The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner;
Ryan Grim, Huffington Post

Taped: Friday, March 8, 2013
Broadcast: Weekend of March 9-10, 2013

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Barry, Call Kim.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

DENNIS RODMAN (former NBA basketball player): He wants Obama to do one thing -- call him.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC News): He wants a call from President

MR. RODMAN: That's right. He told me that. He said, if you can, Dennis, I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ex-professional basketball player Dennis Rodman met last week with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. Rodman was in North Korea with the Harlem Globetrotters, filming for HBO TV. Kim is a basketball enthusiast, so the basketball player and the dictator enjoyed their time together with a level of animation that easily overcame any language barrier.

MR. RODMAN: (From videotape.) I don't condone what he does. But as far as a person to person, he's my friend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rodman's new friend is North Korea's great leader, who just tested its atomic bomb capabilities for the third time. China disapproves. So does the U.S. And China this week voted at the U.N. alongside the United States to punish Pyongyang by increasing financial, economic and trade sanctions.

Two hundred thousand North Koreans are said to be imprisoned in the North Korean gulags. The Economist magazine reports that entrepreneurial merchants, who have become the north's nouveau riche, are changing the reclusive state. Some North Korean people may be starving, others stunted by famine and malnutrition, but the invisible hand of an awakening market is changing thinking.

Quote: "Capitalism is letting in the outside world, a vital change for a people fed only grotesque lies. Corrupt border guards and security operatives can be bribed. The mobile phones, computers and radios that the traders sell are eroding the state's monopoly on truth. They discover that the worker's utopia is built on a great lie."

Question: What impact will it have on North Korea's nuclear program if China follows through with the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea? China.

MORT ZUCKERMAN: It would certainly have a big effect on North Korea's economy, which is a very fragile economy in the first place. But I always find it kind of strange that very short dictators like very tall basketball players.

I don't know what this all means, but this guy, the leader of North Korea, is not exactly a neighbor that you want to have. South Korea is very nervous about it. The Chinese are very nervous about it. They're always afraid that a war is going to break out. And who knows what's going to happen next?

But, listen, if this guy started a dialogue with him, it's fine with me, as far as I'm concerned.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, the Harlem Globetrotters have been ambassadors of good will around the world for a long time. But in the case of Kim Jong Un, you wonder if he's getting the wrong idea, that he can somehow go around the administration and that there are other centers of power that he can deal with.

And these new sanctions are aimed particularly at high-end luxury goods, which is a way of getting at the ruling class over there, because they really -- they're brutal to the people there. And I applaud whatever entrepreneurial class is beginning to arise, but I think that's going to take a long time before the ordinary North Korean sees any benefit from that.

And it's really scary, all of the belligerent rhetoric that is coming out of that kingdom, and we have to take it seriously. And they do have nuclear power. But I must say that I think we attribute most of it to braggadocio. It's hard to take them seriously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Google executive Schmidt and Bill Richardson went over to North Korea. It appears as though the basketball player accomplished a lot more than they did.

SUSAN FERRECHIO: What did he accomplish? I mean, last week the sanctions that came down on North Korea did absolutely nothing. They reasserted that they would be ditching the non-aggression pact with the south. Nothing really has changed over there except that things continue to be strange. I mean, they've got the whole country thinking that it's the South Koreans who need to be saved and not themselves from this dictatorship that's starving them.

I think that Economist article is right on point. It's talking about the only way to change things there is through the hearts of the people, with the people understanding that it really is a great big lie. How do you do that? Through technology. People are sneaking cell phones and other technology over the borders there all the time. It's going to start to really infiltrate the population. It's going to sort of go viral.
People eventually, over time, are going to understand that this dictatorship is starving them, not helping them. And that's the only way you're going to see change. Otherwise it's going to be this creeping situation with the nuclear arms. And let's just all hope it doesn't involve in a big nuclear attack.

RYAN GRIM: The other point here, as North Korea marches towards a nuclear weapon, it shows what an utter failure our intervention in Iraq was. We went into Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to be there. All the while, North Korea had them and was pursuing them and is now on the brink of getting a nuclear weapon. It's a signature failure of both administrations, but more so the one that decided to invade Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you surprised at China's reaction, namely that it's going to enforce sanctions probably against North Korea?

MR. GRIM: No, I think China is starting to recognize that it's not necessarily in their interest to have this pariah state right on its border. It thought for a long time that this was the buffer they needed between the United States and South Korea.

They're seeing that they're actually much closer to the United States and Google and Schmidt in the way that they run their economy than they are now with North Korea. So what's the need for the buffer if we're a globalized economy?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we're living with a stereotype of North Korea, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: A stereotype or a caricature? I hope it's a caricature. But I actually think it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think North Korea is far more developed than we had hitherto thought?

MS. CLIFT: No, I don't. No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think so?



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, then you're living with a stereotype.

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's underdeveloped.

MS. FERRECHIO: It's reality.

MS. CLIFT: But I must --


MS. FERRECHIO: It's reality.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not the reality.

MS. CLIFT: But our foreign policy has been so focused on Iran and the dangers of Iran getting a weapon. North Korea already has a weapon. They could drop it on South Korea, potentially on Japan, obliterate a lot of U.S. soldiers and a lot of people. And they haven't done it. So -- and their leaders are far more -- less rational than the leaders of Iran, and they haven't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not talking about rationality. We're talking about --

MS. CLIFT: -- and they haven't done it, because they understand --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the level of --

MS. CLIFT: -- it is suicidal. And so that gives me some hope.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's intended to be a deterrence. It's not intended to be an actual weapon.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And actually it works as a deterrence. In that sense, they're quite rational.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: A nuclear weapon is exactly what they need, because they are afraid, in fact, that China will go after them or South Korea will go after them, South Korea in particular.

MS. CLIFT: And the Bush administration --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But with a nuclear weapon, nobody's going to do anything about it.

MS. CLIFT: And the Bush administration didn't go after North Korea. They went after Iraq, as you pointed out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MS. CLIFT: -- which did not have weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So should President Obama call Kim?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I don't see why not. I mean, there has to be some level -- some breakthrough. And if there is this kind of a dialogue, why not? I don't know where it would go, but why not?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the president should phone up Kim?

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to leave that to the smarter minds at the State Department.


MS. CLIFT: I think -- I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: My answer is no on that one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- it's not like you. You say no.

MS. CLIFT: I generally am in favor of all kinds of relationships with even the bad guys. You've got to talk to the bad guys. But --


MS. CLIFT: -- in this particular instance, I think what the North Korean leader wants to do, he wants to watch an NFL game with President Obama. I don't think he's talking seriously about engagement between the two countries.

MR. GRIM: It fits his campaign pledge, though. He said he would talk to any world leader, no matter what the status of the relationship.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a good point. He did say that.


MR. GRIM: So go ahead and do it. And if watching a couple of football games with this guy avoids nuclear war, sit down and watch a football game.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would a phone call from the president to Kim improve his standing in North Korea?

MS. FERRECHIO: I think the best approach with North Korea right now is to get them back into the six-party talks. They walked out of it years ago. Try to find some way to get them back in where real negotiating on nuclear weapons can be on the table.

Talking about football -- I mean, I don't think we're dealing with real rational people over in North Korea. If they're talking -- if this guy is meeting with Dennis Rodman thinking that he's going to somehow accomplish peace with the United States, what does that tell you about his mental status?

MR. GRIM: Although here we are talking about it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. It's all around the world.

MS. FERRECHIO: It does not change the game in North Korea.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's talk about the level of development that exists over there -- the size of their army, what kind of armamentarium there is in it.

MS. FERRECHIO: That's the kind of thing you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You'd be surprised if you look up the data on North Korea.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, we are all surprised, because nobody pays much attention to them. But the fact is now there is such a broad knowledge of how nuclear weapons are formed and built, et cetera, et cetera, we're going to see this proliferate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is it there are a major outflux of people?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Out of where? Out of North Korea?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: North Korea.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: To where? To where are they going to go?

MS. CLIFT: The living situation --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They can go where others go who leave countries to travel somewhere else.

MS. FERRECHIO: Do you know how hard it is to try to cross the border there without getting killed?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I do. I've been in that --

MS. FERRECHIO: Where are they going to go?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- blue lodge that straddles the border between North and South Korea.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but crossing the border --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you look through one window and you see a man on a turret walking around to see if anybody's crossing the border. He's North Korean. And you look at the other one and he's South Korean, and he's looking to see the same thing.

MS. FERRECHIO: You know, the North Korean leaders --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. They want to --

MS. FERRECHIO: -- have a spell over the people there too. You have to understand that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's right across the border.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I've not been there.

MS. FERRECHIO: People there live in fear and they're malnourished.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't -- well, they --

MS. FERRECHIO: They don't have the things we have here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they want to stay there, though.

MS. FERRECHIO: They live under a spell of --

MS. CLIFT: They don't have choices.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They live under a spell?


MS. CLIFT: They don't have choices.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come, come, come. What's their level of education?

MS. CLIFT: They don't have choices. And while I would welcome an uprising brought about by technology, I think the people there have very limited means to engage in that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we're living in a --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You have to think that they have developed nuclear weaponry. I mean, we don't think of North Korea in that context, and yet there they are.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's quite remarkable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what's the consensus here? Should the president call Kim or not?



MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. No, I'm yes.

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm no. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Call him up?



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why not? Call him up.

Issue Two: Holder Stirs the Pot.

Eric Holder, the attorney general, took a question put by Senator Chuck Grassley during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): Do you believe that Congress has the constitutional authority to pass a law prohibiting the president's ability to use drone aircrafts to use lethal force against American citizens on U.S. soil? And, if not, why not?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Do I think the Congress has the ability to pass such a bill?

SEN. GRASSLEY: No, whether the legislation -- well, yeah, Congress has the constitutional authority to pass a law prohibiting the president's ability to use drone aircraft to use lethal force against American citizens on U.S. soil.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: I'm not sure that such a bill would be constitutional. I think that might run contrary to the Article II powers that the president has. I'd have to look at, obviously, the legislation, but I would have that concern.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the attorney general's response more of an evasion than it is an answer? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: He's responding like the lawyer he is, whether it's constitutional or not. And I think there are real questions whether that would tread on the executive war powers. But it then gets whipped up into this whole saga on the floor of the Senate, where libertarian view, represented by Senator Rand Paul, translates this into be careful, your government is coming to get you.

And it was -- he conducted this 13-hour filibuster, which was admirable that he did a filibuster instead of just quietly killing the nomination of John Brennan, which is how Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, killed the nomination of a very qualified judge for the D.C. circuit --

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

MS. CLIFT: -- named Caitlin Halligan. So I commend the filibuster. But if you listened to it, it was a paranoiac rant.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's listen to a little bit of it. OK, stand with Rand.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky sees a big issue in the attorney general's imprecision. And he worries that the incoming CIA director, John Brennan, may share Holder's, and possibly the president's, permissible over-extension of drone activity.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): (From videotape.) So there are some big issues here, some issues that we as a country, I think, gloss over. If we were to have a vote on restricting drones, there is a bill out there that we're working on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Wednesday, Senator Paul staged a nearly -- get this -- 13-hour-long filibuster in which he brought whatever legal reasoning exists behind the administration's secret drone program into very public view.

At issue is whether the executive power to kill American citizens without a trial and due process is constitutional. The filibuster, through the device of continuing talking, is a technique by which a minority of senators advantages itself against the majority to oppose it.

Besides Senator Paul, other Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, and at least one Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, entered the fray. There were moments of levity. A Milky Way candy bar fell out of Paul's mouth, sustenance to keep him going. Senator Rubio quoted from the movie "The Godfather." Senator Ted Cruz read long segments from Shakespeare. Rand Paul or his stand- ins did not yield the floor until 12:38 a.m. Thursday morning, almost 13 hours of continuous oration.

On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder responded in a letter to the 13-hour filibuster by Paul and company. Quote: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no," unquote.

Question: Who won this issue, Rand Paul or Barack Obama? Susan Ferrechio.

MS. FERRECHIO: Rand Paul. I mean, I know, Eleanor, you said he was ranting on the floor, a paranoid rant. Well, let's face it. There have been times when the Republicans have sought information from the White House. They've either never gotten the answer or they've had to wait weeks or months to get it all to trickle in.

Well, Rand Paul wanted some information. He stood on the Senate floor for 13 hours. He walked off the floor. He got his answer in writing. And then the nomination for CIA Director Brennan went forward. It was a victory for him.

MS. CLIFT: I'm with John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who basically said this was over the top in creating a sense that the government is really just waiting for this opportunity to drop a drone on you. But I'll grant you the point. The ACLU put out a statement siding with Rand Paul, and this is where the left and the right do meet. I mean, there are genuine questions about the drones, and he did ask them. But he took it to a dimension which really does raise questions about --

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

MS. CLIFT: -- the -- I want to say this gracefully --


MS. CLIFT: -- so maybe I'd better not say it at all. (Laughs.)


MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come on, Eleanor, don't chicken out on us now.

MS. CLIFT: It raises questions about, you know, what he's up to. It's like he's trying to stir --

MS. FERRECHIO: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: -- stir a revolt against the U.S. government.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, it's an issue of civil liberties.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He had a perfectly legitimate issue, and he focused it. Does the American government at home have the right to fire a drone at a noncombatant? That is the thing that he emphasized over and over again. And that is the answer that he got. No was the answer. He got a vague answer that was very confused --

MS. CLIFT: What about a combatant?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But he was only asking -- he was focusing on noncombatants. And that's a serious issue that he raised, and I think he raised it in a very effective way.

MS. FERRECHIO: So ever since 9/11, there has been an encroachment on civil liberties as a result of our effort to make sure there's not another terrorist attack here. We have the Patriot Act. People can listen in on your phone calls, look at your email.

Now we've got this increasing use of drones, which unmistakably is the new force for the military and the CIA to keep an eye on things everywhere. All that coming together, I think, creates a real legitimate issue of whether or not our civil liberties are being threatened. And that is what Ron Paul is --

MS. CLIFT: He said if I'm a tea party person, is the government going to come after me?

MR. GRIM: But --

MS. CLIFT: Now, do you actually -- there are tea party people out there who believe that. That is fueling --

MS. FERRECHIO: It's not an illegitimate question, though.

MS. CLIFT: -- that notion, us against them. It's them against this government.

MS. FERRECHIO: But the government has said you should watch out for some of these tea party people.

MS. CLIFT: I didn't hear any of this --

MS. FERRECHIO: They've already -- Janet Napolitano has already --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. I didn't hear any of this when President Bush was in the White House, who created the drone program.

MR. GRIM: The specifics --

MS. CLIFT: Only when Obama is doing it.

MR. GRIM: The precise charges --

MS. FERRECHIO: But it's evolved.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, it's evolved.

MR. GRIM: The precise charges that Rand Paul was making actually aren't the point here. People won't remember exactly what question he was trying to get Holder to answer. What they will remember is that he took a stand for civil liberties, which comes after all of the things that you laid out, which, you know, began under Bush -- well, actually began, let's say, under Reagan, and continued under Clinton and Bush, but have been exacerbated by the Obama administration. People are going to remember that the Republican libertarian wing stood up to it. They're not going to remember exactly what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you listen to the filibuster?

MR. GRIM: Not all 13 hours.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you listen to any reference to Jane Fonda?


MR. GRIM: I did, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As I have it here, he suggested -- that is, Paul did -- that the Justice Department's view would permit a president to use a drone to launch a Hellfire missile at Jane Fonda. Is that what he said?

MR. GRIM: That's -- why wouldn't it? If Jane --

MS. CLIFT: That's what I meant by paranoiac rant. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MS. FERRECHIO: He was making an example of her. That's all.

MR. GRIM: Look, if an American citizen, like Jane Fonda, is in enemy territory, collaborating with the enemy, then why wouldn't the administration's rationale allow her to be killed? Just because --

MS. CLIFT: Yes, she was. She was in enemy territory.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And what about the --

MR. GRIM: Right. She doesn't have a Muslim name.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it in America, or is it on foreign soil?

MR. GRIM: Well, she was in North --

MS. FERRECHIO: She was in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know she was.

MR. GRIM: She was in North Vietnam.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know she was.

MR. GRIM: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But as I see it, he was saying if a president could deploy a drone against a U.S. citizen in America, at his or her discretion, the power could be abused against anyone.

MR. GRIM: If the other conditions were met, that they could not -- they couldn't capture the person and they thought it was --

MS. CLIFT: You know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we have somehow -- what has escaped us is the drone itself? We have really serious issues before you go any further than the drone, do we not?

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's true.

MS. FERRECHIO: There are -- the drone technology is really growing and the use of them is growing, and they're being used in the United States --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is the --

MS. FERRECHIO: -- and they're being used by local governments and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's examining, as we tried to do on an earlier program for a bit, the morality of the drone itself?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm totally in favor of the drone itself. I think it's absolutely moral if it's in the use of the national defense of the United States, which it seems to me should responsibly be in the executive branch. They are enormously effective in terms of going after people that we can't get in any other way except at the cost of American lives. I have no problem with that at all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, either in the Atlantic Monthly or Harper's, of some vintage, maybe three to six months ago, there was a superb article --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that attacked the morality of the drone.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And I think that one of those -- that kind of thinking should go on before we even reach this point.

Exit question: On a civil liberties scale, zero to 10, how big a victory was this? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think I would give it a seven.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You would?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, yeah, because it really focused, and he gave the answer afterwards. It wasn't at the time that Rand Paul made his speech. He gave the answer -- the attorney general gave the answer that, no, we could not go after noncombatant Americans with the drone. And I think that's a good --

MS. CLIFT: Do you believe that was genuinely at issue, that the administration is considering going after people --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Why didn't he answer it at the time?

MS. FERRECHIO: He gave an evasive answer.

MS. CLIFT: Because they thought it was so obvious that no one would be asking the question.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You can't justify a non-answer.

MS. CLIFT: Rand Paul -- he's a social-media hit. And, you know, God bless him and all that. Let him run for president. But he didn't extract anything from this administration that wasn't already there.

MS. FERRECHIO: But candidate Obama was a social-media hit as well, and now he's the president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of the filibuster?

MS. FERRECHIO: I thought it was a big success for Rand Paul.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A filibuster -- any filibuster.

MS. FERRECHIO: Any filibuster?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of any -- the concept of filibusters?

MS. FERRECHIO: There's two types of filibusters. There's the one where people aren't on the floor talking and they're just blocking with the 60-vote threshold, and then there's the real traditional filibuster where the person gets up and talks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about the latter, the real thing.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, it almost never happens. It almost never happens for as long as what Rand Paul did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who holds the record?

MS. FERRECHIO: Is it Strom Thurmond?

MS. CLIFT: Strom Thurmond.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Strom Thurmond. How long did he talk?

MR. GRIM: Twenty-four hours.

MS. FERRECHIO: Twenty-four hours.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Twenty-four hours.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Twenty-four hours?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he get relief pitchers in there, as happened in the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. You're not allowed --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No relief pitchers?

MR. GRIM: Nobody was supporting him, because they had already come to an agreement at that point.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he had times for natural function?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.


MR. GRIM: But he held it.


MS. CLIFT: You know --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: He did have relief.

MS. FERRECHIO: He held it. He dehydrated himself beforehand.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The reason why Rand Paul stopped is that he had to go to the men's room.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. That's what I'm getting at.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely. Yes. No, I understand what you're getting at.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So Strom Thurmond --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Strom Thurmond is a remarkable man on many levels.

MS. FERRECHIO: He made sure he was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I knew Strom.

MS. FERRECHIO: He made sure he was --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Obama Outreach.

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R-TN): (From videotape.) The president talked about the kind of things that he felt like needed to be part of a larger deal. So, again, what I would say that the most, I think, salient part about the dinner was it was a very sincere and open conversation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Second-term Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was one of 12 senators, all Republicans, wined and dined by President Obama this week. The dinner took place not at the White House but a few blocks from the White House, at the Jefferson Hotel dining room in D.C.

The central topic of discussion: The U.S. deficit and how it can be reduced over the long term. This issue had been sidelined by sharp disagreements over the budget that resulted in across-the-board cuts, $85 billion worth, in FY 2013, known as the sequester.

The Obama outreach did not stop at the dinner. It also extended to lunch at the White House on Thursday with Representative Paul Ryan, the vice presidential candidate on the Mitt Romney ticket and noted budget analyst.

Next week the president will meet with more members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats.

Question: Why is President Obama making a show out of reaching out to Republicans after spending the past three months on the road vilifying the Republicans? Ryan Grim.

MR. GRIM: Well, he wants a deal. He has -- he desperately wants a grand bargain. He has wanted one, and he's signaled it from the beginning of 2011. He has described himself as at heart a moderate Republican. And I think that describes his political posture well. If these Republicans can get over their partisan distaste for him, I think they would find him willing to deal on entitlements and all sorts of other things that his own party, you know, would flame him for.

MS. CLIFT: Well, if he doesn't get a deal, the rest of his presidency gets smothered by these fiscal crises and he doesn't get anything done. So he does --

MR. GRIM: Although --

MS. CLIFT: -- he does want a deal. And he's testing the proposition that the Republican Party is so divided among itself that he can create some new coalitions that can then put some pressure on the leaders. He's going around the leaders. And everyone at that dinner the other night has expressed some frustration with their party's obstinacy.

MS. FERRECHIO: I think there are a couple of reasons why this happened. One, his campaign-style tactic failed on the sequester. So he has to stop doing that and try something else, because that's not working. His poll numbers are going down. His approval rating has dropped the most since November. So he's going to try to a new approach.

Second, if you look at some of the polling numbers, and especially some that you've shown here on this show, that the public is really clamoring for debt reduction by huge numbers, really big, impressive numbers. So he knows he needs to do that.

Number three, his legacy. Does he want to leave his presidency with $20 billion (sic/means trillion) in debt? No. He's got to come up with a deal.

Put all this together; he can't get on the road and keep doing the rah-rah rallies anymore. He's got to actually sit down and listen to Republicans. He's doing this because he has no other choice. And so he's sitting down, talking to Republicans. It's true what Eleanor said. He may be looking to maybe divide a couple or build a coalition --

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans are issueless and leaderless. (Laughs.)

MR. GRIM: I don't think the public cares that much about the debt. I think the polls --

MS. FERRECHIO: Look at the poll numbers. That's not true. So --

MR. GRIM: The polls where people say they care about the deficit, they're thinking of the deficit as a proxy for the economy. If you get the economy going, people will not care.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, that is true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that point --

MS. FERRECHIO: If the economy's going better, they will stop caring. I agree with that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On your point, 61 percent approve of the sequester's domestic spending cuts. In addition to that, you've got -- The Washington Post and Bob Woodward have been clamoring for Obama to try to exhibit some, if they exist, negotiating skills.
That obviously was behind the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It is critical.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Jefferson, to some extent.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He will never make any kind of progress on this issue --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he has all the answers.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, he believes he has all the answers. He does not have all the answers. And all I can say is that we are running an enormous risk with the kind of debts and deficits --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- we are accumulating in this country, and he has to know that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's intellectually conceited?


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he's intellectually modest, and sometimes for good reason.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Congress of the United States and the president are going to reach a grand bargain on our budget deficits and on our taxes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wonderful.

MS. CLIFT: Hear, hear.

The administration will succeed in trying Osama bin Laden's son- in-law in New York criminal court, as opposed to shuffling him off to Guantanamo.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Almost out of time. Two seconds.

MS. FERRECHIO: The grand bargain is going to be between Obama and Congress on Medicare.

MR. GRIM: Jennifer Granholm will not run for Carl Levin's seat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Communism today in China is dying. I predict that by 2025 it will be dead. The market will rule.


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