The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Tim Carney, Washington Examiner;
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast;
David Rennie, The Economist;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, October 18, 2013
Broadcast: Weekend of October 19-20, 2013

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Let's Make a Deal.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) We hear some members who pushed for the shutdown say they were doing it to save the American economy. But nothing has done more to undermine our economy these past three years than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From videotape.) Republicans remain determined to repeal this terrible law. But for today, for today, the relief we hope for is to reopen the government, avoid default, and protect the historic cuts we achieved under the Budget Control Act. This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly, but it's far better than what some had sought.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Congress and the White House brokered a deal this week to simultaneously end the three-week-long government shutdown and extend the debt ceiling beyond its $16.7 trillion limit. The budget standoff began September 23 when Republican Senator Ted Cruz took the floor in a 21-hour filibuster over "Obamacare."

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): (From videotape.) I do not like green eyes and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cruz was backed up by conservatives in the House of Representatives, who insisted on delaying the Affordable Care Act mandate for individuals to buy health insurance.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner broke the deadlock by offering President Obama a deal. Six days of negotiations later, the White House and Congress reached an interim agreement. The federal government is back in operation until January 15 of next year. The debt ceiling is extended until February 7th of next year.

A joint House-Senate budget conference committee, chaired by House Republican Paul Ryan and Senate Democrat Patty Murray, will negotiate a new federal budget.

Question: Is the real horse trading about to begin on automatic spending cuts, potential tax increases, another debt-ceiling increase and "Obamacare," or 10 weeks from now will there be a New Year's sequel to this month's government shutdown and almost debt default?

TIM CARNEY: The horse trading is about to begin, and it's going to begin -- the irony is now Ted Cruz has won, because now the Republican leadership is going to be in the position of trying to get concessions on "Obamacare." Paul Ryan is obviously going to try to get cuts to Medicare, you know, and Social Security and the entitlements. And they're going to look to save sequestration.

So the Republicans are now singing from the playbook that it was previously only back bencher Ted Cruz singing from. The question is, is there anything they can give the Democrats to make this happen? And, you know, I think there is.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Ted Cruz won in a very small universe, and that's the true believers. The Republican Party has been so tarnished by the events of the last several weeks that the remaining moderates -- the traditionalists, the establishment, the Wall Street backers -- are rising up against Ted Cruz and the minority of tea party people that brought us to this position.

And I think Mitch McConnell has already said we're not going to default again. We're not going to use the government shutdown. And so I think the expectations for any kind of real deal coming out of the talks are very low, which is why they might succeed. They may adjust some of the, you know, sequestration so that people can allocate where the cuts are a little more evenly.

I think there's some hope that the fever is broken. The election did nothing to push back the Republican zeal to overturn "Obamacare." But the events of the last couple of weeks and the poll numbers may have Republicans thinking long and hard about whether they ever try to use this tactic again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: David Rennie.

DAVID RENNIE: I think as long as we keep talking about who is winning and losing inside the Washington bubble, we're all doomed. We all know -- everyone knows what needs to be done.

There are some areas of spending that really need to be addressed in the long term to do with, you know, Social Security for the elderly, health care, these gigantic things. And Ted Cruz and his sort, they haven't touched this stuff. They don't want to talk about this stuff. And the spending cuts that we've seen so far, the automatic spending cuts, they don't touch that spending. They touch the wrong sort of spending, the discretionary spending, things like medical research.

So we've spent this entirely fruitless year of squabbling. If now this exercise leads us to start looking at the right spending cuts, things that Paul Ryan has written about in the past, has talked about in the past, then America might get something out of this. But really, to talk about who's winning and losing in Washington is the wrong approach.


MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, if this is a victory, it looks to me like it's a defeat. I just don't see the Republicans gaining. I certainly don't see the Democrats gaining much, although I do think in political terms the president came out better than we would have thought at the beginning.
But if he had a personal victory, the country had a huge loss, because we have undermined the confidence of the entire world's financial system in the political decision-making of the United States, which is going to affect the ability that we have had. We now have almost $6 trillion of foreign money invested in American paper, which enables us to borrow money at much lower rates.

This is going to have a huge effect on the United States, and it as basically the repository of the world's wealth. And we're not over this yet. This is going to last a while, until there is a greater confidence in the political decision-making of the American government that is willing to jeopardize our credit that is so critical to the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, new news is old news.

Summer 2011, two-plus years, histrionic headlines and news stories warned of the catastrophic consequences of a U.S. default on the debt. Interest rates would rise astronomically.

The dollar would shed its reserve currency status. The world would be plunged back into recession. America's reputation would be tarnished irrevocably.

We're not talking about this month's news. This was back in the summer of 2011, when the White House and Congress had a standoff over increasing the debt ceiling, then a mere $14.3 trillion, as opposed to today's robust $16.7 trillion.
Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. from its AAA credit rating of outstanding to AA+ because of the political gridlock. That gridlock has since become routine. In 2012, the stalemate was over the so-called fiscal cliff, the double-whammy expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the scheduled start of sequestration spending cuts that alarmists warned would derail the economy.

At the last minute, Mssrs. Obama and Boehner cut a deal to avert that calamity. This year's 2013 budget and debt-ceiling standoff, now scheduled to extend into 2014, reveals a new pattern in American politics. The lack of political consensus on fundamental functions of government means the White House and Congress fail to negotiate until a crisis looms, and then only act at the last minute.

Question: Is this the new normal in American politics? Timothy.

MR. CARNEY: The reason that it is the new normal isn't just -- isn't that the parties are that separated ideologically. It's that the nature of politics have changed because of technology, because of super PACs, these giant groups that can go out and fund. So the party leaders don't have the control they used to have.

Rank-and-file senators and congressmen used to really have to listen to what the speaker or the majority leader or minority leader would tell them to do, because that was the only way for them to raise money. But now, if you're a back-bench member in either chamber, you can go out and raise your own money through the Internet, through these other groups that don't rely on business lobbyists, who they're upsetting -- the Republicans are upsetting the business lobby, so they go out to a bunch of conservatives who watch their ads.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, well, you're right that the leaders don't have the tools. They can't give away bridges anymore. Earmarks have been done away with.

MR. CARNEY: Earmarks -- (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: And so the leaders have really been neutered. And the outside groups, like Heritage Action and Club for Growth, have really driven these politics and have given the Republican Party right over the edge, which is why it was so important for the president to stare down the other side this time, because in 2011 it was widely perceived that he was the one who got rolled.

And that's why the right thought that they could use the threat of shutdown and threat of default to get what they wanted again. And this is unprecedented in American politics to try to overturn a law through these means. And so the president has won an important principle here, not only for himself but for future presidents.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When did bipartisanship go out the window?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think we've had bipartisanship. We still have bipartisanship to a degree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did we have it in the first term of Barack Obama?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We have a diminished amount of bipartisanship. In fact, what was remarkable about his presidency is he has virtually no relations with the Republicans and very few relations with the leaders of the Democratic Party in the House and in the Senate.
So he has very little of that reach that either Ronald Reagan was able to do -- and I watched him myself -- or Bill Clinton was able to do. And it makes a huge difference. And this is a part of what contributes to what is really a tragedy for the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Democrats control the presidency. Democrats control the House.

MR. CARNEY: The Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Democrats -- huh?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Senate, not the House. Republicans control the House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the first term.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, the first term, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The first term. Democrats controlled the Senate and the House. They controlled the whole works.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They froze out the Republicans, did they not?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is true. That is exactly the way --

MS. CLIFT: They didn't freeze out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish. Let him finish.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me put it this way. The Republicans certainly felt that way, even if other people didn't feel that way. The Republicans ended up in a very --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama told the leadership take a back seat.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You remember that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MS. CLIFT: You know, if you want to let in another side here, remember a decision made early on by the Republicans that they were not going to cooperate with anything this president has done? And that was a decision made. And now you have -- they have exalted the tea party, the radicals within their own midst, and now they're having trouble controlling them.

The Republican Party is cracking up here. This is not -- the Democrats are unified. The president has been in the foxhole with the Democrats the last two weeks. There's been plenty of bonding going on, Mort. Don't worry about that anymore.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't worry about it.

MS. CLIFT: And he's talked about the, quote, "responsible Republicans." And you had Republicans in the Senate coming over to the White House trying to figure out what they're going to do to contain, control, rein in, whatever expression you want to use --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This is a president who wouldn't negotiate.

MS. CLIFT: -- the tea party, which wants to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wouldn't?

MS. CLIFT: -- wreck government.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This president would not negotiate with Boehner. He refused to negotiate.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: When's the last time a president did that? Not to my memory.

MS. CLIFT: I recall Speaker Boehner saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, you're getting emotional.

MS. CLIFT: -- I'm not going to negotiate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even your voice is affected. (Laughter.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, if my voice were strong, I would be even more -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is this whole thing playing in Peoria? Seriously. You've heard the phrase playing in Peoria.

MR. RENNIE: Playing in Peoria they used to use in Vaudeville days. I went to Peoria, Illinois last week to see what it has playing. People are, to some extent, a plague on everyone's houses. They're sick of -- they want a government that works.

But I think the important thing is we mustn't get too ramped in the Washington process of how congressmen get funded or the confrontations in Congress. What's really happening here is this is being driven by decades of the middle class feeling squeezed, people feeling they're not getting their fair shot, that the American dream is itself in doubt.
You know, this is the driving force that I think explains why this is the new normal, because it's that kind of deep anger that politicians can't deliver what the middle-class Americans want, which is the American dream, the sense of things being a fair shot, the wealth being spread about equally. It's that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a pox on both your houses? Is that the mentality in Peoria?

MR. RENNIE: That is the mentality in Peoria, and a sense that -- about desire for more sort of bipartisanship.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a political probability scale, zero to 100, zero meaning no likelihood whatsoever and 100 meaning ultra-metaphysical certitude -- that's ultra-metaphysical certitude, you got that? -- how likely is it that there will be a repeat of the government shutdown in January? Zero to 100.

MR. CARNEY: Twenty-two.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Twenty-two?

MR. CARNEY: Twenty-two. It probably won't happen, but it wouldn't shock me if it happened.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I'll go --

MR. RENNIE: That's very (perceptive ?).

MS. CLIFT: OK. I'll go half of that -- 11 percent. Republicans would have to be truly suicidal. Charlie Cook, who's the recognized political expert in Washington, has already switched 14 seats from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning.

MR. CARNEY: He's wrong.

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans are going nowhere with their bid for the Senate. They've cornered themselves here so far to the right with this destructive way they've managed the last couple of weeks.


MR. RENNIE: Thirty.


MR. RENNIE: Yeah, because I think that the debt ceiling they're not going to do, so they may have to have another point of leverage. It's very hard to -- you know, they think there's electoral advantage in this. There's still a kind of hard core on the right that thinks there's an extra advantage. God knows why they think that, but --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: With 73 percent of the Americans in a poll wanting to throw out everybody in the Congress, I think it's under 10 percent that they won't have a deal. They don't want to risk the wrath, on both sides of the aisle, of the American public. And they're just at that point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree with you. I think it's low -- 10 percent.

Issue Two: No Winners.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Now, there's been a lot of discussion lately of the politics of this shutdown. But let's be clear. There are no winners here. I will look for willing partners, wherever I can, to get important work done. And there's no good reason why we can't govern responsibly, despite our differences, without lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: After weeks of Democratic denunciations of Republicans as hostage-taking, ransom-demanding anarchists and extremists who want to, quote, "blow up the whole economy," unquote, President Obama sounded a conciliatory note on Thursday.

In a statement he read in the White House, Mr. Obama urged Republicans and Democrats to look for areas on which they can agree, ranging from the upcoming budget negotiations to immigration and the farm bill.

Mr. Obama made no reference to his own role in the recent standoff, which began in late summer, when he insisted he would not negotiate with Republicans over the debt-ceiling extension, nor did he mention his role in the government shutdown, which centered on his refusal to negotiate with Republicans over a one-year exemption for individuals to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act, despite Mr. Obama's recent one-year exemption for businesses from their mandate to provide insurance.

Close observers of the recent standoff are wondering whether the entire crisis could have been averted if Mr. Obama had sounded this conciliatory tone two months ago, when the battle lines were forming.

According to The Economist magazine, which you write the Lexington column for -- I hope I'm not revealing state secrets --

MR. RENNIE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Obama's approval rating climbed to 56 percent -- his disapproval rating 56 percent, and his approval rating dropped to 42 percent during the standoff. Is this an incentive for Obama to negotiate with the Republicans?

MR. RENNIE: You've got to hope so. Why doesn't he call their bluff? They want long-term deficit reduction. He should put some things on the table that he's willing to do. In the past we've seen this. But if you want to talk about winners and losers, I think we don't want to forget the international side of this. And there was a huge loser from this, which is America around the world.
Where was President Obama supposed to be as this kicked off? He was supposed to be on a really important short tour of Asia. You have the Asian allies very worried about the rise of China, a country where I used to be posted, wanting to see American warships, America playing its role as a free-trade referee. Obama was going to go and reassure the Asian allies that he's made this pivot to Asia; he's going to be there. And then he couldn't even turn up because his own domestic politics were so dysfunctional.

I was in the White House for some interviews as the passports came back from the travel office for all the guys who were supposed to be on the Asia trip, handing out the American passports because they were grounded in Washington as I sat in the National Security Council. That's a really horrible thing to see if you want to see America play a big role in the world.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: Well, there are huge opportunity losses here. And $24 billion has been attached just to the shutdown alone. And you've got the Chinese and we've got a friendly competition with them. They would like to have their currency be the main currency of the world. And you're going to see some people beginning to take that seriously.
So, you know, I agree that there are no real winners here. And the loss of faith and confidence in America and how we can govern ourselves, for the party -- for Democrats, who believe that government helps people and want government to work, there's a loss here as well.

But the president has put some things on the table, but the Republicans refused to put any revenue on the table. That is the crux of this once again. If they will go for some loophole closing or whatever they want to call it, then you've got the makings of a real deal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that $24 billion figure you just heard?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, there is truth to that, but I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what it's cost us.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, in terms of the economy growing at a lower rate because of all of the -- all that were suspended while the government was shut down, and that there is absolutely --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that ameliatory, your explanation?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, it's ameliatory, because what I -- I'm going to repeat this over and over again. We have a government that works primarily under presidential leadership. It was completely absent in this particular crisis. The president would literally not talk, negotiate with Boehner. OK, Boehner made that very public and was very upset about it.

He has no relationships with the Republicans in the House, or indeed in the Senate. He has no relationships indeed with the Democrat leadership of the House. That is absolutely critical to having the quiet kind of negotiations and private negotiations that has produced a lot of deals in the past.

MS. CLIFT: Mort --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me finish.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) You --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This is something which I know from --

MS. CLIFT: You've stated this more than once.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish. Let him finish.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Repetition does not diminish the (prayer ?).


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: OK. And for -- anybody who's been involved in negotiations knows how critical that is, that leadership is there. As I said, Clinton had it. Reagan had it. This guy does not have it. And everybody in Washington knows that.

MR. CARNEY: And the call for bipartisanship sometimes just grates on my ears, because what are those things that there's bipartisan agreement on that Obama's talking about? A farm bill? This is a bunch of pork and corporate welfare that a lot of people -- this is the sort of thing that a lot of people on the right and left are getting really fed up about.

(Cross talk.)

MR. CARNEY: And on immigration, there's a big popular sort of business view of what they want from immigration, and that's what would end up passing, which is bringing in a ton of low-skilled laborers. That does not help the middle class. That does not help the out-of-work worker.

MS. CLIFT: That is a very narrow viewpoint. Both these bills passed with large majorities in the Senate. Now --

MR. CARNEY: That doesn't mean that there's majority popular support for them.

MS. CLIFT: No, they could be fixed. They could be made better.

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

MS. CLIFT: But you don't just halt everything. And to lay this all and say it's all the president's leadership -- how can you look at John Boehner and the way he has been kowtowing to a small minority of his caucus and say, oh, if the president had negotiated with him -- he only wanted to negotiate if he could get what he wanted. And the president --


MS. CLIFT: -- again, he stood his ground this time and he really did --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As president --

MS. CLIFT: -- put the foundation on an important principle, that you can't use hostage-taking -- and, yes, that's a common term that a lot of people --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As president --

MS. CLIFT: -- believe is accurate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he's the only elected official that represents all of the people. John Boehner represents his principal constituents -- all of them, of course -- but he's a Republican. It likewise applies to --

MS. CLIFT: What's the point?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The point is --

MS. CLIFT: John Boehner is the speaker of the House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that Obama has to represent all the people.

MS. CLIFT: Well, John Boehner is speaker of the House, all of the members of the House. He refused to put the measure on the floor that eventually did get a resounding majority with all 200 Democrats --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, so he's identifiably --

MS. CLIFT: -- and 87 Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's identifiably a Republican leader.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You cannot compare the president of the United States --

MS. CLIFT: The president is the Democratic leader as well.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- with the speaker of the House. The president is the leader of this country.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Everybody looks to him for leadership --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- including both houses of Congress.


MS. CLIFT: Speaker --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's the only one -- excuse me -- who's been able to do this in the past. And this man has failed to do it in the present.

MS. CLIFT: Speaker of the House is third in succession to the presidency.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We're all aware of that.

MS. CLIFT: He's got -- right. And as the president said the other day, if you want to object, go win an election, go make your point, but don't try to break the government that our forbears spent 200 years creating.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The leader of the Senate is a man by the name of Reid, and he's a Democrat.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he acts like a Democrat.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Does he ever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he nevertheless can handle a bipartisan group.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. The Senate has --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the president must represent all of the people.

Issue Three: Brazilian Whacks NSA.

Another week, another story about the NSA -- that's National Security Agency -- spying. On Tuesday, Jeff Bezos's Washington Post revealed that the NSA is, quote-unquote, "harvesting" hundreds of millions of personal email contact lists of many Americans and non- Americans around the world, adding up to a, quote-unquote, "sizable fraction of the world's email and instant messaging accounts," unquote.
What will the NSA do with that data? The agency will search for personal connections. The NSA will map relationships among those it targets. Unsurprisingly, this last revelation, plus the revelations prior to it, has angered U.S. allies, notably Brazil. When the world's dignitaries assembled at the United Nations General Assembly three and a half weeks ago, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took the podium and chastised the U.S. for spying on its neighbors, in particular Brazil's politicians and its companies, charging the NSA with economic espionage.

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF (through interpreter): (From videotape.) Meddling in such a matter in the life and the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law. And, as such, it is an affrontment (sic) to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Madam Rousseff was so irked by the operations of the NSA that she canceled the scheduled state dinner the White House was to have thrown in Brazil's honor, one of the top affairs the U.S. can bestow on a global partner. Rousseff was incensed after a report that Rousseff's own communications and that of her top advisers had been targeted by the NSA. So was Brazil's top oil company, Petrobras.

The allegations all stem from the trove of NSA documents leaked to the press by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now living in exile in Russia. Mr. Snowden, by the way, recently won the integrity award for truth telling from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a U.S. organization of former national security officials.

Well, well, well. We'll have to reconsider this gentleman, right?

Question: Is Brazilian President Rousseff using the NSA revelations for domestic political advantage? David Rennie.

DAVID RENNIE: Well, she's a politician in a democracy, so yes. And she had a very tough summer. There were huge protests in June against her government about corruption and unemployment.

But you should also remember her biography. She was an activist in the days of the military dictatorship in Brazil. She was tortured really severely. And at the time a lot of people believed that the Brazilian military dictators were backed in connection with the CIA. So she has -- you know, this stuff goes personally for her, the idea of American meddling.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have a reporter there?

MR. RENNIE: We do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he say that she's trying to deflect attention from personal -- not personal, but political problems facing her?

MR. RENNIE: There's no doubt that she had a terrible summer. Her poll ratings have been improving. She is actually, though, quite a long way ahead of the nearest rival. So I think it is genuinely indignation that she has to channel. The Brazilian people are very, very hypersensitive to the idea of an imperialist American hand, and she (has to ?) play that.

MR. CARNEY: There's actually a perfect role model for this --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Brazil --

MR. CARNEY: -- in the U.S.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please. Hold on. Let Mort in. He's in pain here.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Brazil is not facing international terrorism the way the United States is. Dianne Feinstein, who is a very responsible senator, says all of this intelligence that we gather at the NSA from, shall we say, eavesdropping has been an intelligence boon for the United States and enabled us to stop many terrorist attacks. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to know what this country would be like if we had four or five terrorist attacks, you wouldn't want to know it, OK?

MR. CARNEY: Dianne Feinstein likes government wherever she can find it.

MS. CLIFT: The repercussions of the Snowden revelations continue. And the head of the NSA, Army General Keith Alexander, is stepping down next year, early next year, along with his deputy. And the joke in Washington --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that unexpected?

MS. CLIFT: Kind of -- you know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When I saw his performance on one hour of television, I thought he was terrific.

MS. CLIFT: Well, he's stepping down to spend more time with his family. And the joke is, he's stepping down to spend more time with his family so he won't be spending it with yours. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.

(C) 2013 Federal News Service