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The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Panel:
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast;
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

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

Copyright © 2013 by Federal News Service, LLC, 1120 G Street NW, Suite 990, Washington, DC 20005-3801 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, LLC. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Transcripts Database or any other FNS product, please email info@fednews.com or call 1-202-347-1400.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: A Bellwether?

NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R): (From videotape.) So tonight, first and foremost, I want to say thank you, New Jersey, for making me the luckiest guy in the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Republican, solidly trumps his Democratic opponent, state senator Barbara Buono, this week to win a second gubernatorial term -- 60 percent Christie, 39 percent Buono.
Christie won a majority of almost every major group. Men: Christie, 63 percent; Buono, 35 percent. Women: Christie, 57 percent; Buono, 42 percent -- a sharp turnaround for Christie with female voters, probably due to how he handled himself in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the New Jersey coast one year ago. One month before Sandy hit, Christie's approval polling with women was much lower -- 47 percent. But after the hurricane, his approval rose into the 60s with women.

Another factor that gurus say swayed female voters -- get this -- Christie's loss of weight. Some analysts think women empathized with Christie after he openly talked about undergoing lap-band surgery to lose weight, which, by the way, is working.

The governor also made headway with Latinos -- Christie, 51 percent; Buono, 45 percent. As for political ideology, 61 percent of self-described moderates voted for Christie, compared to Buono's 37 percent. And even one third of liberal voters voted for Republican Christie.

With wide cross-appeal like all of this, Governor Christie took aim at Washington gridlock.

GOV. CHRISTIE: (From videotape.) I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now, see how it's done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Assuming Christie runs in the 2016 presidential primaries, will the Republican establishment endorse him? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: I think the establishment will probably -- it would right now; as of now would move directly behind him, John. But, look, he won a tremendous victory with 60 percent of the vote, got 20 percent of the African-American vote, 57 percent of women. Look, he was running against a candidate who was basically abandoned by the Democratic Party.
Secondly, Christie has a problem. You get out -- he's from New Jersey. Republicans haven't nominated an urban easterner since Tom Dewey. Secondly, he's an in-your-face kind of guy. People in Iowa don't like that. I think he could have the same problem as Rudy Giuliani did. Giuliani started out leading all the Republicans, and he wound up not winning a single primary. And I don't think he won a single delegate.
Christie will start out maybe as the frontrunner of the establishment guys.

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

MR. BUCHANAN: But he's going to have a very tough run.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that exhausts it, don't you think, Eleanor?

ELEANOR CLIFT: He could tank, but, then again, maybe not. He is a very different personality on the national scene.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that help him?

MS. CLIFT: Winning New Jersey helps him. He makes New Jersey --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does personality --

MS. CLIFT: -- cool, I think.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In politics, does personality trump ideology, trump policy positions and trump partisanship?

MS. CLIFT: Ronald Reagan would be an example of that, of personality trumping ideology. And I think, yeah, he's a different kind of personality. He's a huge -- you have to watch your language, but he's a huge --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- contrast to Barack Obama in so many different ways. And often people look for the next president as sort of an antidote to the one that preceded it. So I think his conviction, his flashes of anger, right now all seem, you know, very appealing. Whether that's going to wear well, I don't know. He'll be chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He's going to travel to all the critical states. His campaign manager, I think, is moving to New Hampshire to run the party there. So he's putting the pieces in place. And if he can navigate around the extremists in his own party, he should get some sort of medal for courage, at least.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.

SUSAN FERRECHIO: Well, he's thrown out all the signals that this is going to go beyond New Jersey. He's doing the Sunday talk shows. He's, like you say, with his campaign, talking about Washington, D.C. in his future. It's really early, though. Like Pat was saying, Giuliani was out ahead, and then he disappeared pretty quickly once the real race started.

But I think Christie has shown that he's adept at seeing what makes him popular and sticking to it. You know, after the hurricane, his popularity really rose. And rather than having that dissipate over time, he's managed to hold on to that, which suggests to me he's a lot more politically savvy and he might be able to hang on to those numbers going into a race.

Certainly I think Republicans will get right behind him, because they want to win. And he's somebody who could win because he's a mainstream candidate and he's got charisma. Charisma wins elections.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's very down to earth, Mort.

MORT ZUCKERMAN: He's very down to earth. I think he's a political natural talent.

I mean, when he talks to you about an issue, or even a difficult issue, he has a way of expressing himself not only with sincerity, but he does it in such language that you don't -- he doesn't tick off everybody on the other side. So he builds consensus. He works across the aisle. He did it in New Jersey.

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

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's got a record of it. And he can do it because of his personality. I think he's a real contender. I don't know if he'll get the nomination, but if he does, he'll be a very formidable candidate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The New Jerseyites love him, but they don't want him to be president. Do you know who they want to be president? Hillary.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, listen, I'm not saying that she isn't the more popular candidate in the country. And I think if she wins the nomination, she'll be a very formidable candidate. Don't get me wrong about that.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm just saying if he is her opponent, she's got a real battle on her hands.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you make a good point there with Hillary. Look -- you know, look, he got 20 percent of the African-American vote and over 50 percent of the Hispanic vote. Look, the last guy to get 20 percent of the African-American, Republican, was Richard Nixon in 1960. He got 32 percent. If Hillary's in there, those votes disappear. And the Hispanic vote -- you're not going to get over 50 percent. Even George W. Bush didn't get anywhere near that.
So, look, I'll tell you, the people are building the guy up, and he is a formidable guy and a good candidate. But the idea that he can walk through and win states like --

MS. CLIFT: He's not going to get those --

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

MS. CLIFT: He's not going to get those numbers, but he has to boost -- if he boosts those numbers up just a little bit, then he puts the party in contention. But the fact that he is now out there as a potential frontrunner, basically saying the Republican Party needs to remake itself -- he really didn't run as a Republican. And, you know, this is like the empire now striking back. And you've got Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and all those guys.

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

MS. CLIFT: They don't like Christie. Marco Rubio, the senator, put out a statement saying, well, he has appeal in New Jersey. He mentioned New Jersey three times in a paragraph --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.

MS. CLIFT: -- almost like it's Hawaii or something. You know, he's not quite American. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, then there's this. Time Magazine's cover this week, after Chris Christie's landslide win in New Jersey.

Question: Is this Time Magazine cover featuring Christie's girth a cheap shot? Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's a light shot. I think it is a cheap shot, frankly. But as I say, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, all publicity is good.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, not all of it is good. And frankly, this does not hurt Christie to have him on the cover of Time Magazine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they spelled his name right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's not the only thing. He's on the cover of Time Magazine, which is a very well-regarded news magazine, even though it's in print, which no magazine is doing well. But I think Christie -- this is just another step in Christie's emergence as a national political player.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the fattest president we've ever had?

MR. BUCHANAN: William Howard Taft.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the fattest president?

MR. BUCHANAN: William Howard Taft, for heaven's sake.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much did he weigh?

MR. BUCHANAN: Three hundred pounds. They had to build a new bathtub for the guy, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many men sat in that bathtub?

MR. BUCHANAN: Four.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four men.

MR. BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm. (Affirmative reply.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was an enormous man.

MR. BUCHANAN: He was 300 pounds.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's such an interesting fact.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the thing is that Christie's weight is -- Christie's weight is his most identifying feature. And he's smart enough --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He handles it very well.

MS. CLIFT: He's smart enough as a politician to make that --

MR. BUCHANAN: But, you know --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me, Pat -- to make that work for him. And he's done that already. Remember, he stuffed the donut in his mouth --

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: -- when he was on Letterman. But he'll have to answer questions. There will be health questions. He will be scrutinized for the next three years --

MR. BUCHANAN: But one of the problems, Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: -- about his health and his --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- is folks like you -- is folks like you -- all the liberals I've seen are praising Christie. What a great choice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's not tea party. He'll get rid of those horrible people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, the Republican --

MS. CLIFT: And you don't help him. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Republican establishment likes Christie.

MS. CLIFT: We don't help him with the base.

MR. BUCHANAN: I know it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you know who speaks for that establishment right now -- the number one Republican in the country, Mitt Romney.

MR. BUCHANAN: OK, Romney likes him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney likes him a lot.

MR. BUCHANAN: He didn't pick him for VP. But, look, there's no doubt the guy is a talented guy and he can go far. But I'm telling you, he's already been embroiled with Cruz, Rand Paul, Mario Rubio -- I mean Marco Rubio. This is going to be a bloodbath, John.

MS. CLIFT: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: And he's going into Iowa and places like that where you've got to do the Baltimore Catechism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has personality. People like people with personality.

MR. BUCHANAN: But you've got to answer all the questions in the Baltimore Catechism out there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK. OK. Another political race this week.

VIRGINIA GOVERNOR-ELECT TERRY MCAULIFFE (D): (From videotape.) Thank you. We love you. And you are spectacular.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Democrat Terry McAuliffe is Virginia's new governor. He defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is the state's outgoing attorney general; 47 percent McAuliffe, 45 percent Cuccinelli.

The race was a bruiser. McAuliffe has never held elective office, but once led the Democratic National Committee. For his statewide gubernatorial race, he outspent his opponent by $14 million. The attack ads from both sides were inventive, audacious and unrelenting. Also McAuliffe's high-powered friends, Bill and Hillary Clinton, campaigned for him.

For much of the campaign, McAuliffe's lead over Cuccinelli was in the double digits. But in the final week, the margin narrowed thanks to efforts to make the election a referendum on "Obamacare," which McAuliffe supported and Cuccinelli adamantly opposed.

Question: Did the rising backlash over "Obamacare" almost sink Terry McAuliffe? Susan.

MS. FERRECHIO: Absolutely. If you look at the poll numbers, he was up by, you know, at one point 17 points, McAuliffe. And that shrunk pretty quickly once the disastrous rollout got all the publicity that it did. But Cuccinelli was at a real -- had a real handicap. The Republicans weren't putting any money into his race. McAuliffe was getting help from the Clintons, from Joe Biden, from President Obama. He had the big guns in helping push him toward the end, because he had very low approval ratings himself.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republicans gave him $3 million.

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, that's not a lot of money in a place like Virginia. McAuliffe got a lot more help. He had low approval ratings. I think voters picked McAuliffe because Cuccinelli was not as adept at explaining his conservative views as his predecessors were, Governor McDonnell and others, who were much better at explaining their conservative viewpoint.

MS. CLIFT: Cuccinelli lost --

MS. FERRECHIO: But Cuccinelli wasn't as good.

MS. CLIFT: Cuccinelli lost more than McAuliffe won. I mean, this is a state that a Republican was supposed to win. But Cuccinelli's biggest handicap were his views. I mean, they were far too extreme --

MS. FERRECHIO: The climate, too, in Virginia --

MS. CLIFT: -- particularly in terms of reproductive issues with women.

MS. FERRECHIO: Yeah, Virginia's shifting too.

MS. CLIFT: And so if they had poured a lot more money in there, I don't think it would have made a difference.

MS. FERRECHIO: The electorate in northern Virginia has shifted a little bit more in Democrats' favor, particularly in the outer 'burbs. And that, too, is helping Democrats, like Tim Kaine and others, win in a state like this.

MR. BUCHANAN: This is contributing, John, to the conflict inside the party that I was talking about earlier. You get these tea party people and the conservatives say our guy was abandoned. He was coming on strong. Christie was asked to please come down and help him out in the final hours.

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

MR. BUCHANAN: He didn't. He didn't get the money he expected. And so you've got this real bitterness developing inside the party and a real conflict. And the campaign is 26 months now till the Iowa caucuses, and the war is on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much did McAuliffe spend? Twenty-eight million (dollars).

MR. BUCHANAN: Thirteen (million dollars) or $14 million more than --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much did Cuccinelli spend? Eleven-point- seven (million dollars).

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, more than that, but it was almost double.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but Pat is right. The war is on within the Republican Party, with the conservatives saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: -- we just didn't defend the guy.

(Cross talk.)

MS. FERRECHIO: It's more like a simmering dispute. It's not really a war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: When the conservatives in the Republican Party have to choose between somebody like Chris Christie and the Democrats, it's what we call the evil of two lessers. They will go with the Republican.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Who was the biggest loser on Tuesday? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think basically the "Obamacare."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: "Obamacare" is a work in progress.

MR. BUCHANAN: I'll say.

MS. CLIFT: Biggest loser: Republican Party. Christie didn't really run as a Republican. Virginia, historically a red state, abandoned Cuccinelli.

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

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans have a lot of work to do.

MS. FERRECHIO: I was going to say "Obamacare," but Pat said that. I'd add to that probably the president, because it's more of a -- not a ringing endorsement for him.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I would agree. I think it was "Obamacare" and Obama. I mean, he's too -- completely identified with "Obamacare."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he hurt McAuliffe coming there on that Sunday before the thing, or Saturday.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, you are all correct.

Don't forget, the McLaughlin Group has its own website, and you can watch us on the Web at any time from anywhere in the world at McLaughlin.com.

Issue Two: Not So Fast, Kathleen.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): According to the Congressional Budget Office, that about 156 million Americans get their health insurance from their employer-sponsored health are plan in 2013. And the Congressional Budget Office has estimated, because of the failure to keep the promise on the White House website, that 78 million Americans will not be able to keep their plans as promised. Isn't that true?

SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: I don't have any idea what that statistic is.
(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kathleen Sebelius, the Cabinet secretary of Health and Human Services, stood her ground this week. Sebelius testified before the Senate Finance Committee, where she was grilled about the promise President Obama made that Americans who like their health care insurance can keep it.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) If you like your plan, keep your plan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republican Senator John Cornyn pressed Sebelius to say whether the president's promise, still listed on the White House website, is still true, or is it false? Sebelius gamely insisted the president's promise is true for those whose plans qualify. But she artfully dodged Cornyn's point that 78 million people who have policies from their employers that do not qualify under the "Obamacare" law will lose their insurance next year. In fact, the CBO report directly contradicts the Obama administration's reassurances that only a few people with individual or small-group coverage face cancellation.

Constituents see this, so their outrage is widespread. They perceive it as Obama duplicity, and they welcome any bipartisan legislative remedy. So on Monday, Senators Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin, both Democrats, introduced S. 1642, a bill that allows insurance plans offered this year to individuals to be sold in coming years.

Here's Landrieu's description of her bill. Quote: "We said, and the president said over and over, that if people have insurance and they like the insurance they have, they can keep it. That is my bill," unquote.

So much for the Senate. In the House of Representatives, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Fred Upton, a Republican, introduced a broader bill that has more than 100 co-sponsors. Upton's bill is called Keep Your Health Plan Act, and it allows all plans, whether individual or small group or big group, that are sold this year to be available in the future.

Either bill, Landrieu's or Upton's, if enacted, would roll back the "Obamacare" regulations that are now causing the massive cancellations of insurance policies.

Question: Do either of these bills stand a chance of passing Congress? And if one does reach the president's desk, will the president veto it? I ask you, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: If the president's not in on it, he will veto it. But I don't think it's going to reach the president's desk, to be very honest. Mary Landrieu herself repeated that you-can-keep-your-health- care plan, and that's being used against her. And I think this is a defensive move.

But John, let me just say one point. If there's anything like 76 million health care plans voided, not only is "Obamacare" dead. There's going to be guillotines set up at Farragut Square.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, let's --

MS. CLIFT: Do you mind, Pat? (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor. Let's track with the president a little bit more. The president apologized this week for statements like the following, this one from June 15th, 2009. Quote: "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan -- period. No one will take it away, no matter what," unquote.

OK, that was then. Now this week, on Thursday, the president apologized.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me put it this way. There are many more people who are sorry they voted for the president than they are sorry about his health care plan. I mean, the real problem here is not just the number of plans that have been canceled, but the mandate in this bill causes huge numbers, millions and millions, tens of millions, to have their insurance rates go up, because they have to cover a much larger or a broader number of health care -- (inaudible). And, I mean, I've seen this. It's just ridiculous what's going on. And it's going to create a huge number, as I've mentioned before, of part-time workers. It's a devastatingly bad bill.

MS. CLIFT: The president said all along that he is open to fixes. Some of these legislative fixes may go through, but they will not gut the bill. He may be able to do something administratively. Basically he is apologizing for language that wasn't written tightly enough, because insurance companies are sort of free to remake policies that weren't grandfathered in before the plan went into effect.

But this -- you're right to the extent this is a huge remaking of the insurance market. But it's the end of the insurance market where the insurance companies could kick you off if you had a preexisting condition, where they could boost your rates if you got sick, where they could penalize women for being female and charge women twice as much. That's all going to go away. And the way insurance pools work, everybody gets into it. The risks get spread.

In the end, the overwhelming number of the American people are going to have a much better deal and a more secure deal. Will some people get hurt? Probably yes. And I think the White House is now very aware of that, and they're going to try to do what they can to fix it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's one view of the apology. Was Obama's half-apology -- he's sorry about people losing their insurance, but stopping short of apologizing for lying -- also an outcome of the meeting with embattled Senate Democrats? In the meeting it was suggested he apologize for the misleading statements. Apparently that was too much for Obama to swallow, hence the pseudo-apology.

MS. FERRECHIO: It sounded like he was saying I regret people are in this position, but it's not my fault; it's the insurance companies' fault.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MS. FERRECHIO: But it's going to have to turn out exactly as Eleanor just said for this thing not to be a complete disaster. Unless more people are benefiting and fewer are not benefiting, it's going to be a debacle into 2014. Right now it doesn't look like it's going to go the way Eleanor is saying.

We have to wait and see if this turns out the way all the Democrats and the president are claiming it's going to turn out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One would have thought --

MR. BUCHANAN: He has not apologized --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- with a program of this colossal magnitude, he would have had everything down in his head on what he was going to say and what he was not going to say.

MR. BUCHANAN: He has not apologized --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. BUCHANAN: You pointed out he has not apologized for the systematic, ongoing, deliberate deception that you can keep your health care policy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- when those guys in the White House and the people who wrote this had to know these things were going to be voided.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They did know. NBC did that story in which they stated that they knew about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. In 2010, the Democrats lost the House in a voter backlash against "Obamacare." In 2014, will the backlash cost the Democrats the Senate? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: The odds are going up that it will.

MS. CLIFT: It won't. Tea party Republicans are feuding in 14 competitive primaries, opening the door for Democrats to get reelected. Democrats keep the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan, what do you think?

MS. FERRECHIO: Something as big as this, the health care -- (inaudible) -- will overwhelm any of that internal feuding. It will cost the Senate if it doesn't turn out exactly as you predicted on the health care front.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The health care fiasco has revived the Republican Party after the disaster that they had with the shutdown of the government. I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but it's going to dramatically change the odds of that election.

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans have no alternative. And it's the law of the land. We're not going to go back to the other way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I will --

MS. CLIFT: -- with the insurance companies in charge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- give you --

MS. CLIFT: So I don't see how Republicans come out as winners here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- an enlightened conjecture. You ready?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Brace yourself. Yes.

Issue Three: Baghdad Blues.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Unfortunately, al-Qaida has still been active and has grown more active recently. So we had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organization that operates not only in Iraq, but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with President Obama on an official visit to Washington last week, with a shopping list in hand. Shiite al-Maliki wants U.S. military assistance in quelling a resurgent Sunni insurgency that has seen the towns of Fallujah and Tal Afar fall under Sunni control. The Iraqi death toll so far this year is 5,700. Casualties are mounting at the rate of 1,000 a month.

The items on al-Maliki's wish list are extensive: U.S. counterinsurgency and intelligence aid, Apache attack helicopters, Hellfire missiles, F-16 fighters, and lethal U.S. drones operated by American personnel. This was the first White House meeting between the two leaders in two years, since 2011, when they triumphally announced the U.S. troop pullout.

On that occasion, the two men held a joint news conference, and President Obama praised al-Maliki for his government's stability and inclusiveness. Last week's visit was muted -- no news conference; just a brief statement about the meeting.

That way there were no irksome questions from reporters about the letter to President Obama from a group of six bipartisan U.S. senators representing the leadership of the U.S. Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees. The senators characterized al-Maliki as under the, quote- unquote, "malign influence of Iran," with whom Iraq had waged a bloody nearly nine-year war, and warned that al-Maliki's, quote, "mismanagement," unquote, of Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities threatens to ignite a civil war.

Question: Is Iraq sliding into civil war? And, if so, is there anything Commander-in-Chief Obama can do about it? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think there is much the United States can do, John. It is a civil and sectarian war. The Sunnis out there, who were basically driven from power in the west, they now have al-Qaida out there all over the place engaging in atrocities, trying to start this war. Al-Maliki has not been an inclusive leader at all. And so you're going to get both that civil sectarian war, and the Kurds have separated up there. And I don't think the Americans are going back in.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the leverage the administration has is all that weaponry that Maliki came here for. And he went to Capitol Hill. He got a very chilly reception. That's not going to be forthcoming unless he becomes more inclusive, eases up within Iraq.

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

MS. CLIFT: But, you know, he's not grateful for American help.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No.

MS. CLIFT: And his strongest alliance now is with Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And also he's going to rue the day that he rejected the status of forces over there. Obama was willing to leave 5,000 soldiers to help him, and he said no. Do you think we've had our fill of Iraq?

MS. FERRECHIO: Absolutely. It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, broadly speaking, how much time we expended there, the total number of lives we lost and the amount of money we spent?

MS. FERRECHIO: Well, first of all, the numbers you just showed are devastating -- a thousand people a month being killed. That is a civil war. But it's an unwinnable situation for the United States. It is. It's a religious war. It's been going on for years. It's going to keep going on. It's also inflamed by Syria. The Sunnis are going to Syria, waging jihad, coming back over, waging more violence in Iraq. That's not going to go away either, because the whole region is unstable.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But our problem is that we have abandoned, in the minds of the Sunni countries, who used to be our allies, that we have abandoned them, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

I mean, the Saudis and those countries are absolutely outraged at us. So this is another example where, you know, the Sunnis are being slaughtered in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Iraq tilting towards Iran? And is that very bad?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course it's bad. I mean, Iran is not exactly our ally.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course it's bad. And of course they are tilting in that direction.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's another reason why Iraq is a problem.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Yes.

MS. CLIFT: There's a deal in the works, possibly, with Iran, which could slow their nuclear program. And some of our allies in the area are nervous about that, including the Saudis and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Congress likely to --

MS. CLIFT: -- the Israelis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Is Congress likely to approve al- Maliki's request?

MS. FERRECHIO: No, I don't think so. There is no appetite there to spend more money on this conflict.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've had the last word.

Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The next entity to need a bailout will be Puerto Rico.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Obama facing "Obamacare" backlash head-on, campaigning in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, states that have not accepted the Medicaid expansion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.

MS. FERRECHIO: He's going to tweak the law a little bit to help ease the cancellations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's going to change his senior staff to deal with this fiasco.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that Hillary Clinton will be one of three women who will run for the presidency in 2016.

Bye-bye.

(C) 2013 Federal News Service

END