

MCLAUGHLIN: I will say --

PAGE: You can ignore the rest of my wisdom, yes.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. I will say predominantly yes.