The McLaughlin Group
Host: John McLaughlin
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast;
Guy Taylor, Washington Times;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report
Taped: Friday, January 10, 2014
Broadcast: Weekend of January 11-12, 2014
Copyright © 2014 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 email@example.com or call 1-202-347-1400.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Christie's Apologia.
NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R): (From videotape.) I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For four days last September, traffic on the busiest bridge in the United States, connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey to New York City, was paralyzed -- not by terrorists, not by decaying infrastructure, not by a natural disaster.
The gridlock was apparently engineered by Governor Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, Bridget Anne Kelly. The alleged motive: Political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Governor Christie's reelection.
The overarching goal of Christie's reelection campaign was to demonstrate bipartisan support, both from Democratic voters and Democratic officials, in order to build momentum for a 2016 presidential bid. Quote: "Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee," unquote, Kelly wrote via email to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Wildstein answered, quote- unquote, "Got it."
Three weeks later, Wildstein ordered two lanes of traffic on the bridge closed. The resulting gridlock doubled the response time of emergency vehicles and paramedics and delaying a police search for a missing four-year-old girl.
On Thursday, Governor Christie fired Kelly for allegedly lying to him about her involvement. Throughout an extraordinary two-hour news conference, Christie maintained his innocence. Justice Department prosecutors have launched a probe, and the New Jersey assembly is holding hearings. Wildstein has taken the Fifth.
Question: Does it strike you as ironic that Governor Christie, who says he's the one to end D.C. gridlock, is now entangled in the Fort Lee gridlock? Pat Buchanan.
PAT BUCHANAN: Well, John, the governor, Governor Christie, says he did not order this gridlock. He did not authorize it. He did not know about it. He did not learn of the responsibility of his deputy until just a couple of days ago.
And I think, John, if he's telling the truth, I think he can survive this. But I will say this. The story strains credulity for a lot of people. And if it turns out he hasn't been telling the truth on this, I think he's a politically goner as far as a presidential candidate is concerned. But I think, again, if he's telling the truth, I think he can fight his way back from this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Christie's defense is that he was kept in the dark. He didn't know what his staff was doing.
ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, for a governor who has a reputation for running a very tight ship, almost a paramilitary operation, it's hard to believe that a deputy chief of staff would order this up. And the email says time for the traffic jam to begin, suggesting there are earlier emails. And, in fact, there have been over 800 emails and texts that have been turned over. We've only seen 22 of them. The U.S. attorney is investigating. There will be subpoenas. This story is going to continue.
I thought the press conference -- that the governor did the best job he could under those circumstances. I thought, on a human level, it was rather convincing. He seemed contrite and genuine. But he didn't offer any real facts. And this has been going on for months. And his appointees at the Port Authority resigned in December. There were a lot of questions he should have asked.
And so if it turns out that he really knew nothing, then that raises a whole other set of questions. How could he be so in the dark? This story is going to go on for quite a long time. It has the potential to really unravel his opportunity to become a president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He fired his deputy chief of staff --
GUY TAYLOR: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a gal.
MR. TAYLOR: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Her name is Bridget Kelly.
MR. TAYLOR: I think he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that save it for him?
MR. TAYLOR: I think he did a good job this week of standing up, apologizing, trying to take responsibility for what happened. What we've got to ask ourselves is Chris Christie either knew what was going on here or he wasn't doing a very good job managing his staff and was negligent.
That aside, we don't know yet. And Eleanor just pointed that out. We're going to find out. This is not going away. We're going to find out whether or not Christie really knew and how much he knew.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)
MR. TAYLOR: But what I think is really interesting here is how few Republicans have really stood up for Christie this week. It shows that he's not exactly beloved by the party as a possible front runner for 2016. And I personally think that's kind of unfortunate, because I think the Republican Party's really only chance right now to win over moderate Democrats would be in Chris Christie. He's the only personality out on the front of the party that is appealing to people beyond just the far right of the party.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the best case to get Christie off the hook?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: The best case -- the best case is exactly what was implied here, that he didn't know anything about it. It's entirely possible. There are many things that happen in any kind of a state government that simply do not cross the desk of the governor.
That's the best case he has.
Now, I'm not saying it's an easy case for him to make,
although I did think, in the presentation he made, in the press conference that he made, I thought he came across very well, given what he had to say. It was the best he could do. So I still think this is not the end of Governor Christie, because he's a man of enormous talent. And I have to say I worked with him on another matter and I thought he was just fabulous and very direct and very open.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if he can't pick staff which is ethical and smart and trustworthy, how could he, as president of the United States, pick a Cabinet?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How could he make -- do you understand?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Sure, I understand. But that happens all over the place, at every level of life. You never know everything you need to know about somebody. And sometimes you find out there is a rotten apple in the barrel.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, he's chairman --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: OK, this is not the case and has not been the case --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- of the Republican Governors Association.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- with him in the past.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You interrupted Mort. What do you want?
MR. BUCHANAN: He's chairman of the Republican Governors Association. What is astonishing is, other than a single governor -- as Gus (sic) said, only one came out and stood by him.
But what he ought to do, I think, John, is he ought to go out this year, which is an off-year election, and go out and campaign as hard as he can for the Republican governors and people running for governor and show he's a good party man and he's a fighter, and he can go through this kind of rough hit he's taken. But as for -- look, every great leader has had some problems on his staff somewhere.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's a very normal thing.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but this is --
MR. BUCHANAN: But it does strain credulity --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- that he knew -- this hands-on governor knew absolutely nothing.
MS. CLIFT: Right. This is abuse of power. And this is a federal property, a bridge, and you use it to inflict political retribution. Now, clearly someone on his staff knew about it. Now, I think you have to look to the governor. And what kind of climate does he set that people think that they should be doing this in his name, giving him maybe some deniability? That's how this works. And if he wants to be president, there are going to be questions raised about his temperament --
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure.
MS. CLIFT: -- and whether someone who would oversee a staff that would think this was the right thing to do is someone you want in high office. So this raises questions about his --
MR. TAYLOR: I think his temperament --
MS. CLIFT: -- personality beyond his being a bully --
MR. TAYLOR: This is --
MS. CLIFT: -- which people are already worried about.
MR. TAYLOR: This is a guy who's portrayed as a bully. And here's a situation where he could have been shouting at the cameras, and he handled himself with great composure this week. So he's already trying to capitalize on this and to come out of it as, look it, you know, you're trying to take me down with a ridiculous scandal. I'm going to handle it. I'm going to fire some people. And I'm going to show that I can lead with composure. I think he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's all over?
MR. TAYLOR: I don't think it's all over, but I think he can come out of it well. I really do.
MR. BUCHANAN: He's contradicted --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it going to unravel further?
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No.
MR. BUCHANAN: If he has not told the clear truth, I don't think he's got a political future. If it's revealed that he has really -- when it came out in that excellent press conference and deceived people, I don't think he survives as a presidential candidate. I do think he can pull out of this --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- if what he said was the truth and it's proven to be so.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know who Sokolich is?
MS. CLIFT: That's the mayor of Fort Lee.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's the governor of -- the mayor of Fort Lee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's he say about the --
MR. BUCHANAN: He said he had a comment for the guy that did it. I think he was going to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did not endorse --
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, he didn't endorse him, but I think he wanted to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He didn't endorse him for the presidency.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- beat up the guy that did it, didn't he? Didn't he say somebody ought to get another term for a thrashing?
MS. CLIFT: John, he did an A-kicking --
MR. BUCHANAN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: -- A-kicking for sort of an implied ethnic slur, referring to him as a, quote -- "the little Serbian's going to be unhappy." Turns out he's Croatian descent anyway, so they didn't even get that right. What a bone-headed --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's going to be unhappy about that too.
MS. CLIFT: -- bone-headed scheme. (Laughs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's damage to Christie, right, and his presidential aspirations?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rate the damage, A to D.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's a -- I would think it's a four or a five. And again, if he didn't tell the truth --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four or five on a 10 scale?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. I think it's very badly damaged --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Eleanor.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- (inaudible).
MS. CLIFT: I think it's serious. There are lots of investigations going forward. People are going to get immunity. They're going to be telling all. And again, as Pat said, it strains credulity to think that he was in the dark until Thursday morning at 8:50 a.m.
MR. TAYLOR: If Hillary Clinton can survive Benghazi-gate, no question Chris Christie can survive bridge-gate.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And it makes perfect sense for me that if anything did happen at a lower level, they would not tell the governor about all of this. They'd keep it away from him. So I think if -- as Pat says, if what he says is the truth -- and I can't imagine, at this stage of the game, it wouldn't be the truth -- I think it's a bump. It's not the end of his career.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think so.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it happens to be fatal.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: Fatal?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, there you are.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Put that in your newspaper.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm going to put it in, right in the sports section, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Gates's Gloss.
JAY CARNEY (White House press secretary): (From videotape.) The president asked Secretary Gates, Robert Gates, to stay on as secretary of defense. And he appreciates the service that he gave to this administration.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Gates served the president from 2008 to 2011, and in a new book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," has written a scathing portrayal of the inner workings of the White House.
Here's a sample. Quote: "I never confronted Obama directly over what I, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and others, saw as his determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy, and even operations. His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost," unquote.
The White House, writes Gates, also controls who gets the credit. Quote: "The controlling nature of the Obama White House and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me," unquote.
On President Obama's commitment to the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates writes, quote, "President Obama simply wanted to end the," quote-unquote, "'bad war' in Iraq and limit the U.S. role in the," quote-unquote, "'good war' in Afghanistan. President Obama doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out," unquote.
Commander in Chief Obama ordered a 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan, but he was, quote, "skeptical, if not outright convinced the strategy would fail," unquote.
Question: What's the morality of sending troops into combat if the Commander in Chief does not believe in the strategy, as Gates claims President Obama didn't? I ask you, Guy.
MR. TAYLOR: John, I think what's interesting here, actually, about this whole Gates situation is that this is such an unpolitical guy. OK, Robert Gates had a lot of respect by being kept in the defense job. He's an unpolitical guy. And here he is now making what appears to be a real political slam of the administration.
What's important is that it's a slam that isn't that new. Stanley McChrystal brought this up a year ago in his own book when he basically accused Obama -- this is a narrative that's been coming out of the Pentagon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did McChrystal get in trouble?
MR. TAYLOR: McChrystal got fired well before he published his book. But McChrystal's argument was that President Obama has struggled to really carry the mantle of being commander in chief and take ownership of the wars that were --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MR. TAYLOR: -- begun by his predecessor.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think it's a very unhappy story that is implicit in what has just been said, which is the sense that -- the part that worries me the most is that he wasn't really concerned with the national security interest; he was just concerned with the political interest of getting out of it. And that seems to me to be a focus that permeated the conversation, and that's what upset Gates. So I think that there's a real issue here about how Obama approaches national security.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Pat. Hold on, Eleanor.
OK, despite Gates' criticism on the Obama Afghanistan policies, Gates writes this in his memoir. Quote: "I believe Obama was right," unquote. Question -- so Gates had some positive things to say even about those he criticizes harshly. How do you account for that? I ask you, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, if what Gates says is true that the president of the United States did not believe in the success of his mission in Afghanistan, there is a real question of morality whether you send 33,000 guys to fight and bleed and die in a cause in which you didn't believe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Lyndon Johnson do that in Vietnam?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Lyndon Johnson basically believed in the war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you do?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you read the history of the war?
MR. BUCHANAN: Very good question, John, because later on many people, I think, came to disbelieve in it. And some people argued they should have gotten out sooner.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lyndon did not believe it at the time that he sent them.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, he was skeptical of the cause.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: We're all operating off of excerpts from this book. The entire book is more nuanced. And Gates isn't saying that Obama from the start didn't believe in the strategy. He was appropriately skeptical and questioning of the military every step along the way, and that's exactly what he should be doing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's your reading of it.
MS. CLIFT: Yes, it certainly is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, here's former Secretary Gates on the then- secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Gates described her as, quote, "smart, idealistic, but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States," unquote. But he relates a vignette between Clinton and Obama that he found, quote-unquote, "remarkable."
Quote: "Hillary told the president that her opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying," unquote. So says Gates.
MS. CLIFT: Well, he gets it wrong in his book. You didn't get it wrong. He just about gives an endorsement --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: -- to Hillary Clinton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: And that's fine. And the fact that she conceded in this conversation that she opposed the surge in part because -- for political reasons, if you remember back to that time, she had supported the war and everybody was waiting to see how she would react to the surge.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: The fact that politics entered into these decisions --
MR. BUCHANAN: But John --
MS. CLIFT: -- should not be surprising. What is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if it's a matter of life or death, it's relevant.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Tell that to the troops who were on the line.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, it's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Tell that to the troops that are on the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell that to the troops that are on the line.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the surge was about whether we were going to --
MS. CLIFT: The surge was a political thing.
MR. BUCHANAN: The surge was about whether we were going to lose the war. And Hillary Clinton, according to Gates, said she voted against the surge because it would look better in the Iowa caucuses.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Secretary Gates --
MR. BUCHANAN: That is serious as it can be.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Secretary Gates --
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me.
MS. CLIFT: -- (inaudible) -- to the nomination.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Secretary Gates on Vice President Joe Biden. His sharpest criticism is for Vice President Joe Biden, someone he knows has personal integrity, but on policy Biden is, quote, "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," unquote.
Question: Is this assessment of the vice president fair or unfair? I ask you, Guy.
MR. TAYLOR: John, I think -- actually, I think it is fair. I mean, Biden called for Iraq to be partitioned. OK, that got swept under the rug after he was in as vice president. And, you know, I think --
MS. CLIFT: Biden --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait a minute. Let him talk. Let him talk, Eleanor.
MR. TAYLOR: What I will say is that it basically blows my mind that Bob Gates, who was an apolitical figure, a loyal operator both to the Obama administration and to the Bush administration, is being bandied around right now with excerpts of a book -- the book isn't even on sale yet, OK -- excerpts to The New York Times --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean what we're doing here today?
MR. TAYLOR: What we're doing right here, right now.
MR. BUCHANAN: But Guy -- Guy, he's got to know this.
MR. TAYLOR: (Inaudible.)
MR. BUCHANAN: He's a grown man. He's got to know that they're going to take out excerpts like this, which are very powerful and very damning to Biden. You know, he wouldn't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.
MS. CLIFT: It's not damning --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And from a man -- and from a man --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Mort in.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Excuse me -- and from a man who has built a reputation over decades --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- in Washington of being fair-minded, nonpartisan --
MR. TAYLOR: Nonpartisan.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- effective, an extraordinary man, a role model for people who want to serve in government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.
MS. CLIFT: It's not -- it's not a bad blow to Biden at all. He pushed back against the military.
He pushed back to try to end the war.
MR. BUCHANAN: He said --
MS. CLIFT: And I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And also --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. And I think --
MR. TAYLOR: (Inaudible.)
MS. CLIFT: I think Gates is very disappointing, because he was the ultimate civil servant. And here he is, taking shots at a president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: -- and conceding in the book that he didn't raise these objections --
MR. BUCHANAN: He said --
MS. CLIFT: -- within the administration. If he felt that strongly, he should have spoken up.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, let me in here. Let me in here. I want to say something. And I think the vice president, when he went over to China recently, was letter perfect in the way he handled the situation over there. You know that to which I refer.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the mid-sea off the coast of Japan and China.
MR. BUCHANAN: But he accuses Biden of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, here's Secretary Gates on the United States Congress. Quote: "Congress is best viewed from a distance -- the farther, the better -- because up close it is truly ugly. I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities, such as timely appropriations, micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, and prone to put self and reelection before country," unquote.
Question: Is this overstated, understated, or right on the mark? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think most Americans have come to believe that. The respect for Congress is down in the single digits. He goes after Congress in a way he does not go after Biden, who he accused of poisoning the well, or anyone else. There is nothing complimentary at all about Congress. He said they're a bunch of hypocrites. They grandstand up there. They ask questions for the camera. He said I almost got up and quit and walked out; they're so awful at times. And I don't think anybody's going to dispute that.
MS. CLIFT: That's not the least bit controversial.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you attacking his judgment? Wait a minute. Are you attacking his judgment?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Gates is one of the most able public servants --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think he's soured on the whole Washington situation, do you?
MR. BUCHANAN: Maybe he deserved to be soured on the Washington situation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it as bad as he says it is in Congress?
MR. BUCHANAN: In Congress? Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Nobody --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I disagree with you.
MR. BUCHANAN: All right. You're wrong.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, thank you for that.
MS. CLIFT: Nobody's going to argue with his description of Congress. I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they ought to.
MS. CLIFT: Where I have a problem is that he says that he quietly seethed and that this demeanor that we saw of this calm, analytical person was all just kind of his front. I wish --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. No.
MS. CLIFT: -- he'd show some of that seething. That's what he says in the book.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you read --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's not the way it was.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- his total biography, you'll see how this man has moved practically all over the world in various connections, and he is incredibly (learned ?).
MS. CLIFT: I agree with all that. Why --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he does fault some of the politicians we have.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: What a surprise. What a surprise that he faults these politicians. Everybody in America faults them. Here's a man who was right at the core of it, a man of enormous integrity and maturity, and he's making these comments at the end of a career. I welcome what he had to say.
MS. CLIFT: And he just blew -- he just blundered some of the credibility that he spent a long time earning, because he just showed himself to be another political partisan too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Unemployment 911.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) I've heard the argument that says extending unemployment insurance will somehow hurt the unemployed because it saps their motivation to get a new job.
SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): (From videotape.) What I've always said is that it needs to be paid for. But we also need to do something for long-term unemployed people, and that is we need to create something new that would create jobs. So what I'd like to do when we get back is, one, if we extend it, we pay for it; but two, we add something to it that would create jobs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three days after Christmas, emergency unemployment benefits expired for some 1.3 million Americans. The program, in effect since the economic crisis began in 2008, provides extended unemployment relief to people struggling to find jobs. Over the coming six months, an additional 1.9 million long-term unemployed will lose their checks unless Congress acts.
This week the Senate debated a bill co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Jack Reed and Republican Senator Dean Heller to extend the benefits. Democrats and Republicans disagree, however, on how to fund the estimated $6.5 billion extended unemployment benefits will cost.
Democrats propose extending the benefits now and figuring out how to pay for it later. Republican House Speaker John Boehner says the $6.5 billion cost must be offset by corresponding spending cuts. One Boehner proposal: Save $35 billion by delaying the "Obamacare" individual insurance mandate for one year.
Question: Should unemployment insurance be extended? And, if so, how should the $6.5 billion cost be funded? Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I definitely think it should be extended. The numbers that just came out for December were remarkably low levels of employment. About 75,000 jobs were created, which was several hundred thousand jobs below what everybody expected. We are in a major unemployment crisis in this country. It's gone on for a very long time. These people cannot survive without some additional support. And, yes, I think we should find some way to pay for it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the jobs report, which is as unfortunate as you see it here --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is that going to affect whether or not it's politically impossible to end the long-term unemployment benefits?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I think we are going to have to find some better answers than we have now, because people are running out of these long-term unemployment benefits. And that's going to put a huge number of people --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the most disturbing aspect of the report?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The new report?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The limited number of jobs. And most of the jobs --
MR. BUCHANAN: Seventy-three thousand.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Most of the jobs that we are creating are part- time jobs. They're counted as full-time jobs. So we have a very weak employment picture in this country, and millions of people are hurting.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Five hundred and fifty thousand people, half a million, have left the workforce in the past 12 months. That's why the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. It's actually much higher --
MR. BUCHANAN: Hey, John --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- because the unemployment --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- because people are leaving the labor force, so they're no longer counted.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the unemployment issue is a real divisive issue. I think they're going to get the unemployment benefits extended. It's a tremendously divisive issue for Republicans. It splits the moderate-liberal Republicans off from the base. Obama knows that. It's the same as the minimum wage. I think Republicans really ought to realize they're going to have some real problems coming down the road on this income-inequality issue and how they ought to deal with it.
MS. CLIFT: Right. And it's not a coincidence that the two Senate co-sponsors are from the two states that have the highest unemployment rates, Nevada and Rhode Island. And, OK, look for a way to pay for it. But this is a program that was called an emergency program, emergency unemployment that started under Bush. It was not paid for then --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.
MS. CLIFT: -- and it had been extended when the unemployment rate was higher -- was lower than it is now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want your opinion on this, Eleanor, since you seem to be all keyed up on this issue.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does long-term unemployment insurance discourage people from taking lower-paying Republican jobs? Listen to this, Eleanor.
SEN. PAUL: (From videotape.) I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it does provide some disincentive to work and that there are many studies that indicate this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Rand Paul right? I ask you.
MR. TAYLOR: I actually think that Rand Paul was right in the first clip that you played where, look, he is saying this is a $17 (billion) to $18 billion-a-year program. We should look at possibly reengineering it to actually help people figure out how to get retrained and into jobs and not just hand out an unemployment check.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Five seconds. Five seconds.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think our friend here is correct.
MS. CLIFT: The long-term unemployed are desperate. They are looking for jobs every day. They can't find anything. There are three people looking for every job that's available.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know.
MS. CLIFT: You don't take away the band-aid and the help
now while you're restructuring --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know. And you're right. You're absolutely right. It's a horrible existence.
President Barack Obama's upcoming State of the Union address will have Nielsen ratings lower than his four previous State of the Union speeches. Yes or no?
MR. BUCHANAN: (Off mic.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, that's right.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three yeses. See you later, Pat.
(C) 2014 Federal News Service