The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Patrick Buchanan, MSNBC; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA); Rich Lowry, National Review Taped: Friday, August 12, 2011 Broadcast: Weekend of August 13-14, 2011
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Bipolar street.
MR. : (From videotape.) We're getting closer to a second recession because we are in the grips of a negative feedback loop.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Monday, the Dow plunged 634 points, the steepest one-day drop in three years, since November, '08. That's the apex of the global economic meltdown. On Tuesday, the market rebounded, gaining back 423 points. On Wednesday, the Dow plummeted again, losing 519 points. On Thursday, the Dow rebounded again, up 423.
This market rollercoaster was tied to Standard & Poor's, S&P, and the downgrading of U.S. credit by the credit rating agency. S&P stripped the U.S. of its perfect rating, AAA, giving it a lower grade of what S&P calls a AA-plus. This S&P downgrade to a AA-plus was the U.S.'s first downgrade in its AAA history. S&P's chairman, John Chambers, says it may take more than a decade before the U.S. gets its AAA status back.
JOHN CHAMBERS (Chairman, S&P): (From videotape.) We've had five governments that lost their AAA that got it back. The amount of time that it took for those five ranged from nine years to 18 years.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This was President Obama's response:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) No matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a AAA country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president initiated the blame game in his address Monday morning. He blamed the S&P downgrade, then blamed the world, blamed the global economic slowdown, blamed the European debt crisis, blamed the Japanese earthquake, blamed the Arab spring, blamed Washington and then blamed Washington's debate over the debt ceiling. But the markets were not swayed. Before the president spoke on Monday, the Dow was down 385. After he spoke on Monday, the Dow closed down 634.
Question: Was Obama's response politically smart for President Obama to do -- to address the nation on Monday afternoon when the markets were open? Pat Buchanan?
PAT BUCHANAN: No, John. It was foolish if he had nothing to say, and he had nothing to say. That's one of the problems. People listened and the market went down right through it. But look, the downgrade and the collapse in the market or, you know, the aerobatics of the market -- they came after the debt ceiling battle, John. The debt ceiling battle was done.
The S&P and all these gyrations -- these are reflections that the Tea Party is right when the Tea Party said, this thing's grossly inadequate for solving the problem. The United States of America, frankly, isn't going to default, as Alan Greenspan said. We can spend all the money or print all the money we need in order to prevent a default.
But what we're going to do is we're going to destroy the value of the dollar solely through the Federal Reserve, and that's how we're going to get rid of this thing. But this worldwide collapse, John -- this is coming about because of two big things. The United States, it looks like, is headed into a double-dip recession, and this horrendous crisis in Europe from Greece to Portugal to Ireland went to Spain and Italy and has now gone to France.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor? ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, Pat has a unique way of grading. He says the Tea Party is right. The Tea Party helped to bring about the catastrophe of the debt deal that we ended up with because it wouldn't go along with any of the compromises. And I think it's plummeting in the polls and the general reaction to the Tea Party is evidence of that.
The president was correct in his instincts to go out there and say something, but what he needed to say was, look at where the money in the world is going. They're buying U.S. treasuries. The U.S. credit is still good. And that would have deflected from this notion that somehow, S&P is the word of god. In fact, S&P is one of three ratings agencies.
And you have Moody's -- the chief stockholder is Warren Buffett -- and he said if there were a AAAA rating, he would give it to the U.S. So the S&P judgment, I think, is really flawed. But all the other things that you listed there, I think the president calls them headwinds. (Chuckles.) There are lots of headwinds and this president does need to get a better grip on what's happening. He's too reactive.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, we're hearing from you, Eleanor, but let's hear from an eminent public servant and a revered Democrat who you know, Ed Rendell, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee some years ago, two-term governor of Pennsylvania. Governor Rendell, what did you think about President Obama's address on Monday?
FORMER GOVERNOR ED RENDELL (D-PA): I thought he just gave us words. He's got to give us specifics, he's got to give us details and he's got to lead.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's got to lead. What do you think of that?
RICH LOWRY: No, that's absolutely right. Look, this is the problem: He's the president of the United States, president of a country with a real debt problem, just suffered this national humiliation of having our debt downgraded for the first time. And he has no plan to deal with it.
He maintains he has a secret $3 to $4 trillion plan that he won't dare write it down on paper or he won't dare advocate for it because he knows if there are actually serious entitlement savings in such a plan, he'll suffer a serious revolt from his own party. And so he plays this cute, little partisan game where he claims to have a plan but he won't tell us what it is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort?
MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN: Well, a very serious problem. We're facing a huge debt going forward. Forget what our national debts are going backwards; going forward, for the next half-a-dozen years, we're looking at $8 trillion added to the current debt levels and there's no political system that we have or political leadership that we have that's going to address those issues. So in my judgment, S&P was perfectly within their rights and purviews to do that. But the real problem is we have a huge debt in this country that is ultimately, as Erskine Bowles says, the most predictable crisis in American history. It's going to break our financial system if we don't do something about it, and we're not doing anything about it at this stage of the game. And that's why the president, in a sense, when he comes -- he either should have spoken before the markets opened or after the markets opened. He had nothing to say, and it just -- because he had nothing to say and because they have an expectation --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who are his advisors? Why did they let him go out there?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll tell you, I don't know who let him go out there. Whoever did it, it was a mistake. The market dropped 300 points after he spoke. If this is the kind of pep talk he gives, believe me, I don't want to hear those pep talks.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, to everybody -- to everybody.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear what Rendell said?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, of course. Rendell --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His words has no meaning.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I happen to have met with Rendell last week and he's trying to develop a national infrastructure bank program to get the economy moving again. I mean, they're all so frustrated because we have no effective way of dealing not only with --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rendell says he can't lead. He's not leading.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. A lot of people are saying that, John.
MR. BUCHANAN: The truth is, John, the United States of America is not going to pay back its debts -- its $14 trillion, or as Mort says, $22 trillion by 2020 -- in dollars of the same value that we're borrowing right now. We simply are not going to do that. Look at gold. It was at $1800. With regard to Rendell, those guys want to pivot and go to jobs. He's got a $2 trillion program of something like $200 billion -- where are we going to borrow the money when we've got this horrendous debt?
MS. CLIFT: But the president has an infrastructure bank proposal on the Hill. He has an assortment of proposals. He's got to package them together, punch through, make the American people understand he has serious proposals out there and not have this defeatist attitude that because the Republicans don't want to spend any money, therefore, you can't introduce anything. He's got to push it through and if they want to obstruct then the American people will see the clear division and will fight it out next year in November.
MR. LOWRY: Even for the sake of argument, if you stipulate that these are worthy ideas -- patent reform, infrastructure bank, the trade deals -- no one can seriously believe that these are proposals equal to the vastness of our economic problem and the job crisis.
MS. CLIFT: I'm for doing more.
MR. LOWRY: These are drops in the bucket.
MS. CLIFT: Are your Republicans for doing more?
MR. LOWRY: Well, President Obama shot his bolt intellectually and politically with a stimulus program that was misapplied, that was misspent and that was wasted, and now he's intellectually and politically bankrupt. That's what we saw on Monday.
MS. CLIFT: It saved us from a depression.
MR. LOWRY: No, it didn't. No, it didn't.
MS. CLIFT: It didn't propel us into a robust recovery but your folks don't want to do anymore and you just want to hammer away at the president for not doing anything.
MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor, there's a reason why they can't do any more. We've got this horrendous debt. It is killing everybody all over the world. And every time you guys come up with a jobs program, it's, we want to borrow another $500 billion.
MS. CLIFT: The debt's not killing people. The lack of jobs and growth are killing people.
MR. BUCHANAN: The debt is what the problem is, going all over the world. It's what's taking us down.
MS. CLIFT: Are they rioting in London because of the deficit? They're rioting in London because of the cuts.
MR. BUCHANAN: The austerity, and you've got the austerity because of the debt. MS. CLIFT: The cuts, Patrick, not the debt.
MR. BUCHANAN: When do you have austerity? The debt!
MS. CLIFT: Cuts. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Does President Obama's intervening speech on Monday help, hurt or have no impact on his re- election? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it hurts badly because nobody thinks Barack Obama has the answers and nobody thinks the guy is a leader. I think a lot of people who are Democrats -- liberal Democrats behind him -- they're starting to give up on him, that he cannot lead in a crisis.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, he gave reputation and gravity underneath the S&P statement, and they were already fined, what, a couple of trillion dollars -- the Treasury Department found a $2 trillion error. I mean, why did he dignify them the way he did in addressing them?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her in, let her in.
MS. CLIFT: The speech bombed. The election is more than a year away. This is a smart guy. He's going to retool. He's going to raise the level of his game, come September. He's not going to let everybody just languish for a year-and-a-half.
MR. LOWRY: The speech doesn't hurt in the long term. What hurts in the long term is he will be known forevermore as the downgrade president.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's -- I mean -- but I think the speech did hurt. I think it showed -- there was such a triviality to it, saying we're a AAA-plus nation. That's a high school cheer, you know? I mean, we're facing the biggest crisis we've had since the Great Depression and that's the best we get in the middle of a day? So I don't think it helped his reputation as a leader, nor as somebody who had a real program to deal with the problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, he looked like he was straining at a gnat -- G-N-A-T.
MR. BUCHANAN: Why should a rating system, you know, require his going out to address that?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He dignified a ratings system that was already hit by the Treasury Department as being defective. He gave it status by magnifying its importance. (Cross talk.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Rick Rising.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R-TX): (From videotape.) I love this country deeply. Indeed, the only thing that you love more is the living Christ. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Texas Republican governor Rick Perry at a prayer assemblage last week in Houston's Reliant Stadium, rallied a crowd of 30,000 evangelical Christians. The event was planned more than a year ago with Governor Perry helping organize it and serve as the public face of the rally.
The evangelical Christians and the born-again Christians, together, constitute -- get this -- 26 percent of the national electorate. The evangelical Christians share, alone, of the national vote in 2010's midterm was 30 percent. So Rick Perry is now in, and his star is rising. He's only 3 points behind the front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Romney is polling at 21 percent; Perry at 18 percent.
Perry's strength -- get this -- Texas is booming and Perry has been governor of Texas for 11 years. He assumed the governorship when it was vacated by George W. Bush when W. became president. As governor, Perry balanced the state budget and has been re-elected governor three times. In the 2010 governor's race last year, Perry garnered -- get this -- 55 percent of the vote, a big win.
Today, Texas' economy is the second-largest in the nation, second only the California, ahead of New York State. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that since June, 2009, Texas added 265,000 net jobs out of 722,200 nationwide. That's 37 percent of all new U.S. jobs in the last 25 months.
GOV. PERRY: (From videotape.) There is still a place where opportunity looms large in this country, and that place is called Texas. Texas! Texas! (Cheers, applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This weekend, Governor Perry travels to three states with critical early primary contests: South Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa. Question: Who has a stronger political base: Mitt Romney or Rick Perry? Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, we don't know whether Perry will pass the normal reviews of a national press corps looking into every aspect of his career, but I will say this: He has done the best job and that state has done the best job in terms of creating an environment that was attractive to business and jobs and the economic development. I think he -- as you say, it's not just the last couple years where he -- he's created something like 40 percent of all the jobs in America for the last five years in Texas. So that is going to be appealing at a time when we have a huge unemployment in the country, and in that sense, in terms of the country being interested in economic development, they see this as another alternative to what we're getting out of Washington.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with Mort, Rich?
MR. LOWRY: That will be his narrative. That's his strongest point. He be able to steal some establishment support from Romney, Tea Party and evangelical support from Bachmann and step on Pawlenty's message of being the governor with results.
The problem is -- and this isn't a problem in the Republican primary; it's a problem looking ahead -- is can you elect another Texas governor? And George W. Bush was a Texas evangelical who went out of his way to really soften his appeal in every way in 2000. Perry feels no need to do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of the turnout that he got at the stadium?
MR. LOWRY: It's impressive.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's phenomenal. The evangelicals, John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of the evangelicals.
MR. BUCHANAN: Rich is right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two kinds of evangelicals there.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, yeah, but here's the thing: What Perry has that Romney doesn't is intensity. He can bring those people out. He will do extremely well in the Sun Belt and those areas. His problem is, if he does get the nomination, can a guy with these credentials and this kind of persona do well in Pennsylvania and Ohio?
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, he's Bush III coming back as Elmer Gantry. I mean, there's kind of an almost huckster quality to this guy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How far back is Elmer Gantry?
MS. CLIFT: Well, not as far back as Vaughn Monroe. Monroe, who we were talking about earlier. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My favorite --
(Cross talk.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who was the author of the book?
MS. CLIFT: Oh, I don't remember that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, that's enough on that, then. Exit question: Will Rick Perry go the distance? Will he be in contention for the nomination -- not win it, but in contention?
MR. BUCHANAN: He'll be in contention from the very day he announces.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And maybe win it.
MR. BUCHANAN: Maybe.
MS. CLIFT: He's in contention. I could see him in the number two spot. I don't see him as the nominee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. LOWRY: Certainly in contention but unlikely as the nominee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He'll be one of the top two contenders, is the way I would put it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the other contender, Mitt?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Romney, Romney.
MR. BUCHANAN: Michele Bachmann, I think, is competitive with Perry. I wouldn't write her off.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please. Really?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, no, no, no. I don't think she has a chance around the country --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He will be in the lineup, in contention. Issue three: London falling?
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: (From videotape.) This is criminality, pure and simple, and it has to be confronted and defeated.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fight back. That's what the people of London are doing this week against the rioters. The violence first began last week after London police shot and killed a father of four, allegedly without provocation. What started as a peaceful protest against a police killing turned into riotous violence with houses and shops robbed, looted, set on fire. At least four have died due to the riots. Hundreds have been arrested, the vast majority of whom are juveniles, the youngest being 11 years old. PRIME MIN. CAMERON: (From videotape.) When we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The prime minister upped the number of police officers on London's streets by 10,000 from 6,000 to 16,000.
Besides metropolitan London, the revolts spread to a number of other cities throughout England, notably Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool. The riots have undertones of race and class. They have happened here in the U.S. -- notably the race riots of the 1960s, especially in Los Angeles in the 1992 riots.
Hundreds of U.S. cities, from Mobile, Alabama, to Chicago have had curfews on the books largely ignored. Last Monday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced that his city will be enforcing the curfew laws after mobs of juveniles appearing out of nowhere attacked random strangers and vandalized stores. His message to the juvenile delinquents was very pointed and very frank:
PHILADELPHIA MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: (From videotape.) You damage yourself. You damage another person. You damage your peers. And quite honestly, you damage your own race.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are the riots in London the beginning of a worldwide trend, Eleanor Clift?
MS. CLIFT: I certainly would hope not. I think, I mean, you could argue that this is the rise of the dispossessed around the world, but I think more specifically, the riots in London occur against a backdrop of economic austerity, ethnic tensions and bad police work.
And for all the troubles we have in this country with immigration and with the disparity in income, we have nowhere near the tensions we have in London, and that's why we're not seeing a summer like this, and I'm grateful for that. And Cameron has invited the former New York City police commissioner, Bill Bratton, over there to consult, to figure out what to do. So you know, they're looking to us for leadership on this.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, we have a phenomenon in America called flash mobs. They've been coming all summer -- as a matter of fact, for a year. Out there at the Iowa State Fair last year, it was "beat whitey night." There are guys -- young men who come together, predominantly minority folks, beating up people, robbing. It's happened six times here in Washington, D.C. But what's happening in Europe -- you're seeing there, John -- first, it's the lack of assimilation of the Third World people that have been brought in, in the millions over there. Austerity has something to do with it. The banlieues of Paris, six years ago, went up in flames. They burned up something like 10,00 cars. Welcome to the future.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm not hearing what I want to hear, here -- why these things are taking off. What's at the base of it? Social networking!
MR. LOWRY: Well, yeah, that's the way they communicate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Movable platforms, getting -- you know, the same thing happens here.
MR. LOWRY: I reject the idea that austerity has anything to do with it. The idea these kids are on the street because people are talking about closing libraries early is absurd. And the foremost cause of this was poor policing because when it started to break out, if the police had felt the moral permission from society to crack down as harshly as they should have, you could have snuffed it out right from the beginning.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll give you five second, Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The other thing is that the integration of racial minorities in Europe has a long, long way to go and adds a huge amount of tension. And it goes both ways. I mean, I've seen police beat up people from racial minorities all across Europe, in Paris and London. The police work has got a long way to go. Bratton will be terrific.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Facilitating the mob are collecting-gathering and strategy through the computer is what's enabling this, perhaps more than anything. Issue four: Chinook down.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Their loss is a stark reminder of the risks that our men and women in uniform take every single day on behalf of their country. Day after day, night after night, they carry out missions like this in the face of enemy fire and grave danger.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The nation mourned this week over the 30 U.S. soldiers who were killed last Saturday in Afghanistan. The soldiers were in a low-flying, massive Chinook cargo helicopter. A Taliban fighter used a rocket to propel a hand grenade to shoot down the helicopter. Seventeen (17) Navy SEALs, the U.S.'s elite military unit, were among the dead.
The perpetrators of the attack, including the actual trigger person who fired the rocket, have since been killed. It was the largest loss of U.S. life in a single attack since the Afghan War began in 2001, 10 years ago. The Afghanistan military involvement is the longest war in U.S. history. It is also very unpopular. Fifty-five (55) percent of Americans believe the U.S. should not be fighting in Afghanistan. The toll of the dead is massive. U.S. killed: 1,624. U.S. dollars spent: $450 billion -- almost half-a-trillion dollars, now a billion dollars a week. Question: Is the war in Afghanistan a political plus or a political minus for President Obama's re-election? I ask you, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, basically, the president is in a box. But I don't think it hurts him because the Republicans aren't going to attack him. Republicans took us in there. President Bush did. Barack Obama has put in extra troops -- something like 67,000. But the problem is, I think, that the president is going to try to get beyond 2012 before most of the troops come out. But he's going to withdraw 33,000 by next September -- the September after this one -- and the question is, are we going to take a lot more casualties between now and then with that drawdown?
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I don't see in any way that this is a plus for President Obama. But in the Republican debate, questions about Afghanistan really didn't generate any controversy. And Mitt Romney basically supported the withdrawal timetable. He faulted the president for hurrying it up a little to precede the 2012 election, but basically, they're in agreement. And so, you know, the Republicans are not the war party here, and that's a big change.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does President Obama want for Afghanistan?
MR. LOWRY: I think he wants a decent result and to get the surge troops out before the election without a major deterioration of conditions. But it's really, John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he wants to wait until the Afghans have assumed Afghan control of the government and seats in the government. He wants a stable situation. He does not want to remove American forces in defeat because, I think, arguing from a political point of view, he sees that as counter-constructive to his becoming the president again for a second term.
MR. LOWRY: Well, I think, going to Eleanor's point, this is all on him. There's zero support for this war among Democrats. There is Republican support, which is lukewarm, and you can see it weakening. But Congress isn't going to force his hand, so it's all up to him. And I think after all this blood and treasure has been spent, it would be a tragedy to rush our exit in a way that throws away the gains that you have seen in the south of the country at a great price.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that sounds very high-minded, but by law, we're all entitled to our lives. If you want to send men into battle where we're losing at this rate, you've got a serious problem on your hands. I don't think you can do that.
MR. LOWRY: Well, you do it if the national interest is at stake, and President Obama -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, really? Oh, really? How is that defined? How is that defined? That means you must have an imminent threat to your national security. Afghanistan is no -- it's not even a threat to our national security.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, Obama is waiting until --
MR. LOWRY: September 11th emanated from Afghanistan.
You're right: Al-Qaida is not in Afghanistan now because we are in Afghanistan now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You need a national threat to expose our life and limb of any American in a military situation, such as that -- the equivalent of war.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: President Obama described it as a war of necessity, rather than a war of choice, as the cliche goes. And I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the war there is used metaphorically. It's not a war.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it is a war when you have the number of troops and the number of efforts that are going into it.
MR. LOWRY: Of course it's a war.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't know what else you'd call a war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think there is a grave moral issue here besides the economics of it and so forth.
MR. BUCHANAN: If you walk out, there will be a massacre, and that's what's going to happen down the road.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's the issue -- when we are going to go out. This is going to contribute to it. The country doesn't support it. And frankly, the Democrats aren't going to stay in, come next year's election. But the question is, how do we get out?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: Angela Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron have all said multiculturalism has failed in Europe, John. There's going to be a dramatic reassessment of the entire idea.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: The Senate Banking Committee will discover manipulation -- political manipulation and chicanery behind the S&P downgrade of the U.S. debt. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rich?
MR. LOWRY: We'll see QE3 from the Fed in a couple months.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: QE3 -- mystery words. What's that?
MR. LOWRY: Another round of quantitative easing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: After the first couple of primaries, Tim Pawlenty will pull out of the race and hope to get a number two position on the Republican ticket.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Karl Rove's American Crossroads could unseat three Democratic senators: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana. Bye-bye.