The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, April 20, 2012 Broadcast: Weekend of April 21-22, 2012
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Secretly Serviced.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I'll be angry. But we're here on behalf of our people, and that means that we conduct ourselves with the utmost dignity and probity. I think I'll wait until the full investigation is completed before I pass final judgment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No rush to judgment. That's the position President Obama has taken on the contretemps involving the Secret Service and prostitutes during the Summit of the Americas, where 33 heads of state convened last weekend. Eleven U.S. Secret Service members and 10 military service personnel are under investigation for what happened here at the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia. Prior to the arrival of President Obama, some of the U.S. Secret Service agents entertained prostitutes at the hotel. An argument broke out between an agent and a prostitute over her fee, and this attracted Colombian police, who informed the U.S. State Department.
Prostitution itself is legal in Cartagena, but agents are regularly briefed on the potential for bribery by prostitutes and for being spied on by them. So prostitution for the Secret Service is verboten.
The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Peter King, put the dangers this way.
REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R-NY): (From videotape.) I know foreign diplomats overseas who have been with prostitutes and been drugged, had their laptops taken; in this case alone, just being around the Secret Service inside that zone of security, picking up information about the president's travel schedule, what his agenda is, just names of Secret Service agents, when they're going to be leaving, where they're going to be going, all of that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Notwithstanding the uproar, the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, a 29-year veteran of the service, continues to have the support of the White House.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: (From videotape.) The president has confidence in Director Sullivan. The director acted swiftly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation that obviously needs to be conducted.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As of Friday, three members of the Secret Service are out in the wake of this incendiary scandal.
Question: How big an embarrassment is this for the Secret Service, Pat?
PAT BUCHANAN: It's enormous, John. They've stepped all over the president's mission, which we discussed, to Latin America, which he was trying to put a message out.
Secondly, this is just an enormous disaster for the Secret Service. You've got 11 agents and some supervisors in there engaged with all these prostitutes, and right as soon as they almost get into Colombia. And it suggests that this is not a single one-off thing, that this may be sort of habitual practice going on here.
And the tragedy is the Secret Service has enormous respect among the American people. I know with Nixon -- I've been with Nixon and Reagan. I've known a lot of these guys over the years. They're outstanding guys. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Were you in Colombia with Nixon?
MR. BUCHANAN: Was I at --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Colombia when the limousine was stolen?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, that was when he was vice president, you know. I was not there. But I've been with him on many trips. And, look, you realize I've had Secret Service protection myself, John. You realize, look, these guys sitting outside your hotel room are going to take a bullet for you. And so the whole country respects, admires these guys. And that reputation has been horribly, severely tarnished. And this is a bigger scandal, as I say, because it suggests that this may be not a one-off thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, I think for any president or presidential candidate, the Secret Service is -- it's personal, because they are there to take a bullet. They witness people's private lives. They see things that nobody else does, and they're supposed to keep secrets.
They haven't always behaved well. I remember during the Clinton administration there was some leaking about the first lady had hurled a lamp at the president, and that came from the Secret Service. And so I think there are some questions here of trust between agents and the people they protect.
But this is a huge year coming up with presidential candidates. We have a lot of visiting dignitaries. This is a big embarrassment. But I don't know that this is systemic for the whole Secret Service.
MR. BUCHANAN: I hope not.
MS. CLIFT: If, when they're on the president's dime, they're cavorting in this way -- and prostitution, as you pointed out, is legal where they were. And why didn't they just pay the woman, who called herself an escort --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eight hundred dollars.
MS. CLIFT: -- pay her the money she asked for and that he had agreed to?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She settled for $220 -- $220.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. And, you know, it took that long for America's finest to figure out they had a problem, once the police came, because the police are on the side of the prostitutes because it's a legal profession there. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: So, I mean, that -- how dumb can anybody get? If they paid the money, we wouldn't be talking about this right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Buy them off when in doubt.
MS. CLIFT: That's right. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Money talks.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: This is not my field, John, but I would agree with you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, it's not your field, Mort? You're a billionaire.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I know, but there's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's nothing I'm suggesting by that.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll explain my field to you off air, if it's all right with you. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.
SUSAN FERRECHIO: Well, again, this isn't the first scandal and it probably won't be the last, but probably the last for a while. I think this will blow over. You know, they've had a sterling reputation for decades of protecting the president in the most difficult of circumstances.
But there is additional information out this past week that one of the Secret Service agents involved was saying that when he was protecting Sarah Palin when she was the vice presidential nominee a few years ago, that he was sort of checking her out, apparently. That's something he said.
MS. CLIFT: He put it on Facebook. It's not like he just confided it to someone. MS. FERRECHIO: Exactly. So things like this will trickle in now and then, I think, to make the Secret Service look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, checking her out?
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, I think he meant it in sort of really physically checking her out --
MR. BUCHANAN: Right.
MS. FERRECHIO: -- as though she were, you know, an object.
MR. BUCHANAN: There's a photograph of him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hmm?
MR. BUCHANAN: A photograph of him, quote, "checking her out." And she's not happy about it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's not?
MR. BUCHANAN: She had a very tough statement.
MS. FERRECHIO: She said Obama needs to -- President Obama needs to really take control of the situation here. He's the commander in chief and, you know, he's in charge of the Secret Service, and he needs to maybe make some changes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that's a true story?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't know if it's a true story. I suspect there's some truth to it. I don't know if it's quite in the way it was presented. But as for this story, I mean, you can't make this up. I mean --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it a flirtation? Is that what it was?
MR. BUCHANAN: (No.) (Laughs.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, at least on the part of one of them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Mitt Romney's take on the Colombia, quote- unquote, "incident."
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential candidate): (From audiotape.) The president has confidence in the head of the Secret Service, as do I. I believe that the right corrective action will be taken there. And obviously everyone is very, very disappointed in these stories; very uncharacteristic of the service. And it will be -- I think it will be dealt with in as aggressive a way as is possible, given the requirements of law. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did Mitt Romney take the high road on this? He didn't criticize Obama. He didn't criticize the administration. He didn't criticize the Secret Service.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the head of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, has been there a very long time. I think he was elevated by President Bush. I don't think this is a left-right, Republican- Democrat incident. And so far nobody has stood up and said that this is systemic and the whole culture needs to be changed. We may get to that point, but we're not there yet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The de facto impact of this politically is that everything helps that happened at Cartagena has been drowned out.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, what happened at Cartagena that has been pretty much drowned out?
MS. CLIFT: Not much.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not much.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you sure of that?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Well, they --
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MS. CLIFT: There was a dispute about Cuba.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Colombia -- U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, for heaven's sakes. That's old, John. Romney --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean? That's all what?
MS. CLIFT: It's old news.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's already been passed. Everybody knows about it. Romney --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, it's been passed?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's enacted, all the rest of it. Look -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But why did Obama place such emphasis on it if it's a done deal?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it's been a done deal, and so he said let's go down there --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Something was needed out of Colombia.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's a victory lap. It's a victory lap.
Here's what Romney -- why did Romney say that? It's the very reason we're all talking here. The Secret Service is liked and respected and admired, and everybody knows how hard their job is and that they will take a bullet for somebody. They're guarding Romney right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute.
MR. BUCHANAN: So nobody -- nobody wants to see the Secret Service beat up. It's sad.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And there is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the Colombia free trade agreement agreeable to U.S. labor unions?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, no. I don't think they --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't like it.
MR. BUCHANAN: They don't like it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the less said about it, the better. If you wanted to cover something --
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, why are you going to Colombia?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, how far do you want to go to try to cover something?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It is agreeable to the Hispanic community in the United States. It's part of an outreach on the part of this administration --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- to that part of the world, because it does have repercussions here at home and it shows how he is committed to the Hispanic community. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you see how the headlines have been dominated by the, quote-unquote, "incident" --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, of course.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- as -- the way it's described by Carney.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: As Pat said, it destroyed whatever the president hoped to accomplish with it. It's become, in a sense, a story about the scandal, not a story about anything else.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a political probability scale, zero to 100, Pat, what's the probability that a special prosecutor will be appointed to examine the extent of this misconduct?
MR. BUCHANAN: Right now --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One hundred, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Right now it's about -- it's zero. The reason is there's no --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One will be appointed.
MR. BUCHANAN: There's no cover-up.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will be appointed.
MR. BUCHANAN: There's no cover-up going on. You get a special prosecutor if the government's not looking into it. They're looking into this thing, John. My fear, frankly, is that they're going to find an awful lot of conduct going back and they're going to go back and these guys -- they're going to drag a lot of guys --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you need a special prosecutor if you want to ferret it all out?
MR. BUCHANAN: You don't need a special prosecutor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We need a Starr. Who's Starr?
MR. BUCHANAN: You know --
MS. CLIFT: Kenneth Starr? No.
MR. BUCHANAN: The independent counsel?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that what we need?
MS. CLIFT: No, no.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. MS. CLIFT: No, we don't. The Congress --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not what we need, but will it be driven to the point where a special prosecutor --
MS. CLIFT: First of all, this is catnip for the media and catnip for Congress. There's going to be plenty of investigation of this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, catnip. You mean --
MS. CLIFT: Yes.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Secondly --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, this is set out there for the media. Is that what you mean?
MS. CLIFT: It's sex, money, drugs, whatever.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think this is a big, legitimate story.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. And secondly, one --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.
MS. CLIFT: It's a legitimate story, but it doesn't need a special prosecutor.
MS. FERRECHIO: Zero chance.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zero?
MS. FERRECHIO: It'll be handled -- they'll let the Secret Service handle it.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And one Ken Starr was enough in my lifetime. Thank you very much.
MS. CLIFT: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you give it zero probability?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I would give it 80 percent probability yes.
Issue Two: Leaving Las Vegas. SENATOR BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): (From videotape.
) What is it about the structure of the GSA that leads us back to these scandals after -- in other words, the expression is fool me once, you know, OK. But again and again?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, voiced her disgust and disbelief to workers and former workers of the General Services Administration, the GSA, on the Hill this week regarding lavish spending and possible kickbacks at the agency.
Get this: In 2010, at a cost of $823,000, GSA flew 300 federal employees to the billion-dollar M Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas for a conference. The trip included costs like breakfast, $44 each; sushi, $7,000; a bicycle building exercise program, $75,000 -- all funded by taxpayers.
Also the agency threw a party in Palm Springs, California for its interns. The GSA billed $150,000. The GSA's 2010 Las Vegas massive billings fly in the face of the advice President Obama gave corporate executives in his first year in office. The executives were from companies that took federal bailouts in 2009. Quote, Obama: "You can't take a trip to Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime," unquote.
Mr. Obama repeated this admonition again in February 2010 at a New Hampshire town forum. Quote: "When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college," unquote.
So Vegas gambling is seen by President Obama as an expensive indulgence. But Nevada is also an important swing state in this year's presidential contest. So First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters visit Las Vegas in March, and the president has gone there several times so far this year, most recently to inspect the Copper Mountain solar energy facility.
Question: Tell us about the GSA this week, Susan.
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, we've got a career worker at GSA who elevated himself to a position where he was sort of his own supervisor. It allowed him to plan these elaborate trips, one of which you described there, the $823,000 conference called the western region conference for 300 employees.
It had all kinds of things like, you know, the $7,000 sushi, 2,300 square-foot hotel suites, footed by the taxpayers. They hired a mind reader. They rented clown suits and tuxedos for people. They handed out commemorate coins in velvet boxes. I mean, it was just over the top, as one person described it there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You attended the hearings. We saw a little bit of Barbara Boxer at the top of this issue. Did she mention anything about why we really need a GSA?
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, you have two sides on this issue. I think there are some Republicans who question -- you know, they want to shrink the size of government. Now we look at the GSA wasting the taxpayers' money. Do we really need the GSA?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is a Harry Truman creation, correct?
MS. FERRECHIO: Yeah, it's been around for 60 years. And its goal is to sort of streamline the government by controlling its properties and helping to make sure we're not duplicating efforts.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it superfluous? Don't we have within agencies and the vast structure of the federal government those agencies that can track whether they are legitimate to keep them lean? But as soon as you have -- what is behind this?
MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what's behind it. Look, you saw -- look, purchasing all the typewriters, all these other things, why not get one agency to do the job and purchase --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- them for the government?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that idea?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think basically it's a good idea.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you need it? Why can't --
MR. BUCHANAN: I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- those agencies regulate themselves?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, because then you get duplication and you get people not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean no one pays any attention to what anyone else does? MR. BUCHANAN: If you get 12 separate --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The government is so vast, they can't even --
MR. BUCHANAN: If you had 11 or 12 Cabinet departments all going out buying the same things, there's going to be inefficiencies.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about --
MR. BUCHANAN: You can consolidate it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- at the White House level, the executive level?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I don't think they control that.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. BUCHANAN: Did he take the 5th Amendment?
MS. FERRECHIO: He did plead the 5th.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course the White House can control the size --
MR. BUCHANAN: He took the 5th Amendment, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of the federal government, the regulatory agencies.
MR. BUCHANAN: He took the 5th Amendment, John. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
MS. CLIFT: Well, the GSA is -- they're the government's bursar, and basically they contract for the fleets of cars and for the various -- you know, the inventories, as you put it; the typewriters and all that sort of thing. It does make sense to have them. But apparently there hasn't been any oversight. I mean, who pays attention to the GSA? And what they were doing was mimicking corporate life. I mean, corporations throw these kind of over-the-top --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: -- events all the time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well --
MS. CLIFT: But you don't do it --
MR. BUCHANAN: It's their money. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: -- with taxpayer money. You don't do it with taxpayer money. And it's -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I wonder whether --
MS. CLIFT: -- a huge embarrassment to the president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I wonder whether you're exaggerating --
MS. CLIFT: And it's a gift to the Republicans, because it fits into their narrative of this big bloated federal government that needs reining in.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you want to defend corporations in this regard? They go to Vegas and they watch the bottom line very carefully, do they not?
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the central administrative functions in most corporations have a real objective and a real way of supervising the costs, because they are concerned about the profitability of the company and the cost.
Government doesn't work on that basis. You don't have the same kind of oversight by definition in government. It doesn't mean that it isn't appropriate, because, as Pat says, you want to centralize a lot of your purchasing of a lot of items and the ownership and management to build it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --
MS. FERRECHIO: But there's no incentive to save money, and that's part of the problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no incentive. Isn't that a shocking admission on anybody's part?
MR. BUCHANAN: But that's the corporation -- I mean, the corporation --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that --
MR. BUCHANAN: If it's Mort's corporation --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no incentive in the government -- MR. BUCHANAN: -- it's Mort's money. It's Mort's money, so --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So build it out, get more jobs --
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it's Mort's money, so he's going to save it. They're going to watch it. They're going to -- everybody's going to have a good time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what does it say --
MR. BUCHANAN: But we don't have this lavish nonsense. And you've got that when you have no control, no incentive to save.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So we'll be better off with a different kind of government.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, this is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we attacking the core of democracy?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's an inherent flaw of government, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's an inherent flaw of which government? What kind of government?
MR. BUCHANAN: All governments.
MS. CLIFT: Corporations --
MR. BUCHANAN: If it's not their money --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think the Russians can --
MR. BUCHANAN: You always spend --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think the Russians can keep their size down better than we can?
MR. BUCHANAN: You always spend more if it's not your money, John.
MS. CLIFT: Let's remember --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's even worse in Russia, believe me, because that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does this go far beyond what we think are its cognitive limits as we see it in this issue?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, no, I think this illustrates exactly the problem that you have in a government which basically doesn't have an incentive, which you have in the private sector. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that a remarkable statement?
MS. CLIFT: Two words --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no incentive to keep the costs --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.
MS. CLIFT: Two words --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- (inaudible) -- proper regulation.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.
MS. CLIFT: Two words: Corporate greed. Corporations haven't always behaved admirably either.
MR. BUCHANAN: But it's --
MS. CLIFT: Let's not forget that.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's their money, Eleanor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three --
MS. CLIFT: Their money? They took all of us down, including our IRAs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me.
Issue Three: Even Steven?
President Barack Obama and candidate Mitt Romney are tied, 46 to 46, according to a new CBS/New York Times 2012 election poll of registered voters. The poll also shows this: The president has a higher favorability rating than Governor Romney, 42 percent to Romney's 29 percent; but he also has a higher unfavorably rating, 45 percent to 34 percent.
The big issue on the minds of voters is the economy, of course. And how do the candidates rate here? Overall, Obama and Romney share about the same amount of confidence with voters when it comes to making the right decisions about the economy, with the edge to Romney -- 55 percent, Romney; 51 percent, Obama.
As to the question on whether the policies of the candidates would improve a voter's own financial situation, 28 percent say Mitt Romney would improve my own financial situation marginally, as compared to 26 percent Obama.
Question: What do these numbers tell you? I ask you, Pat. And be succinct. MR. BUCHANAN: What they tell us is we've got ourselves a real horse race. It's Romney and Obama. And it's a tossup almost, in my judgment -- almost.
MS. CLIFT: What it tells you is that the economy is the central issue, which we have been saying for some time. And if the 2012 economy slows down the way the 2011 economy slows down, Obama is in real trouble.
MS. FERRECHIO: If the economy trickles upward like it has been and continues to improve a little bit, we're going to keep having a horse race. It's going to be a very, very close election.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Since I don't believe the economy is going to trickle up, I think Obama's got real problems going into this election year, because I think the economy is weak and is going to stay weak. And it's much weaker than the superficial numbers indicate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Inasmuch as the review of the excesses of the Republicans in the run-up so far, I think for Romney to score as high as he did reflects the general opinion, as I see it on this panel, that this is going to be a real horse race and that Obama really has got to put out more favorably than he has been.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Discovery Retired.
The space shuttle Discovery made its final voyage on Tuesday, a piggyback jet ride to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum annex in Virginia. Discovery is the fleet leader of NASA's three surviving shuttles.
After looping around the U.S. Capitol and delighting spectators on the National Mall, the shuttle carrier plane touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport. Former astronaut Steven Lindsey, the commander of the last Discovery crew, said, quote, "We need to preserve our history for future generations and send these off to museums to remember what we did, all the lessons learned from the shuttle we're using in the design of our space aircraft. We're updating the technologies, but the basic principles are the same. Every program builds on the previous program," unquote.
Question: Is the mothballing of Discovery and the mothballing of America's space exploration symbolic of America's decline?
MS. CLIFT: No. We're not declining. And this was a moment of history that people wanted to watch. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember the --
MS. CLIFT: It was like a mama whale with the baby on top. It was adorable. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember what your leader, President Barack Obama, did to the space program? He killed it, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: He trimmed it back, and then Congress dealt the last blow because of budget cutbacks.
We can't afford to send men to Mars right now. But I think the R&D continues. And this president sees the possibility. Maybe we can elect Newt Gingrich, who wants to establish a colony on Mars or the moon, or wherever he wanted to go. I mean, I admire Gingrich for thinking big. We need to think big. We don't have the money to implement those big ideas right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you just hear what she did to your (survivor ?), Gingrich?
MS. FERRECHIO: We don't have -- that's right, and that's why -- one of the reasons why he's still in the race, to try to put people on the moon. But I think, more seriously, this is the mothballing of a shuttle program with no new program to turn to. I mean, the astronaut you just quoted was talking about the next spacecraft. We have no next spacecraft. There's nothing going to happen unless there's money behind it. There's no money behind it. So right now, you know, we're talking years and years before --
MR. BUCHANAN: You know --
MS. FERRECHIO: -- we can ever send anyone back up there without the help of the Russians.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John, when the Challenger blew up and I was with Ronald Reagan, in his State of the Union speech, which was canceled and moved to the next week, he talked about a space plane. It was going to take off and it would go into space and sort of go around the world and land in a couple of hours and things. I do think the country needs --
MS. CLIFT: But it was unmanned, right, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, it was manned.
MS. CLIFT: It was not --
MR. BUCHANAN: It was a space plane.
MS. CLIFT: Well -- MR. BUCHANAN: And it was a great idea. But I do think the country needs some uplifting idea. I can -- well, you can remember; no, maybe you're too young. Mort can remember what it was like when we were losing to the Russians in the `50s, and all of a sudden John Glenn went up there, and when we went to the moon and won that battle. There's no uplifting thing going on. And I'm all for it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the end of the manned space program tell us anything about Obama's view of American exceptionalism?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: In the first place, I have to explain to Pat, I was in grade school in the 1950s, so I wouldn't know very much about it. But I appreciate your compliment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How long did they keep you back? (Laughter.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: But, look, the point has been made, and it is something that is going to affect us in many walks of life, we simply do not have the money to do a lot of the things we once thought we could and should do as the leading country in the world. We have huge problems in this country. A lot of it is going to have to be resolved. But one of the main ones is to find the money to do it. And we're not addressing that issue at all.
MS. CLIFT: And to bring --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's a broad-based sense of decline in the American psyche today.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, yes.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This country is in decline.
MS. FERRECHIO: This symbolizes it. Mothballing the shuttle with nothing new to turn to, where kids can only look at aircraft by going in a museum and not watching it take off on television anymore, that's a real symbol of decline.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does ending the space program involve a loss of national prestige?
MS. FERRECHIO: Absolutely.
MS. CLIFT: I disagree.
MS. FERRECHIO: We need the Russians to get to space now. That's a big loss.
MR. BUCHANAN: The Chinese are headed for the moon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the billions of dollars saved without NASA's program? MR. BUCHANAN: John, the -- it wasn't all that expensive. The Chinese are headed for the moon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: They'll be sending astronauts up there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excellent point.
MR. BUCHANAN: In the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin episode, I don't think George Zimmerman is going to be convicted of second-degree murder at all. And I have my doubts they're even going to convict him of manslaughter. They found all that blood on the back of his head in the latest picture, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.
MS. CLIFT: French President Sarkozy will make it into the runoff this weekend but will not survive a faceoff with the moderate socialist candidate. He will lose.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, I predicted that about 10 weeks ago, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: OK.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Although it doesn't matter. It's a good prediction.
MS. CLIFT: I guess I stole it from you. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.
MS. FERRECHIO: I think we should talk about Newt Gingrich. He's been sort of lurking in the background as a candidate who's not going anywhere. But I predict he's going to stick around for a few more weeks and try to still get something out of this race. He's a candidate that no one's talking about, but he's still a candidate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.) Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Egypt imports 50 percent of its food. They have enough money for about two to three months in their foreign exchange account. And at that point, they're going to be faced with starvation or some -- it's going to require a massive foreign aid program to help them out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that the current outbreak of scandals will continue to dominate headlines, hurting President Obama's ratings more than Mitt Romney's, causing President Obama's favorability rating to sink below Romney's.