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The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, December 9, 2011 Broadcast: Weekend of December 10-11, 2011

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Newtiny.

FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER AND 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): (From videotape.) This may be the most important election since 1860. Eight years of Barack Obama would be a disaster. I am going to ask you to be with me, because together we have to stand shoulder to shoulder.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Newt Gingrich is less than a month away from the first contest of the Republican presidential season, Iowa, January 3, the Iowa caucus. The former Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has a 14-point lead in Iowa over former Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney -- Gingrich, 31 percent; Romney, 17 percent. Gingrich is now the number one choice of the Republican Party. But that doesn't mean that all Republicans are pleased with Gingrich. Some Republicans who served under Gingrich when he was speaker of the House don't like him at all. In fact, they have recently slammed him. Here's New York Republican Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Gingrich.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R-NY): (From videotape.) He's too erratic. He's too self-centered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here is the current Oklahoma senator and former U.S. congressman from Oklahoma's 2nd district, Tom Coburn, M.D.

SENATOR TOM COBURN (R-OK): (From videotape.) I'm not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich's, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership. I just found his leadership lacking.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why don't more of Newt's former congressional colleagues support his candidacy for president? James Pethokoukis.

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: The folks who know him the best seem to like him the least. They found him to be an undisciplined, untrustworthy leader back in the `90s. And the fear is that if he's Republican nominee, he will lead the party to a calamitous defeat in an election that is very winnable.

ELEANOR CLIFT: Right. Everyone in Washington has a story about Newt Gingrich. Some people have 10 stories. And his Republican colleagues tried to overthrow him when he was speaker. But this is shaping up to be sort of a classic confrontation between what's left of the establishment Republican Party and the rank and file. And so you have one candidate that the rank and file doesn't like in Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney may very well have a glass jaw.

And then you've got Gingrich, who basically the establishment doesn't like, and he lives in a glass house. I mean, he is so vulnerable. And so it's fascinating. But if they don't stop him in New Hampshire, it's hard to see where they do stop him. And that's where you see all these establishment Republicans coming out and trying to really hurt Newt. But the --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Of course, it's a year where the establishment -- where voters don't care what the establishment care about right now.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly. Republican voters --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He'll wear their scorn as a badge of honor. SUSAN FERRECHIO: It doesn't matter what the establishment thinks. Look at the polls. He's winning over the hearts and minds of voters. He's trouncing Romney in the polls right now -- the worst possible moment for Romney and the best possible moment for him. So it may not matter at all about all these various attacks from people he's worked with over the years. What matters is if he's going to win the primary through the voters.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Were you there at the editorial board meeting with Romney? Was Romney there physically with you this week?

MS. FERRECHIO: Yes. Yes. He came and talked to the Examiner, and he told us that he felt he had a chance at still winning the nomination, but looking at this thing as a long-term -- kind of a marathon. Maybe he won't win the early primary states, but he feels he can pick up enough delegates down the road to win the nomination. But if you look at the polls, even the polls for states further down the road, like Colorado, Gingrich is still beating him by double digits.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he talk about consensus and the role of consensus in politics?

MS. FERRECHIO: He suggested that he was better at building consensus as a business leader, as someone who ran the Olympics, a former governor. And he suggested that Gingrich, in his past experiences as speaker of the House, was less able to do that. So he's not really coming out and accusing him that way, but certainly his surrogates are. They're calling, you know, Newt Gingrich a bomb throw that's not going to be someone who can lead Washington and pass new laws.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you ask Romney why he has disappeared from the scene, for all practical purposes?

MS. FERRECHIO: He said that he wanted to limit his exposure, because if he gets out there too much in the early days, people will get tired of him. And so now we're going to be seeing a lot more of him. He's going to be doing talk shows. You're going to see more campaign ads. You're going to see him take the gloves off. That's what he suggested to us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean he thinks and they think that they might run out of material since they've -- what have they got, 11 months to go before this contest?

MS. FERRECHIO: He didn't want -- he said he didn't want voters to get tired of him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that inevitable, do you think, Mort, that this is really going to be a wickedly boring process, that they're going to be repeating their lines? We haven't even hit January yet; February, March, April, May, June, July and on to do -- MORT ZUCKERMAN: I don't know why you think it's boring. I think it's fascinating.

MS. CLIFT: Boring it's not. (Laughs.

)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But how long will it be that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- it's going to go on forever. Who knows? This thing is unfolding in ways nobody predicted. You know, you've had Herman Cain. Did anybody expect that? You know, Michele Bachmann, who came to the top for a while. Everybody thought Jon Huntsman would be a successful candidate. He isn't. So who knows how it's going to play. We're going to get the first taste of it when people actually vote instead of just polls.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Gingrich's opponents, as has been pointed out to some extent here, are attacking the former speaker's personal history, namely his three marriages and his affair with a congressional staffer in the 1990s, who later became his third wife, Callista Gingrich. Mitt Romney released this ad to distinguished himself from Gingrich.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR AND 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MITT ROMNEY (R): (From videotape.) I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy. I don't think you're going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I've been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me; I'll get in trouble -- for 42 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a moving ad, don't you think, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: This election year is about wealth inequality and about job creation, and I don't think it's really about family values so much, because if it was, you wouldn't have Newt Gingrich vying for -- well, he is the front runner, but vying for the nomination, plus the fact evangelical Christians, who make up a large part of the Iowa electorate, love a story of redemption. I mean, Newt can say he's converted to Catholicism. He is close to his children and his grandchildren. And Mitt Romney, after all, is a Mormon, which is still kind of a conflict with certain voters.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: What voters remember about Newt Gingrich and why he excites them is they remember the last time he was in power, he led a revolution, a Republican revolution. And that's what people want now. They want a new Republican revolution. So why not go with the guy who led the last one?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they see him --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, certainly --

MS. CLIFT: -- as an historic figure, which is true.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He sees himself also as an historic figure.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. And they're willing to forgive a lot.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But he also is a fountain of good ideas. Some people may not think so. But they're serious ideas, and he expresses them with a kind of historical context that gives it a lot of credibility. And this country, I think, is looking for somebody very different from what we now have in Washington. And he is that difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard of the Republican Jewish Coalition?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you know that Mr. Romney spoke to them?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How did that go over? And what did he say?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It went over very well, I'd say, for that particular constituency. He was very supportive of Israel. He said that would be the first country he would visit. He's been very supportive of Israel. This is a very important issue for the American Jewish community. So I think, obviously, it went well, particularly since they see Obama as being slightly less than supportive of Israel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he say he would continue to support the vital national interest the United States has --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that went over well.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Very well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Doesn't that mean a lot to Romney nationwide? MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, absolutely. Why not? We do have a national interest, in my judgment, in terms of our alliance with Israel. So what's wrong with that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it also means -- it also means support for his campaign.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, no, no, no. He's -- when you say -- what do you mean, support for his campaign?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you think he's paying for his entire presidential campaign?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Who, Romney?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mean, through the people who have contributed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, in getting donations.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that will --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, listen --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- raise his donations?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- they're all looking for contributors, John. There's no mystery in that. I don't know of any one of them who doesn't, particularly from that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But this --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- particularly from that constituency --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- who are very big.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But so is Gingrich. So is Obama.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're big donors to campaigns.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They've all done it, every one of them. MS. CLIFT: And there's no daylight between Romney and Gingrich when it comes to Israel. And what we saw this week with Romney is that he's willing to say anything about President Obama if he thinks he can make an impact, accusing President Obama of appeasement, which is one of those loaded words. It's actually kind of Newtonian language. It's the kind of bomb-throwing language that Newt usually uses. The president came right back at him and said talk to the folks around bin Laden or the terror network and ask them if I'm an appeaser.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree there's no daylight in the Israeli position of Romney and Gingrich?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I don't think there is. I know at that meeting --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's no Israeli position. Let's get that straight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Israelis don't have a position. They don't take a position on domestic politics. The question is, what does the Jewish community here feel? And I think they're going to choose between --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about foreign policy.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Well, I'll tell you, the one candidate who got a cool reception was Jon Huntsman, because they don't view, I think, that he has quite as vigorous support for Israel as the other candidates.

MS. FERRECHIO: And they didn't even invite Ron Paul. They didn't invite Ron Paul because of his stance about what's -- let's let Israel fend for itself. He couldn't even go.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And oddly, Ron Paul is scoring, I think, at the top of the heap.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, he's doing very well in Iowa, so we cannot discount Ron Paul, particularly in Iowa right now. He has really thrown his resources in there, more than almost any other candidate.

MS. CLIFT: You can discount as a potential nominee --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He's got a very nasty --

MS. CLIFT: -- however. MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He's got a very nasty ad against Newt Gingrich, really doing Romney's work for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. I've let this run over. That's part of my permissive nature.

MS. CLIFT: Right. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a political probability scale, zero to 10, zero meaning zero likelihood, 10 meaning metaphysical certitude -- you got that, Susan? --

MS. FERRECHIO: I got it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- what is the probability that Newt will win Iowa, less than a month away? James Pethokoukis.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It is more likely than not. It is much more likely than not at this point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I'd say 60 percent -- 60 percent plus. Listen, Ron Paul, I think, is the upset special. He's very organized. He has enough money. He's running some tough ads against Gingrich. I think that might be your dark-horse special.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is Herman's vote going?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Well, initially -- a lot of it's going to Gingrich for now. But can he hold it between now and the time of the caucus?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the vote in Iowa is kind of soft for Gingrich, and it does depend on getting the vote out. But he's going to finish in the top one-two-three. And the showdown with Romney will be New Hampshire. If Gingrich can come close to overtaking Romney in New Hampshire, then we've got a real long war. And as Susan said, in a war of attrition, you've got to give Romney an edge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where do you put him? Do you want to give me a number?

MS. CLIFT: A number for what, for the eventual nomination?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Probability.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Probability.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Probability scale --

MS. CLIFT: For the eventual -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that he'll win Iowa.

MS. CLIFT: Win Iowa?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, I think -- I agree with you -- 60, 70 percent.

MS. FERRECHIO: I'd agree with that. I'll give him about a seven out of 10 to take Iowa.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.) But impermanent.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, if he leaves Iowa and it propels him into some -- a near victory or a victory in New Hampshire, he gets South Carolina. He gets Florida. Where's Romney then?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know. I know. I know. But he's got to carry Iowa to do that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll give it an eight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The story is Iowa.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll give it an eight. I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An eight?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. I think Gingrich is going to get stronger and stronger, not weaker and weaker, as we go to the Iowa --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think, when push comes to shove and they have to vote up there in Iowa and they realize the importance of that --

MS. FERRECHIO: He just opened his first office in Iowa.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of that primary --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he's raising a lot of money now, which he didn't have before. He's going to have a much better organization. He's the one with the momentum. He's got the energy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think I'd give it an eight out of 10.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is five.

Issue Two: Channeling Teddy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here to Osawatomie and he laid out his vision for what he called a new nationalism. Our country, he said, means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama gave a major speech in the heartland this week, Osawatomie, Kansas, the same town where, in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt called for a new nationalism against robber barons, against cartels and against monopolies.

Roosevelt's new nationalism was labeled the, quote-unquote, "Square Deal."

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Now, for this Roosevelt was called a radical. He was called a socialist -- (laughter) -- even a communist. But today we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign -- an eight-hour workday and a minimum wage for women -- (applause) -- insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly and those with disabilities, political reform and a progressive income tax.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did President Obama sound more like Teddy Roosevelt or more like Hugo Chavez?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, John. (Laughs.)

MS. FERRECHIO: It's important to point out, too, when --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A big socialist. Go ahead.

MS. FERRECHIO: -- when Roosevelt delivered that speech, he was no longer president. He was running again for president, and he lost. So this whole idea that that was a great idea for him to channel this speech -- I think, if anything, it's hard to relate to that. He keeps going on to this what's fair, you know. And fairness to him is raising taxes on a certain segment of the population. I don't think that's really a popular idea.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's worse --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It may have been the worst speech by a modern American president since Jimmy Carter's malaise speech. If you read that speech, over and over he said the last few decades we've done this wrong; the last few decades we've done that wrong. What he is arguing for is a reversal of 30 years of economic policy in this country of low taxes, light regulation, which saved this country in 1980 from the abyss. He's saying get rid of it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the other thing is he is trying to channel the frustration and anger of this population, which now is lodged against his administration, and blaming it on the past and taking over -- as if he had no responsibility for the economic problems we are having today. His government is the most incompetent government that we've had in a long time --

MS. CLIFT: All right --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- in terms exactly of their public policies dealing with the economy. And he cannot escape that, and they know it.

MS. CLIFT: When we --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Just a minute. Let me finish, OK?

Here's a man who introduces a health care bill just when the whole country is focusing on the economy. It's his health care bill. He expands the coverage, doesn't take care of reducing the cost of the health care bill. And Stanford and UCLA-Berkeley did a study and they showed that that kind of regulatory insecurity has cost 2 million jobs to this economy. That's because this man was following what he wanted to do, regardless of where the country was. I could give you another half a dozen examples of that.

MS. CLIFT: Are we finished?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's -- no, I am not finished yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. I want to ask you a question.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He made it worse.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a doctrinaire. Would you say that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, he is, of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's very committed to a big central government policy.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely. It's his level of government involvement in the economy that has completely undermined the confidence of the entire business community in what he is about. So --

MS. CLIFT: There is another view on this panel and there is --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We know that.

MS. CLIFT: -- another view in this country. First of all, comparing him to Chavez is totally out of bounds.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, meaning that Chavez -- MS. CLIFT: If he were --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- runs everything at the state level.

MS. CLIFT: If he were a socialist, he would have nationalized the banks. We wouldn't have the insurance companies in the middle of health care reform and we wouldn't be putting foreign troops abroad. We would bring them home. So he's not a socialist.

He's appropriately channeling Teddy Roosevelt because this is another moment in American life where the robber-baron elements of the population is doing exceptionally well and other people are not. And you have a real sense of a lack of fairness. And if you're looking at the health care policy, actually they just released a survey this last week that people on Medicare are actually saving money because of some of the reforms they put in. This health care --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Health care costs have gone up 13 percent this year -- 13 percent.

MS. CLIFT: Well, his -- his plan has not yet --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll say.

MS. CLIFT: -- doesn't go into effect until 2014, when there will be competition. Insurance companies are taking advantage of things now.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Was anything in that speech --

MS. CLIFT: This speech --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Was there anything about creating wealth --

MS. CLIFT: People of my ilk --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: -- other than redistributing it? That's very easy to redistribute it. You just take it and give it to someone else. But you eventually run out of other people's money.

MS. CLIFT: We've already --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Eventually you run out of other people's money. And then what do you do?

MS. CLIFT: We've already --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He has no ideas for that.

MS. CLIFT: We've already redistributed wealth upwards, and all the numbers show that.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: That's completely wrong. That's absolutely wrong. MS. CLIFT: And people of my ilk -- and frankly, I'm more representative of the country than I am on this panel --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Wealth -- wealth distribution in this country --

MS. CLIFT: -- sees this as --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: -- is more evenly distributed now than at any time in American history.

MS. CLIFT: -- see this as a declaration of the coming campaign against a Republican Congress that has cynically tried to block every job-creation measure this president has attempted to take.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of ratings is President Obama getting, James Pethokoukis?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: What kind of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what kind of ratings, his popularity as president?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Listen, he's been on --

MS. CLIFT: It's in the 40s.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He's been on the class warfare populist kick for months.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has he dropped from 44 -- from 48 to 44 percent?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He is stuck. He's stuck in the low 40s, going nowhere -- 43, 44. That's it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, now -- MR. ZUCKERMAN: The lowest approval rating --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It's not working. America has a wide -- has a wider aspirational --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask you a question. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson was faced with the Vietnam War, and he decided that he would not seek a second term.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he went on television and he said I will not seek nor will I accept the nomination --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for another term in the office of presidency.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Obama is entertaining anything like that --

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- if the polls continue to drop --

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- let us say, beyond the 30 -- below the 30 level?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Having supported him and voted for him, I have to say I wish he would entertain not running for a second term. I don't think there's the slightest chance, not the slightest chance in heaven or hell, that he will not run for a second term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he could take an international route, because he knows these heads of state? He gets on with them. They like him. He does well for us in those international settings, like Honolulu. Unfortunately, Americans don't care about trade.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You speak --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about taking on the problem of our debt in the United States being a -- not a byproduct, but being part of a much larger phenomenon, namely the whole planet is in debt?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's overleveraged, yes.

MS. CLIFT: Right. (Laughs.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: True or false?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's a global problem.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why can't there be a convocation, a serious convocation that will stay in existence, have energy, and have mandatory power to do something or face up to it and come up with some kind of a solution?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I believe that Obama does not have great credibility when it comes to reducing debt. He has great credibility for increasing our debts and increasing our deficits, but not for reducing it. So I don't think he'd be the best player that we could send to that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then what about his diplomatic skills in dealing and getting --

MS. CLIFT: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the fruit of the wisdom of all of these --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: He brought Congress together.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: If he could only work the same magic globally that he's worked in Washington.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask you one central question. Can we get out of our situation if there is not an improvement in the world economy?

MS. CLIFT: We are very dependent on Angela Merkel and what is happening in Europe. And the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's part of the world.

MS. CLIFT: This president --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the rest. I'm talking about China now facing inflation.

MS. CLIFT: But Newt Gingrich is the only person who fancies himself president of the world. President Obama is going to operate in the system that he's in. He's up for the fight. This is the month that unemployment dropped a lot of the other numbers, like durable goods and the things that people in the know talk about. The economy is actually looking a bit better. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I've got one quick --

MS. CLIFT: And it will be a choice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One quick question.

MS. CLIFT: And if it's Romney or Gingrich, this president is in very good position to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you ever heard of the World Federalist Society?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I think so. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's still in existence. You know, they claim that there is such a thing as world federalism. Do you think that that is ridiculous on its face, that sovereignty can never give way to that kind of federalism?

MS. CLIFT: When you have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that?

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: I'm not --

MS. CLIFT: When you have --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You cannot --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're over there talking to Obama --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Bring the European technocrats? Bring them over here?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: In Europe you have a great deal of difficulty in getting the European governments, in a state of great crisis, giving away any of the sovereignty they have to increase --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This panel is coming up dry.

Issue Three: Plan B for Plan B?

SUSAN WOOD (Former FDA official): (From videotape.) I had expected it to be a better day for good news for women and access to emergency contraception, and this has been a very disappointing day. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan Wood is a former official with the Food & Drug Administration. She is talking here about the morning after bill, the pill that has been called the Plan B pill. Plan B is a pill that can be taken within 72 hours after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.

Supporters of Plan B call it emergency contraception. Opponents call it, quote-unquote, the abortion pill. A battle is raging over Plan B, and President Obama this week stepped right into the middle of it. His Cabinet office, namely Health and Human Services, announced this week that women under the age of 17 would be prohibited from buying the contraceptive Plan B unless they had a prescription from a medical doctor; i.e., no over-the-counter sale for young women.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that women under the age of 17 run the risk of using Plan B as a regular form of birth control. That usage would drastically increase hormone levels in women, increasing the risk of infertility and cancer.

Quote: "The switch from prescription to over the counter for this product requires that we have enough evidence to show that those who use this medicine can understand the label and use the product appropriately. I do not believe that Plan B met that standard," unquote.

OK, so much for the Health and Human Services cabinet of President Obama. Now we have the Food & Drug Administration, the FDA, which is independent, unlike Health and Human Services. The FDA ruled that Plan B should be sold to women under 17 years of age without a prescription.

That ruling of the FDA was overruled by the White House in an unprecedented decision. Mr. Obama said that, notwithstanding the Food & Drug Administration, the contraceptive Plan B may not be sold to any woman under the age of 17 unless they have a prescription.

Question: Did the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, tee up this whole HHS-versus-FDA clash as a softball for Mr. Obama to bat out of the stadium? In other words, Sebelius reversed the FDA and Mr. Obama got to make a conservative values statement to connect with parents that will win him a lot of votes?

MS. CLIFT: Well, you're hitting on the fact that it's good politics, especially going into an election year, because a lot of people out there think it's common sense that you wouldn't want young adolescent girls to have access to this. And I think she makes a good argument on the health sides.

The truth is, this isn't about 10- and 11-year-olds. I think 1 percent of them are sexually active. It's about 15- and 16-year-olds, and more than half of them are sexually active. And so, on the merits, the FDA made the right decision. But politically, going into this campaign, it would have opened the door to a wedge issue that the Republicans could use against the president. As the father of these young girls, he also would like to believe -- (laughs) -- that if you don't allow this kind of access, somehow you're keeping this protective bubble around your children. So it's a popular decision, I think, in suburban America.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: First of all, on the merits, it's the right -- it's the right decision, because there's no evidence that these sorts of products do anything to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies. It's like -- listen, it's like when you wear a seat belt when you're driving a car. It actually makes -- they've done studies -- it actually makes people drive more recklessly than if they did not have the seat belt on.

And on the political side of it, I'm sure he was very concerned about preteens, especially those preteens living in Ohio -- I mean, I'm sorry, the parents of those preteens who live in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania, who will be key voters in the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no substantiation about the pharmaceutical merits of this pill?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, yes, there is.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, there is. Yes, there is.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: It does not reduce it, because -- no, it does not reduce it, because it encourages kids to have more sex because they know that's out there.

(Cross talk.)

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: There's no evidence. I am absolutely right on the evidence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know what discourages that? The dosage costs $50 per dose.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: You don't think kids have $50?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifty dollars to --

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: You don't think kids have $50? They have -- trust me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is your experience? You have eight kids.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: (Laughs.) Trust me, if my kids want to find $50 to go buy a video game, they can find the $50. MS. FERRECHIO: It was smart politically, very smart move politically. I don't know if he was teed up necessarily, if it was that sophisticated an effort there, but certainly a good move on his part to say he endorses the decision, because, like Eleanor said, it just would have been another wedge issue, even though everyone's focused on the economy. He doesn't need to give any more, you know, tools to the Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. James.

MR. PETHOKOUKIS: Europe will go into a deep recession, which will drag the United States into a recession as well in 2012.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Angela Merkel will come through and Europe will limp along, and the U.S. economy will get better leading up to the election in November `12.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.

MS. FERRECHIO: Newt Gingrich will maintain his double-digit lead going into the Iowa caucus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If either Romney or Gingrich gets the nomination, they will both ask Christie to be their vice presidential company.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn was framed to deny him the presidency of France. That will become known and accepted wisdom.

Bye-bye.

END.