THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: JAMES PETHOKOUKIS, REUTERS BREAKINGVIEWS; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; BILL PRESS, SYNDICATED RADIO TALK SHOW HOST TAPED: FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 2010 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF AUGUST 14-15, 2010
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Stupid Yes, Corrupt No.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY): (From videotape.) There has to be a penalty for grabbing the wrong stationery. It may be stupid. It may be negligent. But it's not corrupt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The legendary congressman from Harlem stands accused of 13 ethics violations. These include a failure to report income on a beach villa in the Dominican Republic; failing to report taxable gains on a condo in Florida; non-conforming to congressional postage privileges; and misusing congressional letterhead for fundraising for a civic center. REP. RANGEL: (From videotape.) Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November. I don't want anyone to feel embarrassed, awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away too. I am not going away. I am here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As he spoke on the House floor, members applauded the revered congressman from Harlem, now in his 40th year of service. Congressman Rangel says that he wants the due process of the Ethics Committee, a formal hearing to which he is entitled, no matter where it leads.
REP. RANGEL: (From videotape.) But for God's sake, just don't believe that I don't have feelings, that I don't have pride, that I do want the dignity that the president had said. And the dignity is that even if you see fit to cause me not to be able to come back -- because you're not going to do it in my district -- but if there's some recommendation that I be expelled, for me, for me, that would be dignity.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Congressman Rangel entitled to a trial before election day? James.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Justice delayed, justice denied. I think maybe the ideal time would be October, maybe, right around the same time as those Bush book excerpts come out, maybe the exact same week. I think Republicans would like that. This is another -- this is like the repeat of the Gulf oil spill, another huge distraction for the Democrats when they're trying to get on message.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Well, the key line there was "If I were you, I'd want me to go away too, but I'm not going." And this is a proud man. And, yes, he is entitled to a trial. He thinks he can clear his name. But I must say, the facts here really are not in dispute. He is willing to plead guilty to sort of sloppy bookkeeping, but he doesn't want to plead guilty to corruption. And that's where he draws the line.
And the question now is whether the Republicans on the Ethics Committee are going to be willing to accept that deal. Otherwise, I think if this goes to trial, he loses eight to zero, because Democrats are not in a position to cut him any slack either.
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah, that's true.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did the president cut him off at the legs --
MS. CROWLEY: The president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- President Obama?
MS. CROWLEY: A couple of weeks ago, the president threw Charlie Rangel under the bus. He said, "He's had a distinguished career, but now it may be time" -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mmm-hmm. So he's been indicted --
MS. CROWLEY: -- "for him to consider" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's been indicted in the court of public opinion by reason of that alone.
MS. CROWLEY: Well, look, when the leader of your party, who happens to be the president of the United States, is not willing to give you a ringing endorsement or say, "Fight on, Charlie," you know you're in deep trouble. He took to the floor this week as a point of personal privilege to give this 35-minute sort of long, rambling defense of himself. I half-expected him to burst into that song from "Dream Girls" -- "And I am telling you, I am not going."
But Charlie Rangel does deserve his day in court, the congressional court, the ethics trial. The word is that they'll probably do this in September. They'll probably get this trial going. They want it done as fast as possible.
But, look, Charlie Rangel came to the Congress 40 years ago as this hard-charging young guy who was going after the corrupt sitting congressman there, Adam Clayton Powell. And now one of Adam Clayton Powell -- his descendant there is running against Charlie Rangel in the Democratic primary. There's a real irony there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's in Nancy Pelosi's interest -- meaning the head of the Democratic Party -- to put it off or to have it now?
MR. PRESS: First of all, I've got to say, my take on this, I think this whole thing is an excess of ethical zeal. I think it's nuts. I think there's carelessness. I think they were sloppy. I don't think there's any crime. I don't think there should be any trial. And I think they should both just say, you know, "Look, we used poor judgment," slap on the wrist, and then move on.
To respond to your question, Nancy Pelosi's interest is no trial for either one, Charlie Rangel or Maxine Waters, before November. And she's in charge. And to allow this -- to me, to allow this Ethics Committee to keep this thing going all the way to a trial is insane.
MS. CLIFT: But she set up an independent Office of Ethical Compliance, which is headed by a prosecutor. It is not politically staffed. And they've got something like 25 Democrats and seven Republicans that they're looking at, and they're the ones that advanced these cases. And I think Rangel, and to some extent Maxine Waters as well, feel singled out, because probably every member in the Congress has done some of what these people --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: What a horrible --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Let me finish. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. Let her finish.
MS. CLIFT: I want to finish.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Horrible case.
MS. CLIFT: Please let me finish. Everyone up there has done some of what these members have done, but they have compiled too many tricky deals. And when I read about Rangel, one of the things he did was sign a contract for a rent-controlled apartment in New York that he said would be used for his office. No, he said his son would be living there. Instead he used it for his office. His son never lived there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One --
MS. CLIFT: So is this sloppy, or is this -- it's an abundance of a sense of entitlement. And this week Danny Rostenkowski passed away --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: -- former chairman of Ways & Means --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: -- who went to jail for, in part, trading in congressional issued stamps for cash and putting ghost employees on his staff. So, you know, this is an excess of --
MS. CROWLEY: Well, look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's called the franking privilege.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. It's bad. And Pelosi is cracking down, and it's coming back to bite her. But she's doing the right thing.
MS. CROWLEY: Charlie Rangel has been pulling these shenanigans for a long time. It reached critical mass right now. Why? Because we are in a very unique political moment where defenses like "Well, everybody does it up on Capitol Hill," "These are venal sins and not mortal sins" -- MS. CLIFT: But that's not what they're saying. They're not saying that.
MS. CROWLEY: The American people are so --
MS. CLIFT: I said that.
MS. CROWLEY: -- done with that. We're experiencing a very volatile --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: -- complete disconnect.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. I'm going to let you in right after this.
There was a celebration at the Plaza Hotel in New York this week saluting Rangel's 80th birthday.
REP. RANGEL: (From videotape.) Please remember me in your prayers, because it really works. Thank you. God bless you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any proof of that, the efficacy of prayer? (Laughter.)
MR. PRESS: We'll find out. (Laughs.) Well, we've been up and down on that one, John; you and I have. (Laughs.) But I just want to say, to me it's -- I do think it's an excess of zeal, as I said. It's also selective. I mean, why should a Charlie Rangel have a hearing and there's a senator in the South -- I won't even name his name -- right, who's arranging lobbying deals for the husband of his mistress? He's still on the floor of the Senate -- no investigation, no hearings. I mean, let's get real here. I mean, I just think free Charlie. That's my --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's public knowledge.
MR. PRESS: Of course it's public knowledge.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are you hiding it?
MR. PRESS: John Ensign?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. PRESS: Everybody knows it.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think Rangel does feel singled out. But, you know, I think it's also at this stage very difficult to give him a pass on these things. And if they can work out a deal where he pleads guilty to some of the charges but not the ones that -- MR. PETHOKOUKIS: The average viewer must be shocked by this.
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me, please.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Pass on all of it.
MS. CLIFT: But not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about --
MS. CLIFT: But not the ones that would get referred to the Justice Department --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Let's put a pass on all of them.
MS. CLIFT: -- for criminal prosecution.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That's the way things are done in Washington.
MS. CLIFT: That's the problem.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That's the way things are done, right?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If Pelosi holds on until January, the Republicans take over, theoretically. Okay?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then it's the Republicans' problem? Is that it?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that the way to do it?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: If I was Charlie Rangel, I think I'd rather face what I would face in October and September than what you're going to get in January and February.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's talk a little bit about Maxine Waters --
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and her problem. You know the situation?
MR. PRESS: Yeah; in my judgment, less of a case against Maxine Waters. Look, the minority banks were getting screwed. All the money was going to the big banks on Wall Street. She -- I've known her a long time. She was -- she's always fighting for minority business.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We need more set-up. What bank are you talking about? MS. CLIFT: United Bank.
MS. CROWLEY: United Bank.
MR. PRESS: The United Bank.
MS. CROWLEY: One United.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the story on that?
MR. PRESS: Okay, the story is her husband was once an officer of the bank, and he also owns a lot of stock in the bank.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two hundred fifty thousand dollars.
MR. PRESS: And it was one of the banks that she called Henry -- Hank Paulson about and said, "Hey, all this money should not go to Citibank or Lehman Brothers, whatever. Some of this money should go to community minority banks."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much did she try to get for the bank?
MR. PRESS: And she didn't name a number, but she asked for a meeting with representatives of the banks. She then told Henry Waxman, "You know, I've got a problem here, because my husband's involved with this bank."
MS. CLIFT: She talked to Barney Frank.
MR. PRESS: Barney Frank. Did -- I'm sorry.
MS. CLIFT: You said Waxman.
MR. PRESS: Barney Frank. "And maybe I shouldn't be doing this." Well, she's right. She should have had somebody else set up the meeting. But, you know, they're going to, what, throw her out of the House for that?
MS. CROWLEY: But the question is, look, this One United Bank, this bank in question, was the weakest bank to get TARP funds. Why? Maxine Waters did this intervention. And the question is whether or not she used her office as leverage for personal gain. And that is a very serious charge. Actually, I think that charge is more serious than the one --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Federal bailout money.
MR. PRESS: (Inaudible.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She wanted federal bailout money in the form of $12 million to go to that bank.
MS. CROWLEY: Right. And the question is whether or not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And her husband --
MS. CROWLEY: -- it was used -- whether or not she used her office as leverage for personal gain.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That was always the concern with this TARP money, that it would eventually become sort of a crony capitalism deal where -- I mean, between this $700 billion there and then the $800 billion in the stimulus, you have $1.5 trillion flowing out of Washington, no one paying, you know, really close attention to where it's going. And you're going to see a lot more of these deals and see -- (inaudible) -- the banking side of the stimulus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question -- exit question. Whose transgressions are more serious, the alleged transactions of Maxine Waters or Charlie Rangel? James.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Oh, Maxine Waters.
MS. CLIFT: Rangel has 13 counts against him. Maxine Waters has three. And I suspect the bank that her husband had an interest in would have gotten that money without her interference.
MR. PRESS: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, his total alleged tax dodging amounts to $500,000.
MS. CROWLEY: More.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rangel.
MS. CROWLEY: It's more. It's more than that. It's more than that.
MS. CLIFT: I haven't tallied it up, but he has paid --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She wanted to funnel $12 million into that bank.
MS. CLIFT: He has paid all the back taxes and the penalties. So maybe the government made a little on him.
MS. CROWLEY: Maxine Waters has got three charges against her, but those three charges are a lot more serious than the 13 serious charges against Charlie Rangel. The difficulty for the Democrats is, come September and October, you're going to have the black representative from Harlem and the black representative from Watts standing trial on ethics violations in the Congress. There's no -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear this again now.
MS. CROWLEY: This is a no-win situation for the Democrats.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are the transgressions of Maxine greater than the transgressions --
MS. CROWLEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of Charlie?
MS. CROWLEY: I just said that to you. Yes, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MR. PRESS: I disagree. I think those against Charlie are more serious. I don't think either one should be put on trial in the House, and Nancy Pelosi should not allow it to happen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I share your latter view, but the transgressions of Maxine are worse.
Issue Two: Lord Harry, the Unbent Reid.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID (D-NV): (From videotape.) Remember, anything that's good for the rest of the country in saving and creating jobs is good for Nevada.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has had a busy summer corralling votes for big-money outlays, including $26 billion for education, Medicaid funding, small-business hiring, and unemployment benefits for Americans without jobs.
The prescribed procedure of the Senate is to move bills through the Senate at the committee level first and then bring them to the floor for a full vote. Republicans are saying that the Senate this year is being manipulated by an abusive leader, Senator Harry Reid. Reid is running the legislative process as a one-man show, funneling legislation away from necessary procedure; that is, the committee system. Senate Democrats counter, saying that Reid's procedural maneuvering is a response to the Senate today; namely, an institution riven by partisanship in a way that observers declare they have not seen in a long, long time.
In the respected publication CongressDaily, Dan Friedman writes how, quote, "Reid's frequent use of a rule that lets him bring bills directly to the floor," unquote, a floor vote, with no markup by any Senate committee. This is what enrages many Republicans and even Democrats. These spending measures are, quote, "done in the secrecy of Reid's office," unquote, in the words of five-term Republican Senator and ranking minority Finance Committee member Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Reid's actions are creating, quote, "a lack of trust between the Senate Republicans and Democrats." The Senate has become, quote, "more partisan," unquote, many believe. That's the Reid rap.
Question: The environment of Congress today is rancorous, partisan, mean. Is the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, causing this rancor, or is he coping with it? Monica.
MS. CROWLEY: (Laughs.) Well, I don't think the partisanship you see in the House or the Senate is anything new. This is not exactly breaking news.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To this degree.
MS. CROWLEY: But, look, Harry Reid is, A, locked in a very, very tight re-election battle against Sharron Angle in the state of Nevada, and two, he was used to, for a short while there, having a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That went away in January with the election of Scott Brown. So now Reid is being forced to pull all these kinds of legislative hijinks. And remember, that's how he got Obamacare through the Senate. He went through the reconciliation process, 51 votes rather than the requisite 60.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me cue up this -- let me tee up this cream puff for you, all right? (Laughter.) A week from this Wednesday, we're going to salute the anniversary of a sad occasion, and that was the death of Teddy Kennedy. Now, Teddy Kennedy got along with the other side and he cut his deals. He particularly cut deals with Boehner. He was one of the ones that did it. And Boehner had the greatest things to say about Teddy Kennedy.
Do you think Teddy Kennedy's absence from the Senate, with his charm and his ability to work inside and not create the kind of rancor we see today, do you think that's what's causing some of this? And who's going to replace Teddy Kennedy? Or am I overphrasing it?
MR. PRESS: No, you're not. Teddy Kennedy did reach across the aisle. He worked with John McCain. He worked with a lot of them. But even Teddy Kennedy, in my judgment, could not melt the iceberg that is Mitch McConnell that has caused this rancor in the Senate today.
You've got -- I think the Senate today is less effective, less productive, than ever in our lifetime -- ever, ever.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about the filibuster vote?
MR. PRESS: I'm talking -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about the rank and file, everyone voting against?
MR. PRESS: I am talking about every --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The party of no?
MR. PRESS: Yes -- every rule, every filibuster, every possible means of obstruction, holding up every appointment, the secret holds. They're being used like they've never been used before, deliberately by Mitch McConnell to stop anything the Democrats want to do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But don't you see that Reid is shutting them out? No committee action. "We'll handle this in my office," so to speak.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He does not let the committees do their work on sequestering and isolating difficult parts of a bill.
MR. PRESS: Here's the problem. You're listening to CongressDaily. The problem is the Senate is getting nothing done. The House passed 345 --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Whose fault?
MR. PRESS: Wait. The House passed 345 bills that are sitting in the Senate with no action. There are 76 judicial appointments sitting in the Senate.
MS. CLIFT: If they're cutting off --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: There's been nothing done in --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please. Let Eleanor in.
MS. CLIFT: If --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: There's not a single bill that's passed the Senate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that again?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I can't think of a single bill that's passed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Has there been anything in --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know whether the committee -- MR. PRESS: You can count them on five fingers.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know whether --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It's quality over quantity -- huge bills.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know whether the committee action has been cut out by reason of Reid and --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It has been cut out, because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- his use of a rule?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It has been cut out, because they are absolutely desperate. They've had 18 months to focus on jobs and the economy. So now they're trying to scramble at the end, because this has been a horrific summer for them politically. The economy is tanking.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there more to it than just the demands of schedule? Is it more that he wants the vote to go his way?
MS. CROWLEY: Of course he does.
MS. CLIFT: Two --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are the limits on that if you're the leader? Don't you understand?
MS. CLIFT: Two of the --
MR. PRESS: He's trying to get something done.
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MS. CLIFT: Two of the big-ticket items, health-care reform -- I remember a gang of eight or six negotiating for months. It ended up Republicans were just stalling that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: Then financial-services reform, Chairman Dodd worked very closely with the Republicans, and that worked out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you --
MS. CLIFT: They haven't been cut out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you --
MS. CLIFT: The Republicans have made a decision that this -- that nothing will get through if they can help it -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The last poll that I --
MS. CLIFT: -- because they want to run against the Democrats for their failure to govern.
MS. CROWLEY: No, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand they represent constituencies. Eighteen percent of the people think that the health-care program of Barack Obama is going to do them some good -- 18 percent.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. PRESS: Wait, wait. The Republican senators --
MS. CLIFT: I think the numbers are distorted. (Laughs.)
MR. PRESS: -- who blocked the extension of the unemployment benefits come from the states where there's the largest unemployment rates.
MS. CLIFT: They represent those 18 percent.
MR. PRESS: They're not representing their constituents at all.
MS. CROWLEY: The Republicans --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have something to say on this before we sign out on it?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I think people understand spending is out of control. I think they're more willing to accept these kind of spending cuts.
MS. CROWLEY: And Republicans --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: So, great, they didn't pass unemployment.
MS. CROWLEY: -- have been very effective at being the party of no -- no more big government, no more big spending, putting the brakes on Obama care. Sixty percent --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: These are good things.
MS. CROWLEY: Sixty percent of the American people -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue --
MS. CLIFT: There's only one thing --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: They're reflecting the people.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor. I'm going to serve this up to you, another cream puff.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) Okay.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: First Lady of Spain.
(Videotaped clip of First Lady Michelle Obama touring Spain, to the tune of "Lady of Spain."
ROBERT GIBBS (White House press secretary): (From videotape.) She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think -- I think I'd leave it at that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: First Lady Michelle Obama's vacation on Spain's jet-set Casa del Sol has drawn waves of criticism. The first lady's traveling party includes her youngest daughter Sasha, two close friends of Michelle's and the two friends' daughters. They vacationed together in the Spanish resort town of Estepona. The area is a famous glitterati destination. The trip is the first of three scheduled beach vacations for the first lady this summer.
Michelle and her entourage stayed at a posh hotel, the Villa Padierna, where the average room price is $660 a night, and the most lavish suite runs for $6,600 daily. Mrs. Obama is paying for her trip out of private funds. Nonetheless, she has ignited controversy over whether it is appropriate to take what some see as a lavish European vacation at a time of prolonged and painful high unemployment.
Not all the costs are reimbursed by the first lady. The Christian Science Monitor reports that 60 hotel rooms were required for her support team. The New York Times says, quote-unquote, "dozens of Secret Service agents" were part of the support team. Travel on an Air Force jet for Mrs. Obama and her official entourage, not including her friends and their daughters, is reported to have cost $160,000. On the trip, the first lady did perform one official function, a courtesy call on the king and queen of Spain, who are vacationing on the Balearics Island of Mallorca.
Question: Why didn't the White House foresee the criticism that the first lady's trip would engender? I ask you, James.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Well, they should have, considering they spent the last two years bashing the rich, bashing the elite and the banks. So what kind of karma is this now that they're going to get hit on their opulent behavior? She goes on this "Eat, pray, love" tour of Spain. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it was a bad idea --
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I think it was a horrible idea.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the way it worked out -- the way it worked out.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In point of fact, it was a bad idea. Do you?
MS. CLIFT: This is mostly the right-wing noise machine. Michelle Obama's image in the eyes of the American people is that she's the real deal. She's got a 66 percent popularity. Most Americans think --
MS. CROWLEY: No.
MS. CLIFT: -- she's entitled to take a vacation.
MS. CROWLEY: Actually --
MS. CLIFT: And she's going to the Gulf Coast this weekend. (Laughs.)
MS. CROWLEY: Actually, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gulf Coast.
MS. CLIFT: Gulf Coast.
MS. CROWLEY: The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that was just released showed that Michelle Obama is down to 50 percent, 16 percent drop from the 66 percent she was at last year. It is a question of hypocrisy, bashing the rich and then going on a very rich trip.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Press, what's the real reason that she went?
MR. PRESS: She wanted to spend some time with her daughter.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.
MR. PRESS: She wanted to have a good time, and she went to Spain. Listen, I've got no problem with it. And if this is all the Republicans have, it's pretty pathetic.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did she go --
MR. PRESS: She's a classy first lady. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know why she went -- the Latino vote in the upcoming election. Yes or no?
MR. PRESS: I don't think she went for political reasons.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Latino vote. The Latinos --
MR. PRESS: But if it helps --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They have a lot of respect for Spain, obviously.
MR. PRESS: If it helps, then it's worth $160,000 for the jet fare.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You betcha.
Issue Four: Steve Slater shoves it.
(Videotaped clip of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, to the tune of "Take This Job and Shove It.")
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On an airline flight from Pittsburgh to New York's JFK Airport this week, Slater decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. As a flight attendant, Slater had immediate access to an overhead intercom with speakers throughout the plane. After an altercation with a passenger on board the JetBlue flight, Slater proceeded to pick up the intercom, curse out the offending passenger, and thanked JetBlue for, quote, "28 great years," unquote. He then deployed the aircraft emergency slide and exited the plane on the slide, but not before grabbing two beers for the road.
STEVEN SLATER: (From videotape.) It's been amazing, the support and the love and everything that's been brought to me and given to me by my community and my friends and the industry.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why has Steven Slater this past week emerged as America's latest folk hero? James.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: John, I'd hate to draw any sweeping conclusion about the American --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Feel free. Feel free.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I hate to do it, but I am going to draw -- maybe America's looking for a little passion. Maybe they're tired of sort of the cool, technocratic attitude they've seen from some of their leaders over the past year, so they're looking for a little fire. Maybe that's it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Frustration.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: I think it has to do with air rage, which is the equivalent of road rage. And anybody who flies today feels it. And we're all keeping ourselves under wraps. I flew Southwest this last week to California and back, and I think the flight attendants were great. Every seat was packed; not a lot of room. But there was a sense of humor. So I have great sympathy for both the flight attendants and the flying public.
And Slater -- some of the passengers on that jet are recalling a different scenario. And I so I think there are more layers to this story.
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah, they are investigating this --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. (Laughs.)
MS. CROWLEY: -- because the stories aren't quite matching up. But what a glorious way to check out. And here's what I think people are really responding to here. The unemployment rate is about 10 percent. For anybody to voluntarily check out of a steady job -- and he's been with JetBlue 15, 20 years, something like that -- to voluntarily just say, "Shove this job; I just can't take it anymore; I hate all of you all on this plane," grab two beers and go, I think a lot of people are kind of craving --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see --
MS. CROWLEY: -- the kind of economy where more people could do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see how JetBlue is playing this?
MR. PRESS: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How weird can you get?
MR. PRESS: I think that people are identifying with him because he did what all of us would like to do -- would have liked to have done. We all fly a lot. And there are a lot of jerks on the planes, and flight attendants have to put up with their rude behavior and their demands and everything. And he finally -- he finally could have taken -- he did, certainly, with a little pizzazz; you know, as you say, grabbed a couple of beers, opened the emergency chute.
MS. CROWLEY: The emergency chute. (Laughs.) MR. PRESS: But here's what I would hope.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That was just too over the top.
MR. PRESS: You know, so he probably ought to be disciplined, maybe fired. But the idea that he would spend some time in jail, I think, is ridiculous. Come on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- don't you think there's a larger lesson to be drawn here? The larger lesson is that this country is seething with frustration and anger. It's a pressure cooker. Don't you get that feeling in the air?
MR. PRESS: I don't want to -- the air. I don't want to draw too large a conclusion, but I do think that we all have our Howard Beale moments.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. PRESS: And most of us suppress it. And he didn't, and we applaud somebody who said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What I'm saying is there's a larger causality here. This is a function of a kind of country we have right now. You look at the people driving on the street and the way they drive. You look at the jaywalking. I mean, there's kind of a disregard of anything that's conformist.
MR. PRESS: So he, again, stands for what we would all like to do but we don't dare do. But, you know, he -- good for him.
MS. CLIFT: He also wants his job back. He says he loves flying.
MR. PRESS: I know. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: And JetBlue has handled it pretty classily.
MR. PRESS: I think so.
MS. CLIFT: They're giving everyone on the flight a $100 coupon.
MS. CROWLEY: That's right. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, yeah.
MS. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, there is another issue here, which is, look, it's a federal crime to screw around on an airplane. Okay, you can't do it. And especially after 9/11, you can't be pulling this kind of stuff. So the situation -- we're all kind of cheering him on here, but I do think JetBlue is doing their investigation, law enforcement as well. MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Are we saying he could end up in Gitmo? Is that what you're implying here? It could take a terrible turn for the worse.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, she's speaking for --
MS. CROWLEY: This is why he's facing seven years in jail.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we all cheering him on? Are we all cheering him on?
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I'm not completely cheering him on.
MR. PRESS: I am.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's being charged with reckless endangerment.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That's right.
MR. PRESS: Wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And worse. And worse.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I want him to handle pressure like Sully did, you know, another airplane example. Handle the pressure. Don't blow up.
MR. PRESS: I just want to say, nobody is --
MS. CLIFT: But that was a little different situation. That was --
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It was a high-pressure --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, he's saluting -- he's saluting Sully.
MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I am saluting Sully. I don't know why you're against him.
MR. PRESS: He's a hero of mine too.
MS. CLIFT: The two are not comparable.
MR. PRESS: But I want to say --
MS. CLIFT: The two are not comparable.
MR. PRESS: I want to know what's happening to this woman who stood up when she's not supposed to stand up. That's a federal crime too. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On behalf of the Group, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those who died in the Alaska plane crash this week. Many of us knew the Alaska senator, Ted Stevens, and worked with him, a courageous lawmaker and committed patriot. May they all rest in peace.