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The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Pat Buchanan, MSNBC; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Rich Lowry, National Review; Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune Taped: Friday, February 3, 2012 Broadcast: Weekend of February 4-5, 2012

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Romney's Rout.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R) (Republican presidential candidate.): (From videotape.) Thank you to the people in this room and to the people all over Florida. Thank you tonight for this great victory.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The big winner this week was Mitt Romney. Romney on Tuesday won the Florida Republican primary. He routed his nearest competitor, Newt Gingrich, by 15 points, over a 275,000-vote margin.

But Gingrich also sees himself as the Florida winner. The primary play-out is now a two-person race. Gingrich is banking on getting current supporters of Rick Santorum if he drops out, as well as supporters of Rick Perry and Herman Cain, who already quit, and both endorsed Newt.

Speaker Gingrich says that, notwithstanding this Florida win for Romney, he is in for the long haul.

FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA) (Republican presidential candidate.): (From videotape.) We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Where is the soft spot in Romney's rout? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: If you take a look at the whole north of Florida from the Panhandle almost to the sea, which is south Georgia, basically, and south Alabama, that's tea party, conservative, evangelical. Mitt Romney got wiped out. He has not got the enthusiasm, John, of the heart and soul of the Republican Party. They're not in love with him. That's one problem he's got. He's going to have to rally those folks.

The second is that Newt, despite the fact he's a good Catholic, John, is not following the Catholic admonition not to let the sun set upon your anger. They're going to have to go out to the crossroads at midnight and drive a stake through that guy's heart. (Laughter.) This is going to be a very bad race.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, Romney spent -- it was something like $15 million in Florida burying Gingrich, and it was a very negative race. He didn't have an inspirational close to that campaign. You're right that turnout is down. Republicans are really dispirited.

And then Romney spent the rest of this week stepping all over his victory with his comment that he doesn't really care about poor people and then appearing with Donald Trump, who's sort of the epitome of the rich, when Romney's biggest problem is that he seems like an out-of- touch rich guy. So he -- whatever he gained out of Florida, he managed to take away in terms of any support among independents or even among the Republican base, which didn't like what he said because he seems to support the safety net.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me --

MS. CLIFT: And Republicans don't like that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me pick that up right there.

OK, the Donald and the Mitt. DONALD TRUMP: (From videotape.) It's my honor, real honor and privilege, to endorse Mitt Romney.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) There are some things that you just can't imagine happening in your life. This is one of them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's the political worth of Donald Trump's endorsement of Mitt Romney? I ask you.

RICH LOWRY: Very little. That is the most tepid acceptance of an endorsement you ever -- (laughter) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. He didn't stop with that sentence. You're talking about Romney.

MR. LOWRY: Even that sentence. Look, one reason to do this, John, if you would have turned this endorsement aside, which I think would have been the classy thing to do, he would have had this guy as a fierce critic for the next three months. He can command media attention. He's been playing with the idea of running as an independent. So they decided, look, we'll take the 24-hour hit of standing on -- the embarrassment of standing on a stage with this guy in order to avoid that pain in the future.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember when Oprah endorsed Obama in `08?

CLARENCE PAGE: I certainly do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Oprah endorsement of Obama is greater in impact than --

MR. PAGE: Big difference, John. (Laughter.) I mean, Oprah has a following out there that's like -- I mean, some people joke about how it's like --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about the following in "Apprentice" by Trump?

MR. PAGE: Well, this is the difference. Oprah's is an evangelical following. She's like a spiritual leader to many of her fans. Trump, on the other hand, leads the contingent in the Republican Party that believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya and has a phony Hawaiian birth certificate. And those folks, I don't think, are going to follow his endorsement particularly over to Mitt Romney.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think --

MR. PAGE: In fact, that's the group Pat's talking about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. PAGE: -- there in the base and will be hardest for Mitt Romney to bring along. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much does Trump bring to the picture?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think -- I would disagree to an extent because, look, he is sort of a celebrity figure. He's popular.

He's got a following among people, frankly --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, Pat --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- who don't follow politics. And if they say, you know, if Trump likes him -- so I think it's of marginal help to him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a businessman. Trump is a big businessman, internationally known.

MR. BUCHANAN: We know that, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but if --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what he brings to Romney, in addition to what Romney has going for him.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's got the Trump casino out there. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. And if you're Romney --

MR. BUCHANAN: Evangelicals will -- (laughs) --

MS. CLIFT: If you're Romney and your biggest problem is that you seem to be an out-of-touch rich guy, appearing with Trump, who's also an out-of-touch rich guy, doesn't help. And apparently Trump was bargaining with both the Gingrich camp and the Romney camp over his endorsement, and basically put it to Romney, take it or leave it; it's got to be today.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think --

MR. LOWRY: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: And if Romney can't confront Donald Trump --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My own view is I think Trump is --

MR. LOWRY: I'm surprised he didn't -- (inaudible) -- naming rights on the Romney campaign bus, to put a big "Trump" right on -- MR. BUCHANAN: But, you know, the very fact that Mitt Romney went ahead and said yes tells you that their campaign is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- looking at that, and it does bring something.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You betcha.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it brings something.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I went to Panama, the nation of Panama in Central America, and Trump has put up a brand new building there that's incredible.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's big in Panama.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He owns it, yeah.

MR. PAGE: How many votes are in Panama, John?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The only problem is that the way you get to this, which is kind of a promontory, is -- (inaudible) -- is a two- lane highway, and it frequently gets jammed up and you can't get to where this place is.

MR. BUCHANAN: What were you doing, going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They've got to build a new road out there.

MR. BUCHANAN: What were you doing going to a casino in the first place?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, politically correct or politically incorrect?

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling. And I'll continue to take that message across the nation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did the Democrats distort Romney's words about the very poor? Is this hardball politics or foul-ball politics? Rich Lowry.

MR. LOWRY: Well, they distorted it. You know what he meant. It was still a monumentally stupid statement. It wasn't just a political gaffe. It was substantively and morally obtuse. No conservative believes that the safety net is a good thing for poor people and you can just let them languish in the safety net and everything will be fine. We're all about uplifting the very poor out of that situation. And if Mitt Romney doesn't realize that, he's got to read some Charles Murray very soon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the level of poverty in the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: Fifteen percent.

MR. PAGE: About 15.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifteen percent. How is poor characterized in the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's about $22 (thousand), $23,000. But that excludes food stamps --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no, no --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- free education, Medicaid, all these other benefits.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, $22 (thousand), $23,000?

MR. BUCHANAN: Twenty-three thousand for a family of four.

MR. PAGE: Family of four, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For a family of four. That constitutes poverty.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but --

MR. LOWRY: We spend about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you're using that -- you know, he thinks in these brackets, because he's a businessman. If you use that as the bracket rather than an undefined poor, which we all agree we take care of the poor -- we have to do that; it's moral and it's civic.

MS. CLIFT: But that's not conservative doctrine.

MR. LOWRY: Look, we spend --

MS. CLIFT: It's not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him -- I want to --

MR. LOWRY: We spend $900 billion in all these means-tested safety-net programs. They've been drastically increasing in recent years, partly because of the recession, but they're also projected to continue to increase astronomically. And what we need to do with all these programs is what we did with AFDC -- work requirements to try to get -- because the biggest -- the best -- MS. CLIFT: It's not conservative doctrine --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let him finish. Quickly.

MR. LOWRY: The best way to combat poverty is to get people working.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It's not conservative doctrine to say we're going to take care of the poor, because they feel that's a culture of dependency.

So what Romney did is he stepped over the conservative beliefs. This was a twofer. He alienated independents because of his lack of concern and he alienated conservatives --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. PAGE: And -- and, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So we're not --

MS. CLIFT: Don't lay it off on the Democrats. Gingrich jumped all over it.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but there's a much better question that can be asked, I think.

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's the problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the question is this.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there inequality in the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: There is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And is that to be encouraged or is that -- or do we always --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, equality --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- (inaudible)?

MR. PAGE: John, there is inequality. There's always going to be inequality. But it's now a political issue, because inequality has gotten so great. And one thing that was left out is that the Pew Center did a poll which found that most Republicans, just grassroots Republicans, do believe the government should help the poor --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, inequality -- MR. PAGE: -- in the abstract, at least.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- inequality is a result --

MR. PAGE: So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK --

MR. BUCHANAN: Inequality is a result of freedom, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: Romney's problem is that's the authentic argot of Bain Capital.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --

MR. BUCHANAN: He says I love to fire insurance agents.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, let me in. You like this next issue.

OK, Michelle gets physical.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

ELLEN DEGENERES (Talk show host): All right, you ready?

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah.

MS. DEGENERES: All right.

MRS. OBAMA: All right, you guys count.

(The audience counts as Mrs. Obama and Ms. DeGeneres do pushups together.)

MS. DEGENERES: That was amazing. That was amazing.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Twenty-five times. But they weren't touching the floor. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: It's still pretty impressive for a woman to get 25 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the pushup regimen here that we saw unrelated to politics? Seriously as a question, do you think that does anything --

MR. PAGE: Well -- MS. CLIFT: I want to -- wait.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should people be more inclined to vote for Obama because they see his wife out there?

MR. PAGE: Her popularity is very high, probably because she is so human and she relates well to people. And there's her anti-obesity campaign, which Rush Limbaugh and some others have heckled her on. I think she's showing here that she's very serious about it --

MR. LOWRY: John, I think --

MR. PAGE: -- and that she's willing to participate --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you --

MR. LOWRY: -- you should invite Clarence to show us what he's got right now. (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: I can tell you right now, I can do 10. That's it.

MR. BUCHANAN: Give me 10. Give me 10, Clarence. (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: I can do 10. Twenty-five, forget it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- more political payola than anybody realizes, including the people on this set. Do you agree with me?

MS. CLIFT: She's --

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, I think she's a real -- she's become a real --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- asset to Barack.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: She's very much -- I mean, she's with the people very much, in a sense, in a way that Mitt Romney has really not been.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it was thought that she was going to run the picture behind the scenes.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But that's not the way it's working out.

MS. CLIFT: We --

MR. BUCHANAN: She -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She clearly is going the direction he wants to go in, and I bet they --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, she came -- early on, she was sort of the Angela Davis type during the campaign --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- on the cover of New Yorker --

MR. PAGE: That's how the right wing --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- with the AK-47. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: We can all agree everybody loves Michelle Obama.

I just want to say to Pat's comment that inequality is a result of freedom. It's a result of freedom and a lot of tax benefits, Pat. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't say I love her.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I said I think she's an effective politician --

MS. CLIFT: All right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- helping her husband.

Issue Two: Afghanistan -- Cutting and Running?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Our troops will continue coming up at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama last June 22nd, 2011, laid out his plan to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. The war has cost the U.S. 1,774 lives and over $500 billion, currently spending $2 billion a week.

Commander in Chief Obama says that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan would shift -- fighting the Taliban directly, no; advising and training the Afghanistan military and security forces to fight the Taliban directly, yes.

This week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta nailed down the drawdown. The U.S. combat mission will end as early as mid 2013, roughly 18 months away. The U.S. announcement comes on the heels of French President Nicolas Sarkozy saying that he would be pulling out all 4,000 French troops from Afghanistan, the fourth-largest contingent of troops, by 2013, a year ahead of the U.S.

FRENCH PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY (through interpreter): (From videotape.) For France, the pursuit of the transition and the gradual transfer of combat responsibilities will allow us to plan the return the totality of our forces by the end of the year 2013.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: France is calling on all 28 member nations of NATO to remove their forces by the end of 2013, all 125,000 members of the NATO forces.

ANDERS-FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO secretary general): (From videotape.) The role of our troops will gradually change from combat to support. In that, there is nothing new.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will Sarkozy's decision to pull French troops out of Afghanistan help him get re-elected? I ask you, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it clearly is designed to, and he's running sort of a poor second right now to the socialist candidate, John. But I think this and what Panetta is saying suggests that what we're looking for is we're going to walk, not run, to the exits. And I think what we're going to wind up with -- I hate to say it, but it's coming -- is a decent interval between the time we leave and the time this thing reverts to the Taliban, with a lot of consequences Americans are not going to like.

MS. CLIFT: I don't know about that. They're talking about negotiations with the Taliban. You can't -- you can't have a war without end. The alternative would be to leave troops there forever.

MR. BUCHANAN: Remember Vietnam, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Vietnam is now a thriving little capitalist enclave, and they still practice communism. We get along fine with them, I think.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they lost an awful lot of dead, didn't they?

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. LOWRY: Yeah, tell it to the boat people how well it turned out.

MR. BUCHANAN: A million boat people.

MR. LOWRY: This is a problem -- MS. CLIFT: Well, is the alternative, then, to leave troops at this level? If this is the fight that Romney wants with the president, I think the president is on strong ground. He's compiled enough of a foreign policy record that he can turn on Romney and say he's the one who's naive.

MR. LOWRY: But he never should have -- if he didn't want to see the surge through, he never should have ordered it. If you're going to withdraw prematurely and give up all those hard-fought gains --

MS. CLIFT: It's not premature.

MR. LOWRY: Well, it very -- OK, best-case scenario --

MS. CLIFT: It's not premature. (Laughs.)

MR. LOWRY: -- end of 2013, everything is fine. I kind of doubt it. And the problem is, the reason why Afghans always win wars is because, by the end of them, they always shift to the winning side. So if you broadcast to people on the ground that we are out of there no matter what, no matter what the conditions are, you are giving the Taliban a huge boost. And you can try to talk to them around the table all you want. It's not going to make a difference --

MR. PAGE: There's a bigger problem --

MR. LOWRY: -- if they know they have the upper hand on the ground eventually.

MR. PAGE: There's a bigger problem, though. Pakistan really runs Afghanistan. And our relations with Pakistan are terrible right now and we're not making the kind of progress that will help to stabilize the Afghan situation. We're at the mercy, more or less, of the tribal warlords. So we might as well pull out or pull back --

MR. BUCHANAN: But --

MS. CLIFT: Another five, 10, 15 years --

MR. BUCHANAN: Clarence, how does this end?

MS. CLIFT: -- is not going to make any difference.

MR. BUCHANAN: How does this end?

MR. LOWRY: Who's talking about 15 years?

MR. PAGE: How does this end?

MR. LOWRY: How about two fighting seasons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're leaving -- MR. LOWRY: We've made gains in the southern part of the country. We haven't made gains yet in the east because we haven't had the troops there.

MS. CLIFT: Two more fighting seasons and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're leaving behind a corrupt Kabul regime. Is it strong enough to stay in power, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't believe it can last in power after the American troops are gone from Afghanistan. I don't believe they can stand up to the Taliban.

Look it, the Taliban has fought us. I mean, they've been losing people. They've fought us almost to a draw. Do you think the Afghan army is superior to the American army?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, NATO.

A secret report published by NATO was leaked on Wednesday, noting, quote, "though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remain intact," unquote.

The question now being raised by the press is how does that NATO assertion jibe with President Obama's assertion in his State of the Union address 10 days ago?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The Taliban's momentum has been broken.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: So is the U.S. cutting and running from Afghanistan good or bad? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: I -- frankly, I believe that we're going to have to get out of there, and I believe the end is going to be terrible. But I've felt that ever since -- we should have gone in initially, knocked them over, taken care of al-Qaida the best we could, told them don't let this happen again, and left. We've put in 10 years now --

MR. PAGE: That's essentially what we're doing.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- a lot of blood -- a lot of blood and treasure. And I think it's all going to be just as it was in Vietnam.

MS. CLIFT: The responsible winding -- it's responsible winding down of a war that's already gone on 10 years. And the Taliban is not some outside factor. They are Afghans, and they've got --

MR. BUCHANAN: Like the Viet Cong.

MS. CLIFT: -- they've got to sort out that government themselves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the impact of this on the re-election of Barack Obama? MR. BUCHANAN: I think it will help him in the short run through 2012. But if he's re-elected, 2013, 2014, Americans are going to be very unhappy. I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how much of a lever is this in getting him re-elected that --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- we've moved out of Afghanistan?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think Obama is on the right side of getting out of Iraq politically and politically getting out of Afghanistan for 2012.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat --

MR. BUCHANAN: By 2016, it's another story.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said he was going to stay in Afghanistan through 2014. We're in --

MR. PAGE: We are.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- 2012 now. That's 2013, the end of 2014. This is a lot better for him, would you agree, in terms of getting re- elected?

MR. LOWRY: The politics work because people are exhausted with the Afghan war, plus he has the cushion of having killed bin Laden, which takes the edge off, you know, here's a weak president getting out from this fight. But it's the wrong thing to do. If he was going to go in, he should have been willing to see it through, more to give the government there a decent chance.

MR. PAGE: Quite honestly --

MR. LOWRY: You're going to have a civil war or the takeover of the Taliban.

MR. PAGE: Quite honestly --

MS. CLIFT: What does seeing it through mean? (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: -- we've never stabilized more than Kabul, actually.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. PAGE: That's what President Karzai is in charge of. And if that's what it comes down to, if Kabul falls, then you've got a fallen government. But Kabul is defensible. But the fact is, I can't imagine Americans hollering to go back into Afghanistan once we're out. MS. CLIFT: Which is why Romney --

MR. LOWRY: That's why you have to do it right. That's why you've really got to do it right.

MS. CLIFT: Which is why Romney criticizes this president on Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq doesn't look so hot, but I don't hear Romney talking about sending troops back in there. Everybody wants out.

MR. LOWRY: Yeah, once you pull out, you're not going back in. That's obvious.

MS. CLIFT: Everybody wants out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the human toll that was left in Afghanistan, as far as the United States is concerned, is really -- it's really an eye-opener --

MS. CLIFT: And unnecessary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- how many bodies we've lost and how much money we've spent.

MR. LOWRY: Unnecessary?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There it is --

MR. LOWRY: This is the president's war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- right there on the board now.

MR. LOWRY: He campaigned --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The human toll: U.S. dead in Afghanistan, 1,774 Americans.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the cost factor --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's why we ought not to do Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Do-Nothing Congress.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID (D-NV): (From videotape.) The Senate works on consensus. And we haven't been able to get that because of Republicans' -- I repeat for the third time; I want to make sure everyone understands this -- obstructionism on steroids.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. Congress in 2011 was the least productive in 64 years, since record keeping began in 1947. Item: Legislation. Passed 80 bills -- 8-0 -- out of 7,000 bills introduced.

Item: Credit. Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. credit from AAA to AA+ after Congress nearly let the U.S. default on paying its bills. S&P is an iconic international credit-rating agency.

Item: Supercommittee smoothie.

The 12 high-ranking members of the supercommittee -- six Democrats, six Republicans -- failed to create a plan to cut $1.2 trillion in the U.S. national debt. This failure then released stipulated robotic cuts. So no fingerprints were left.

Item: Budget. The Congress failed to pass a federal budget, required by law. Instead, Congress passed so-called stopgap measures. Congress almost shut down the entire federal government three times. President Obama noted that gridlocks in Congress could help him in his ongoing re-election campaign.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The question then is will Congress do something? If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin has labeled this 112th Congress a do-nothing Congress.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Does the president, running for re- election, decide he's going to run against a do-nothing Congress? And Senator Reid has made sure it's been a do-nothing Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which party bears the greater responsibility for the do-nothing Congress, the Republicans, as Senator Reid says, or the Democrats, as multimillionaire Senator Johnson says? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Well, if you look at the use of the filibuster and how Republicans have stalled and stopped just about everything the Democrats put out there, you can see the burden of obstructionism falls on Republicans.

But the Senate acted this week. It passed, I think, 96 or 97 to three an act to prohibit insider trading by members of Congress. And that was in response to a "60 Minutes" report that noticed a lot of people, when they go into government service, suddenly get wealthy. And so -- (laughs) -- it proves they can respond when their own future and their own election prospects are at stake. Good news.

MR. LOWRY: If the president were actually offering some big proposals with some bipartisan appeal, like something along the lines of Bowles-Simpson, it would actually get somewhere. But he doesn't want to do that. He wants to run against a do-nothing Congress.

And Senator Reid -- I don't get the caterwauling, because the Democrats in the Senate haven't even tried to pass a budget in a couple of years now. So you had a bunch of stuff passing out of the House, including a very forward-looking and transformational budget. It goes to die in the Senate, and then the president and Harry Reid blame Republicans.

MR. PAGE: Well, Republicans (weren't able ?) to pass a real budget when they had a chance either. I think the real question here is public perceptions. And I think Obama can run on this, because the public can see the obstructionism that's been going on. And I've heard from Republicans, well, they had control of both houses for two years. Well, you know, what happened in those two years? You had this battle over health care going back and forth.

The main thing is people out on Main Street can see when things are getting done and when they aren't. And I think Obama's got (a winner ?).

MR. LOWRY: The biggest thing they got done --

MR. BUCHANAN: They're not getting --

MR. LOWRY: -- is spending in 2012 is only going to increase 1 percent --

MR. BUCHANAN: You know --

MR. LOWRY: -- which is so much smaller than the double-digit increases we have and is a major accomplishment.

MR. BUCHANAN: But here's the reason. The reason for the gridlock is, quite frankly, you have two ideological positions which are in total conflict. The liberal folks believe that 24 percent of GDP is fine; we should tax up to that level and get more programs. Republicans think we should reduce the size of government and cut taxes. There can be no compromise between these positions. They've got to be argued out. And frankly, if Obama wins, what is to prevent complete deadlock for the next four years?

MS. CLIFT: Well, and also I don't think we should let this whole show go by without mentioning that we got some pretty good job numbers. It looks like the recovery is finally here. And I thought we'd have --

MR. BUCHANAN: Tell us about the job numbers, Eleanor. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: I thought we'd have a little celebration on the set. (Laughter.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor is referring -- the unemployment rate has dropped from 8.5 to 8.3.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Correct?

MR. BUCHANAN: And the labor force shrunk.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So two tenths of --

MS. CLIFT: Going in the right direction.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Going in the right direction. Is there any other good news about the economy?

MS. CLIFT: The good news about the economy is housing is coming back.

MR. PAGE: Right, some housing encouragement there. Hopefully Obama's program will get some more people out of their underwater mortgages.

MR. LOWRY: You have both the CBO and the Federal Reserve saying we're looking at the same kind of flat recovery we've seen throughout the duration.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, it's --

MR. LOWRY: So it was a delightful jobs number. Let's see if it'll continue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, as you know, Obama has told the Catholic Church that they are to provide contraceptives in hospitals and schools and all the rest, along with health care. And he's in a firestorm with the church and a lot of Catholics, liberal and otherwise. He will back down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their life, in their reproductive life. So I think the backlash to any backing down would be significant.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it depends on the type of birth control.

MR. BUCHANAN: Is that what you're predicting? (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: That's my -- it will be significant.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Birth control is also, Eleanor, the rhythm method. That's entirely approved by the Catholic Church. MS. CLIFT: That's allowed. But they're doing something else, because I don't see those big --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the --

MS. CLIFT: -- Catholic families anymore like the kind Pat came from.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, the IUDs -- the IUDs may be legitimate too, because there's no adhesion of the fertilized --

MS. CLIFT: You're preaching to the choir, John. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- egg on the uterine wall.

Yes, go ahead.

MR. LOWRY: I'm going to change the topic and say the Republican field is set through May. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. We're out of time. Quickly.

MR. PAGE: No brokered convention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sarkozy in France is running for re-election. He will be defeated. That's in April.

Bye-bye.

END.