The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Tim Carney, Washington Examiner; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, May 4, 2012 Broadcast: Weekend of May 5-6, 2012

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Bin Laden Redivivus.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) My fellow Americans, we've traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. But over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Under cover of darkness due to security concerns, on Tuesday President Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. The reason for the visit was a treaty signing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The treaty outlines the terms of the U.S.-Afghan relationship after NATO turns over security to Afghan forces in 2014, two years from now. The treaty allows for U.S. troops to be based in Afghanistan until 2024, 10 years after the turnover. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 and routed the Taliban regime that shielded bin Laden as he plotted in Afghanistan the 9/11 attacks.

Three years ago, in 2009, to counter Taliban resurgence, Mr. Obama ordered a surge of 33,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan. That would bring the total to more than 100,000. This coming October, 22,000 will come home, leaving some 78,000 U.S. troops in place in Afghanistan.

Ten thousand troops were removed from Afghanistan in December, four months ago, leaving 68,000 in place today. This week's U.S.- Afghanistan treaty expires in 2024, 12 years from now. After that, it is speculated that a U.S. residual military force of 24,000 may be left in place in Afghanistan indefinitely in a situation a la Seoul, Korea.

You understand the math there. What do you think about that?

PAT BUCHANAN: Well, the math -- there's 90,000 troops in Afghanistan now. When they pull the 22,000 out, it'll be 68,000. But that's not going to be -- that's not going to be till the end of September. But let me say this about President Obama. He flew 14,000 miles basically for a photo opportunity to give a speech for the American people at 4:00 a.m. in the morning in Afghanistan.

However, he is very skillful here. I think he's really -- he's done an excellent job politically in the sense that he says, look, there's peace. All our troops, they're going to be coming home. The combat troops are coming out, which is what the country wants. At the same time, we're going to have a residual force, which means I am not cutting and running. So I think he helped himself there.

And it would have been a real coup, John, but I think the crass, unseemly exploitation of the killing of Osama bin Laden -- it was, you know, an end-zone dance -- I think severely damaged his message. He had an excellent message, and they tried to exploit it too hard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was the anniversary of his killing.

MR. BUCHANAN: But, listen, why don't you -- look at how the troops, SEAL Team 6, handled it, with dignity. They went in and killed him. They go back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, come, come, come, come, come.

MR. BUCHANAN: And here he and Biden are up in the owner's box --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he really pressing that too hard? ELEANOR CLIFT: Absolutely, John. I'm with you. It was the one- year anniversary. The networks did specials. People are marking this. The president flew over there, geared to the American people, the timing. And Karzai, the Afghan president, was willing to do this signing ceremony at 4:00 a.m. in the morning.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And everybody was in a nervous -- practically a nervous wreck doing it. You remember the Situation Room and the photography on that?

MS. CLIFT: The taking out of Osama bin Laden. And that was a decision that the president didn't just check a box.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He could have lost SEALs over there.

MS. CLIFT: He campaigned on going after Osama bin Laden. He said if he had actionable intelligence, he would go into Pakistan. It was a controversy between him and Hillary Clinton and in the general election.

But what he's doing is he's trying to build an infrastructure in Afghanistan to leave whoever the next president is, Republican or Democrat, so we can have our drones based there, so we can have a CIA presence, and not just abandon the country the way we did in the `80s.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me move this forward and then I'll turn to you, Mr. Carney.

OK, the political angle.

There was also a political motive, perhaps, for Mr. Obama's trip -- to engage in some chest thumping over bin Laden's demise. The week began with an Obama Democratic ad questioning Mitt Romney's commitment to hunting down al-Qaida's founder, in contrast to Mr. Obama's accomplishment in bagging bin Laden.

The Democratic ad featured this Mitt Romney quote from 2007. Quote: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," unquote.

Question: On Wednesday, President Obama told NBC the day bin Laden died was the, quote-unquote, "most important single day" of his first term in office. How much does President Obama stand to gain by resurrecting Osama this week? Tim Carney.

TIM CARNEY: Well, I agree with Pat that there was something unseemly about the touchdown dance. It wasn't -- he wasn't going over there to just sign this treaty. The treaty, actually, didn't have very much specifics. There's been lots of complaints about Afghanis. Even the New York Times editorial page was complaining there wasn't enough specifics. So the purpose of this trip was the touchdown dance. As far as a political benefit to Obama, it doesn't primarily sort of help him. I don't think there's an Osama bump. But it does take away -- it neuters a Republican attack that Obama isn't strong enough on foreign policy, because this is a blow at the heart of al-Qaida.


MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, you remember when Osama bin Laden was finally killed, his popularity jumped about 12 points. And I remember saying then, and feel that today too, in a couple of months it'll all go away, because the overwhelming issue is going to be the economy, and that's what people are going to be focused on.

And I will also say that there's now a problem with Obama. I mean, he came into office speaking in poetry, and then he began, you know, governing in prose. And now he's now campaigning in advertising copy. Everything is a promotion of all that he is doing. And I don't think it's appropriate.

And, by the way, what he did and how he did it, they disclose certain sources and methods of how they did that operation. One of them was really fascinating. There is -- how did they find out it was Obama (sic/means Osama) through the DNA? They had a doctor going around, a local doctor going around checking for some kind of epidemic. And they took blood in that process, OK? But that guy is now in jail, and so are the other five people, locals, who helped him, because we disclosed it the way we did it. That is something that we should not have done.

MS. CLIFT: That was -- they figured that out a long time ago. That gentleman has been in jail for a long time. And the secretary of defense has been trying to pressure them. And the fallout from that has been difficult relations with Pakistan. So there is a cost. But overwhelmingly, it's a positive that this president --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's find out how well --

MS. CLIFT: -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Mitt Romney's been treated in this. Let's look at what Mitt Romney actually said in 2007 about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Quote: "I wouldn't want to concentrate on bin Laden. He was one of many, many people who are involved in this global jihadist effort. He's by no means the only leader. It's a very diverse group -- Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, and, of course, different names throughout the world. It's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective strategy to defeat global violent jihad, and I have a plan for doing that," unquote.

In the Obama advertising, pro-Obama now, they are pulling one sentence out of that whole quote.

MR. CARNEY: It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Given Romney's full statement, the question is, was the Obama and is the Obama campaign ad a cheap shot?

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a distortion. That is exactly right. Look, Joe Biden sat in that meeting, as did Gates in the meeting, and they said we don't think you ought to risk this. Now, what you're going to find, when you got Osama bin Laden, he's in Pakistan. Do we send in helicopters? Do you shoot him? There's a lot of things that go into it, John, that you cannot know if you're not there.

I think it's a cheap shot at Romney. Romney was saying, look, we're going after him. If he was presented with the same circumstances, he said he would have done.


MS. CLIFT: Thou protest too much. You're really worked up over this. (Laughs.) It's a good ad. Frankly, if they ran the whole quote, I don't think it changes the substance of it at all. And did anybody --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, come, come, come, come, come, come, come. Really, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It does not.

MR. CARNEY: He was saying that al-Qaida is not just one man.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. He said he wouldn't move heaven and earth to go after one man --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One sentence out of --

MS. CLIFT: -- that you have to attack --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- about seven sentences.

MS. CLIFT: This president has also attacked al-Qaida. He's really driven an arrow through the heart of that organization.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right. MS. CLIFT: And when you cut the head of the snake off, you make a big difference. Also, Mitt Romney was in New York delivering pizzas to first responders to mark the anniversary of Osama's death. He's trying to edge in on the photo-op.

MR. BUCHANAN: You don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we --

MR. BUCHANAN: You don't think this is --

MS. CLIFT: This is a political campaign.

MR. BUCHANAN: You don't think this is being --

MS. CLIFT: It's well within the bounds --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- exploited in an unseemly fashion?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, there are cheap shots -- there are cheap shots in this world.

Issue Two: Chinese Mis-Fortune?

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From videotape.) The United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tread cautiously. That's what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did in Beijing on Thursday by not mentioning head on, in front of her hosts, the case of activist Chen Guangcheng.

Chen is the Chinese activist who arrived at the U.S. embassy in Beijing last week seeking American help. He had come from the eastern coastal province of Shandong, where he had been under house arrest since ending a four-year jail term in 2010.

Chen is 40 years old and is a pioneering, self-taught lawyer who advocated on behalf of women subjected to forced abortions and forced sterilizations, policies undertaken by the Chinese government to keep its enormous population in check.

Reportedly, in March Chen escaped his captors by scaling a wall, meeting a car, traveling over 300 miles with a foot injury to Beijing. Making the story more remarkable is that Chen is totally blind.

The American embassy protected him for six days. Then, on Wednesday this week, Chen emerged with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke and was whisked to a nearby hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained during his escape. American officials say they only brought Chen out of the embassy after receiving a promise from Beijing that he would not be harmed. Chen had agreed with his American hosts, they say, to stay in China as long as he could continue his education and reform work safely.

But after arriving at the hospital, Chen changed his mind. Chen now says American diplomats left him alone at the hospital with no protection. He says he fears for the safety of his family, his wife and two children, and for himself, and he now wants to leave China.

To President Obama, Chen had this message. Quote: "Please do everything you can to get our whole family out," unquote.

Question: How does everyone save face here? I ask you, Mr. Carney.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the Obama administration really has to hope that everything turns out right, because they initially mishandled this. Chen said that the -- his quote to the CNN interviewer was the embassy kept lobbying me to leave the embassy and go back out there.

And so if the whole situation doesn't turn out right, then it's going to be impossible for the administration to save face. You save face, though, by, instead of making it an asylum case, having it be what the administration is trying to do now, which is to make sure that he's coming back here to visit the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He may go to NYU.

MS. CLIFT: Well, at the time that we're recording this program, it looks like they've stitched together a deal where he'll leave with his family and attend NYU. And frankly, the Chinese government does not need this. They have a leadership battle going on. The foreign ministry is at odds with the security apparatus. The foreign ministry apparently was working with the U.S. embassy. Then he got in the clutches of the security people and he panicked and apparently wanted something different.

But for a repressive society, he's been able -- he called the Republican Congress. He's been talking to every reporter imaginable. I think the Chinese government is going to let him out in the hopes of defusing this. And frankly, that's a win-win --


MS. CLIFT: -- for both the Obama administration and China.

MR. BUCHANAN: But the American embassy really handled this horribly. This guy was told, either by embassy officials or the Chinese, that if you don't come out of there, we're going to beat your wife to death.

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

MR. BUCHANAN: OK. Then the embassy says the Chinese have given us assurances everything's going to be fine if you walk out the door. (Laughs.) So they entrusted this guy to the Chinese.

Now, I agree with Eleanor to this extent. The Chinese do not want a hellish problem with this guy. They certainly don't want him beaten or killed or something like that. I think they want him out of the country. So there may be a win-win situation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me put this question to Mr. Zuckerman.

In the standoff over Chen, was the resolution a win-win situation, or did either side blink? And, if so, which side blinked?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, at one point both sides blinked. But I think if you're at the position now where he's going to be allowed out of the country with his family, and this is what he's asking for, and I think the Chinese want him to leave with his family, then it'll be a win-win situation for both of them. One will solve the domestic problem, and we will solve a foreign affairs problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is China blinked.

Issue Three: Mitt's Mate.

ANN ROMNEY (wife of former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney): (From videotape.) He valued me. He treated me as an equal partner. And we are equal partners today in everything that we do. We care for each other, we love each other, and we're there for each other. So that's why I'm willing to go out and do these crazy things.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ann Romney, wife of Republican candidate Mitt, recently took the platform in her first solo appearance at a political fundraiser, Connecticut GOP's Prescott Bush awards dinner, before 800 guests.

According to attendees, her address was both personal and at times emotional. Mrs. Romney spoke in detail about raising her children and doing so while dealing with her own serious illnesses, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, MS, diagnosed 14 years ago.

MS. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) There were days were I thought my only future was going to be in bed and too weak to even have any kind of a normal life. But he would remind me all the time that my job was more important than his. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mrs. Romney's, quote-unquote, "job" was the subject of a back and forth with Democratic National Committee strategist Hilary Rosen, who had told CNN that Ann had, quote-unquote, "never worked a day in her life."

Mrs. Romney had responded that raising five boys was, quote- unquote, "hard work." She alluded to the episode.

MS. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I know what it's like to finish the laundry and to look in the basket five minutes later and it's full again. (Laughter.) I know what it's like to pull all the groceries in and see the teenagers run through, and then all of a sudden all the groceries you just bought a few hours ago were gone.

Some people think that I didn't work, but, you know, those were -- (laughter) -- those were things that I was very busy doing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She also described the rigors of the campaign and how those grueling schedules and commitments, the price candidates' families must pay, was worth it or whether it was not worth it.

MS. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I said I only want to know one thing. And that is, Mitt, if you get the nomination, which isn't easy, and number two, if you beat Barack Obama, which isn't going to be easy either, can you fix it? I need to know, is it too late? Has America gone over the proverbial cliff and we don't have time to turn things around? And he said, no, it's getting late, but it's not too late. (Applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How effective a political asset is Ann Romney to her running mate? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, listen, she's wonderful on this kind of a presentation. I've never seen her speak this way. I mean, you can't help but be moved by it. And also it's thought-provoking in a very positive way for her and for her husband. To me, it's a total win for him, and I think she's going to be very effective as a campaigner. And she was helped, obviously, by what Hilary Rosen said.

MR. CARNEY: And there's lots of -- I mean, there is a culture war in this campaign, and the left is trying to say -- the Democrats are trying to say there's a war against women and abortion is going to be a subtext. It's a huge part of the Democratic fundraising thing. And the Hilary Rosen episode, where she said that -- this Democratic -- this DNC adviser said that being a stay-at-home mom was not working --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, there is a subtext. Now what?

MR. CARNEY: She drives him to that. She's very good. But you know where she helped huge was in the primary. I know lots of women who said to me, I could not imagine Callista Gingrich being the first lady, but thinking about Ann Romney being the first lady really warms my heart. So it at least isn't a negative on Mitt in the general, and I think it was a big positive in the primary.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, she is an extraordinary asset. But the question she asked her husband -- Mitt, is it too late? -- I found that very penetrating. It's a question, frankly, that a lot of us are asking about whether the Republicans, even if they win, can they do it, really, in the economy, the way it's going? And I think it was just an excellent question.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How does she --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. How does she compare to the existing first lady?

MS. CLIFT: I think both these women are terrific. And Ann Romney is as natural a presence when she's before a camera as Mitt Romney is as robotic a presence. (Laughter.) So she relates. And so, you know, I think she --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are those other good things you think about Ann Romney? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: You know, I don't have anything negative to say about Ann Romney. And I think Democrats and Republicans, too, should be really careful if you start pitting women against women. The gender gap is a lot more --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can pit man against man --

MS. CLIFT: -- than about who the first lady is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in politics. Why can't you pit women against women?

MS. CLIFT: Because women who stay at home and women who go to work and all that, there's always been tension. But I don't --

MR. BUCHANAN: Don't get into Hilary Rosen country here. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: You don't want to start that fight. You don't want to start that fight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've had our Eleanor Roosevelts. Remember Eleanor. MR. BUCHANAN: She was fairly controversial, according to Westbrook Pegler.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fairly controversial.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there is the political angle here.

Issue Four: This Week's Economic Stats.

The unemployment rate fell from 8.2 percent in March to 8.1 percent in April. The 115,000 jobs added in April were fewer than the 154,000 jobs added in March. The percentage of adults working for or looking for work has fallen to its lowest level in more than 30 years.

Question: What do these numbers tell us about the U.S. recovery? Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, they tell us we're in real trouble, because we need 150,000 jobs just to take into account the new people entering the labor force. We haven't done that for any of the last four or five months. What's more, the only reason the unemployment numbers have gone down as a percentage to the 8.1 is because of the number of people who left the labor force.

Somewhere between 350,000 and 450,000 people left the labor force this month. It was several hundred thousand the last month. The real unemployment numbers are much worse than those numbers. It's closer to 15 percent, because these only measure people who have applied for a job in the last four weeks, when most people have been out of a job for six months and three weeks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the bad news increasing month by month as --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It has been, yes. This year it's now beginning -- to quote Pat -- it's not a quote, but to mimic him -- it was going a little bit more strongly, and now it's really heading down. And I think we're going to have a very difficult summer in the economy.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to respond to this mimicry?

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me respond. That's right. I think what President Obama has done -- this thing was moving up slowly and steadily, but it was going up. And there was a real measurable sort of optimism. It's not going up the way we'd like to see it, but it's going up.

This, John, is like a plane where you're moving up, and suddenly we all get that sick feeling that we're losing altitude again. These were sickening numbers that came out. The stock market reflected it. It was down 150 points a couple of hours after the numbers hit. And I fear that this suggests that we're going to be going down. Especially, John, you've got 10 countries in the Eurozone that are now in recession, and you've got Spain right on the brink of default.

MS. CLIFT: Well, and you would think the message from Europe is that austerity doesn't work, that you've still got to boost these economies. And I think it's too soon to say the economy has bottomed out, but we're running out of runway to the election.

And I think Romney has a real opportunity here. If he actually came out with a serious business plan -- just calling for deregulation, lower taxes, that's more of the same old snake oil, frankly. If he's a real businessman, he should have a business plan and we should see it. Instead he's out there --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MS. CLIFT: -- saying he would create 500,000 jobs a month if he were president.


MS. CLIFT: Why should we believe that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That runway simile --

MS. CLIFT: It's getting short.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- was very (solicitous ?). Was that original?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: I doubt it. It's original to me at this moment on the set, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's the engine versus the runway.

MR. CARNEY: I've got another number for you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to use that?

MR. CARNEY: No. Most recessions, after the bottom of the unemployment thing, after things start getting a little better, it's less than 12 months from the absolute nadir to things getting back to up to where they were before it started.

MS. CLIFT: It's not a typical recession.

MR. CARNEY: Even the 2001 recession, it took less than two years. We're at over two years now. The curve is going up very slowly. And Obama has gotten his stimulus. He's gotten his quantitative easings. The fact of the matter is we don't know what else he has up his sleeve. MR. BUCHANAN: Nobody knows what to do, exactly.


MR. BUCHANAN: The toolbox is empty.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Eurozone --

MS. CLIFT: The toolbox wasn't big enough.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is in the doldrums.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In fact, the unemployment rate in Spain is 24 percent.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The youth unemployment is 50 percent in Spain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that's pretty much throughout -- the bad story throughout Europe. Is that affecting us?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, sure, because, number one, 20 percent of our exports go to Europe. Number two, we get a lot of tourists coming in from Europe. But more than that, what you have is a great deal of anxiety and nervousness in the business and financial world because they see what Pat is seeing. We don't know where the bottom is, but there is sure going to be --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, one big collapse --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- going to be a crash.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, one collapse like Spain --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the whole financial system --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- they could bring the whole thing down.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: And that could cost Obama the election. Joe Biden was right on that one. MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. CARNEY: Maybe Obama could campaign on, hey, at least we're not as bad as Europe; could be an up side for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is very bad news for Obama?

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, the whole Eurozone situation coming over here.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the recovery off track?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. Well, the recovery is -- yeah, off track even without the Eurozone. But that is going to accelerate it. If Europe goes the way everybody thinks it's going to go, we are in real trouble here, as they are in terrible trouble there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: President Sarkozy's career ends on Sunday, John, and there will be a crisis in the European Union because the socialist candidate will confront Merkel on expansive policy. And in the June elections, the big winner is going to be Marine Le Pen and the National Front, because Sarkozy will be gone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the Eurozone is in peril.

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


MS. CLIFT: Judging by Obama campaign ads already running in Virginia, Obama's going to aggressively frame Mitt Romney's job creation as sending jobs overseas.


MR. CARNEY: Richard Lugar's career is going to end on Tuesday. He's going to lose his Republican primary in Indiana to Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer. And Mourdock, I think, will win the general election also.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, the very weak employment numbers that just came out really now tell you that we're going to have a very weak summer in terms of the economy, and it's still going to be an even larger issue than we've all been predicting. I think we're going to see unemployment really be hurt. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Newt Gingrich will be offered a job with Mitt Romney's administration, and Newt will accept the position.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo. Bye-bye.