The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast;
Rich Lowry, National Review;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, February 21, 2014
Broadcast: Weekend of February 22-23, 2014

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Ukraine Peace Deal.

Ukrainian opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday to end the violent standoff that left some 80 dead and scores injured. Yanukovich announced early presidential elections and promised to bring opposition members into the Ukrainian government. European foreign ministers stayed up all night in Kiev negotiating this end to the standoff.

Here's a short backgrounder. Ukraine is a strategic crossroads between East and West, and it has been caught in a diplomatic tug of war between Russia in the East and Europe in the West. Since the former Soviet republic attained independence in 1991, the U.S. and the EU have tried to woo Ukraine westward, while eastward Russia, under a succession of presidents, has tried to reincorporate Ukraine into its sphere of influence.

For much of the country's history, western Ukraine was a part of Poland and is thoroughly European in outlook, while eastern Ukraine, dominated by Russian speakers, inclines towards Moscow. At stake in the current standoff is whether the country leans east, west, or splits down the middle. But as things stand now, President Obama's admonition Wednesday appears to have been heard.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence that's taken place there. And we have been deeply engaged with our European partners as well as both the Ukrainian government and the opposition. But we hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible. There will be consequences if people step over the line.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was President Obama's warning to Ukrainian President Yanukovich the big lever that moved Ukraine away from this crisis? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: President Obama has been absent and President Obama has been irrelevant -- irrelevant to this entire crisis, John.

What happened was, when they -- on that Wednesday or Thursday, the protesters attacked the police who were backing up when the truce was under way. There was gunfire, not only from the police but from the other side. In the western part of the Ukraine, people are moving into armories. Police are defecting. Soldiers are defecting from the government. The Ukraine is on the verge of civil war.
And I think Yanukovich did the right thing. And what he's agreed to now is moving the elections up, bringing the two leaders of the opposition into the party with him, into it with him. And I think that's the best way to solve this thing, because, quite frankly, if this thing is not solved diplomatically and peacefully -- and some of the problem is with those protesters in the street who don't want it solved -- I think they could be headed for a civil war that virtually breaks the country up.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, Ukraine is primarily about the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. And they want to go with the European Union. The western part of the country is closer to Poland. And so this is the breach that is occurring.

But what's happened here is that the foreign ministers of the European Union -- Poland, Germany and France -- basically talked to the president and talked to the protesters, and they helped broker this union. But the incredible violence that we have seen in recent days, I think, have made it clear to President Putin that this cause is lost. And so what we've seen in the last several hours, really, is that President Putin is backing down. He now seems to be willing to work towards a diplomatic resolution.


MS. CLIFT: And I think Putin has played his cards very cleverly up to this point. But the president has not been irrelevant. And the president and the European Union appear now to have gotten the upper hand.


RICH LOWRY: I think any time, John, this president of the United States says consequences in the international context, everyone around the world laughs up their sleeves. So Pat is absolutely right. He's had no impact on this whatsoever. It's been more the facts on the ground. But the president of Ukraine has been wavering back and forth since November between the EU and Russia. And the fact that he seemed on the verge of completely losing control is, I think, the key factor here.

And there are two layers of the conflict. One is the geopolitical one between the West and Russia over control of the Ukraine. The other, as Eleanor alludes to, is Ukrainian reformers pushing for something better than the authoritarian kleptocratic rule that they've been subjected to for so long.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did Russia refuse to sign the agreement?

MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, Russia, of course, was not happy about this agreement. But what happened, it seems to me, given the bloodshed and the violence that was leashed upon the Ukrainian people, the president, Yanukovich, lost all of his moral credibility and a lot of his political support. And there are a lot of people who were no longer prepared to support him. And he must have had some real feel for that before he backed down. But that to me was the breaking moment for him, and it really destroyed his political base.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, there's a real problem here, though. Look, whatever you say about Yanukovich, he was elected democratically. He served about three fourths of his term. He would have been up for election next year. He's a democratically elected president. Protesters came in the streets not to protest. They set up barricades. They started throwing Molotov cocktails. They engaged police. They seized buildings. They burned buildings. This is not, you know, a March on Washington demonstration. This is a coup d'etat --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- by these protesters, who are overthrowing a democratically elected president.

MS. CLIFT: Pat, you sound like -- you sound like you were there in the streets --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, you saw the television, didn't you?

MS. CLIFT: I saw it from the beginning. And these were peaceful protests, and it was the government that cracked down.

MR. BUCHANAN: And they built encampments in the middle of your capital. Would you tolerate that in D.C.?

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't tolerate setting the army on them.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We wouldn't have responded with bullets and guns, killing hundreds of people and --

MR. BUCHANAN: After three months?

MR. LOWRY: One of the reasons you had the protests intensify --

MS. CLIFT: We didn't storm the Occupy Wall Street settlement, and they were there for more than three months.

MR. BUCHANAN: They cleaned them out. They didn't -- they weren't sitting in Lafayette Square and the Mall in the thousands.

MR. LOWRY: When there was the initial --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. LOWRY: When there was the initial reaction after Ukraine pulled back from a deal with the EU in November, at the prodding of Putin, who offered them $15 billion to do it, then there was a reaction in the streets. Then you had the government passing anti- protest laws. And that was really fuel on the fire for these demonstrations. And there's no excuse for firing on these people in the middle of that square.

MR. BUCHANAN: Is there any excuse for --

MS. CLIFT: And it's not about --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The violence was extraordinary.

MS. CLIFT: It's not about --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: It's not about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.

MS. CLIFT: It's not about the democratically, small "d," elected president. It's about President Putin trying to exert his sphere of influence. And now he sees that he's backing a losing horse, and he's ready to negotiate.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me tell you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MS. CLIFT: So in the modern world --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Excuse me.

MS. CLIFT: -- it's about the best outcome you (could ask for ?).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me in here. Please relinquish.

Exit question: What are the odds that this accord will stand? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think they're pretty good, because if it's not for this accord, the army will be called in to clean these guys out and sweep them out of the square, which they should do. And secondly, I think Yanukovich realizes the end is near, and he ought to get out with the best deal he can.


MS. CLIFT: When you start talking about cleaning these guys out, and they're your citizens and the citizens of your country, you're in trouble.

MR. BUCHANAN: And they're shooting at your police.

MS. CLIFT: If anything, this accord is going to get tougher on the president.

MR. LOWRY: It's, I think, a 50-50 thing. You have hotheads in the protest movement who don't want to take it, even though they should. And it's not clear whether Putin really wants to accept this deal.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think, at this stage of the game, I think Putin will not interfere the way he might have interfered before all of this violence. I think that is something that Putin cannot associate with himself, whatever Pat says about this thing. My impression was by far and away the overwhelming amount of violence came from the armed forces of this president.

MR. BUCHANAN: The Polish foreign minister, John, told the protesters, you know, give up and take this deal or you will all be dead.

MR. LOWRY: I know, but that's a statement about the nature of this government to go in and mow these people down. That's what he's saying.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they're shooting --

MR. LOWRY: This is -- Rado Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, is not a friend of Putin's Russia. He knows what Putin's about.

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- the president a couple of months ago. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I double-parked recently. I got the hell beaten out of me by the police because I wasn't parked in the right -- no, excuse me. That's not right. That happened in Poland.

MR. BUCHANAN: They're shooting police also.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You left your (card in the window ?).

That's how they knew it was your car.

The odds are low.

Don't forget, the McLaughlin Group has its own website, and you can watch this program or earlier programs on the Web at any time, from anywhere in the world, at

Issue Two: Neo-Isolationism.

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): (From videotape.) We have allies around the world who are beginning to question America's commitment to the principles upon which this nation was founded and they look to America for.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In a major address on Monday, House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for an assertive U.S. foreign policy to take the place of what he termed President Obama's, quote, "isolationist sentiment," unquote.

Majority Leader Cantor cited his visit to a Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, on the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Cantor warned of the effect of neo-isolationism.

REP. CANTOR: (From videotape.) Standing there as the frigid winds swept through the eerily quiet ruins of the camps, I could not help but regret that American action in World War II came too late to save countless millions of innocent lives. Hitler's rise and conquest of Europe did not come as a surprise. We must not repeat the same mistakes. We must not reduce our preparedness or accept the notion that this nation is one of many. We must not cede global leadership to others.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The contemporary parallel to Nazi Germany is North Korea, subject of a scathing critique by the United Nations Human Rights Council this week. The 400-page report was compiled by a commission of inquiry chaired by Australian jurist Michael Kirby.

The commission charges North Korea with, quote, "crimes against humanity," unquote. The report documents the systematic starvation, torture, sexual abuse and death of prisoners. According to the U.N., quote, "hundreds of thousands of inmates have been exterminated in political prison camps," unquote.

The commission calls for the International Criminal Court at The Hague to prosecute North Korea's leaders. Also the commission cautions that China's current policy of aiding and abetting North Korea could expose Beijing to charges at The Hague. And the 193- member United Nations in New York will take up the commission's findings next month and vote on its recommendations on March the 28th.

Question: How should President Obama respond to this U.N. horror report on North Korea? Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, his options are fairly limited, if I may say so. But we absolutely have to take some stronger position in terms of what North Korea is doing. I'm not quite sure what we can really do about it, because it's a very ruthless country. They are very, very strong military in relation to their region. And I think they're going to be very, very difficult to handle. They're not going to listen to any kind of rhetoric on our part (that question ?). And we have very little levers of influence on them.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the country that's got the real influence with North Korea is China.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: China, right.

MR. BUCHANAN: North Korea is the worst Stalinist situation, I think, in the world for the last 50 or 60 years. It is a total horror show. We've known about it for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We haven't known it to the extent that this report describes.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, everybody I know knew about it. But, look, I will say this. The Chinese have got total control of North Korea. The Chinese could bring down that regime. And will the United States, however, stand up and say, look, China, if you don't do something about this horror show, we're going to impose economic sanctions on you? We're going to say no more Chinese goods sold in the United States. You ask them to do that? No.


MR. BUCHANAN: Obama going to do that? No. It's all talk.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think anybody's going to do that.

MS. CLIFT: Probably lots of repercussions to them. Talking about all talk, what Mr. Cantor presented there was not a thoughtful road map for foreign policy. That was loading up the Howitzer for ammunition for the 2014 elections. All these people are saying Obama is weak; he's ceded global leadership; he's not doing anything about this, that or the other hot spot. How many troops would they be sending to these various places?


MS. CLIFT: None. Exactly. It's all talk.

MR. LOWRY: It was a double-barreled speech, Eleanor, because it didn't just take on the president. Implicitly, and oftentimes explicitly in the speech, he took on the Rand Paul wing of the Republican Party. And this is really the battle for the soul of the party on foreign policy that you'll see going forward.

I think it's very likely whoever the eventual Republican presidential nominee is, it's going to sound much more like George H.W. Bush circa 1999-2000, when he was talking about a humble foreign policy, than George H.W. Bush circa 2004, when he was talking about democratizing the world.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Rand Paul --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please. Hold on. Should the United States restrict its humanitarian aid to North Korea, bearing in mind that humanitarian aid is also what keeps the government going?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, John, if I could make sure 2 million North Koreans were fed by sending them food and it would get to them, I would agree with you. I would do it. I think Rich is correct, though. We've got a tremendous battle coming in the Republican Party between those who would like to intervene in Syria, would like to go after Iran, would like to intervene in Ukraine, and the Rand Paul and the paleo-conservative wing.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BUCHANAN: I'm not so sure the paleos are going to win it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is a different level of evil that we're seeing in North Korea, thanks to this report -- a different level that far outstrips anything --

MS. CLIFT: Right. But Mort is right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and we've been covering this issue here for years.

MS. CLIFT: Right. But Mort is right. There are only a limited number of ways you can tighten the screws. And I would not tighten the screws further on the people by withholding humanitarian aid.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do the people get the food?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they get some of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or is it sold around in the international community?

MS. CLIFT: They're selling around their nuclear material.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: CBO Smackdown.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Today the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. It's easy to remember -- 10-10. This will help families. It'll give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic programs. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A hike in the federal minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour was a centerpiece of President Obama's January State of the Union address. This week the eminent and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, regularly invoked by Democrats, blew that centerpiece into smithereens -- old Irish for small fragments.

It told the lawmakers that the economic impact of the raise in the minimum wage from the existing $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour amounts to a 40 percent add-on -- 39.31 percent exactly. The winners would be 16.5 million workers who would welcome the hike, including 900,000 who would be lifted above the poverty line. The losers would be 500,000 workers who get pink slips and the employers who must cope with their new burden by either letting some workers go or canceling prospective new hires or canceling or modifying raises for present employees.

Jason Furman is an Obama factotum, defined as someone employed to do a variety of jobs for somebody else. He is chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He disputed the CBO report, saying the agency relied on outdated economic research to estimate the job losses due to a higher minimum wage. Furman did not dispute the aspects of the CBO's estimate that were favorable to the Obama administration's minimum-wage proposal.

Question: What impact will the CBO report have on the congressional debate over raising the minimum wage? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think it is going to be serious here, because we have a huge number of people who are not only unemployed, but one of the phenomena of last year was the number of people who left the labor force. And you're going to be in a position here where, because of, again, an increasing amount of unemployment, if I may say so, you have three -- last year we had 3.9 million people leaving the labor force compared to 1.4 million jobs. This is not the time to undercut the job market.

MS. CLIFT: First of all, the CBO did not do any original research determining how many people would lose their jobs. They went back and they collated all the research that's been done by academic institutions, think tanks, et cetera. We raised the minimum wage the last time when George W. Bush was in the office. I don't remember any big outcry over lost jobs.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because it was a growing economy.

MS. CLIFT: And second --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This is not a growing economy.

MS. CLIFT: It was not a growing economy when Bush was in office. There was actually an overall loss of --


MR. LOWRY: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. I have another thing to say, and that is that there is a moral force behind this. The Gap is voluntarily raising their wages for their 65,000 employees to $10.10. I think Wal-Mart will be next.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: And over three years --

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible) -- individual companies.

MS. CLIFT: Over three years, which is a relatively --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you asked what the political impact --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This argument is based on discredit the messenger. The messenger is the CBO.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The CBO, you know and I know and everybody in this town, including you --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- whatever they put forth is practically irrefutable, carefully done.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: They didn't do original research.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The research is out there. It has been re- researched and re-researched.

MR. BUCHANAN: Hey, John, you asked what the political impact will be. I'll tell you what it'll be. The minimum-wage thing is going to be dead, because the Republicans have got very powerful forces that are against it. Now they've got this argument from this neutral group which says it's going to cost 500,000 jobs on top of the Obama report on "Obamacare" is going to cost 2 million jobs. And they'll say these guys are job-killing liberals, and that will kill it.

MR. LOWRY: And they'll be right. And John, this is the thing. The CBO attempts to go down the middle here. You have 500,000 job loss. The other thing it points out is only about 19 percent of the people who would be helped by this are actually in poor households. So it has a huge down side. It's poorly targeted.

If you wanted to do something creative that actually you'd get a bipartisan consensus around, you'd focus on the EITC, which helps low- income workers at the same time it doesn't end -- destroy any jobs. But the Democrats love the minimum wage because it's a political bludgeon and the unions like it.

MS. CLIFT: By keeping the minimum wage low, we are actually subsidizing the big employers. We're subsidizing the McDonald's and the Wal-Marts, because they encourage their people to call and find out about how they can get government assistance.

MR. LOWRY: Why would you support a policy that is --

MS. CLIFT: If you elevate --

MR. LOWRY: -- going to destroy jobs --

MS. CLIFT: If you elevate -- excuse me --

MR. LOWRY: -- on the first rung on the economic ladder?

You're pulling that away from people --

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor, how you can you say it's the big guys?

MR. LOWRY: -- in an economy where you have a jobs crisis already?

MR. BUCHANAN: Every small marginal group, a grocery and stuff like that, their profit margins are tiny.

MS. CLIFT: If you let me speak --

MR. BUCHANAN: This will dump them right out of business.

MS. CLIFT: If you let me speak, I will answer your question. We have raised the minimum wage for years, periodically. It is -- it's less now than it would be if it had kept up with inflation; 800,000 people off the government rolls. They will go out there and spend the money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me get this in.

MS. CLIFT: It's a positive for the economy overall.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me get this in. Exit question: Who will win the numbers-crunchers credibility war, the White House or the Congressional Budget Office? Pat Buchanan. Quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: The White House can't beat the CBO anymore.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) The White House will beat -- (laughter) -- the CBO and the Republicans on this issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you sure? Even the (facile ?) Obama -- the (facile ?) Obama -- can he do it?

MS. CLIFT: There are plenty of facts there that support the president's position.

MR. LOWRY: It's not even close.

MS. CLIFT: And the American people want the minimum wage raised.

MR. LOWRY: It's not even close. The CBO will win. It's not even close. The CBO will win.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That means there's no raising the minimum wage?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think a lot of economists are going to support the CBO in terms of job losses. This is not a time when we can afford additional job losses.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. The CBO -- and the CBO knows that, and it's appealed to those economists.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It uses their data.

Issue Four: Keystone Pipe Dream.

They've been dubbed the three amigos -- President Barack Obama, Mexican President Pena Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They all met this week in Toluca, Mexico at a North American summit to talk mostly about trade.

But one issue also discussed has President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at loggerheads. That issue: The Keystone XL pipeline.

To be clear, a pipeline already exists that pumps oil from the tar sands of Canadian province Alberta all the way to American refineries in Texas, along the Gulf Coast. The Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile-long expansion -- repeat, expansion -- of the existing pipeline that Canada wants built through the U.S.; its unfinished route shown on the map as the dotted line.

At its peak, a potential 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day could flow through the Gulf. But the Keystone XL has run into delays and opposition. Conservationists fear habitat destruction. And some Native American tribes fear that dirty water will accumulate on traditional tribal lands, and also others, notably environmental groups. They believe the pipeline will accelerate development of Canada's oil sands, and in so doing, intensify greenhouse-gas emissions.

But a long-awaited U.S. State Department report has ruled that greenhouse-gas emissions would not be significantly affected. Why? Because Canada will develop its oil sands anyway, with or without the new Keystone pipeline -- cold comfort to the greens.

And there's more, notably the well-informed Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator, who also served as President Obama's Cabinet Interior secretary for five years, 2009 to 2013. He is a proponent of finishing the Keystone pipeline for an unassailable reason. Quote: "At the end of the day, we are going to be consuming that oil. So is it better for us to get the oil from our good neighbor from the north or to be bringing it in from someplace in the Middle East?" unquote.

Question: Why is President Obama dragging his feet on green- lighting the Keystone XL pipeline? Rich Lowry.

MR. LOWRY: Well, it's really caught in a dilemma, because there's no rational reason to oppose this pipeline. There have been numerous government studies now giving it a clean bill of health. And it would have gone through a long time ago if it hadn't become a political football and a cause for the environmental left and some very wealthy donors to the Democratic Party.

So the tack the president and the administration are taking now is just trying to study this thing to death, although it's the biggest shovel-ready project in America that would immediately create thousands of good blue-collar jobs.

MS. CLIFT: But there are obstacles coming in from the right as well. The Nebraska Republican governor had objections. And there has recently been a court ruling in Nebraska saying that the route is unconstitutional. So they haven't settled that.

And the dilemma -- you're right; a lot of the Democratic base, young people, see the environmental movement as their civil-rights movement. And they see it as an existential --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, you've got seven seconds. Quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, if you don't do it by pipeline, you do it by these railroad cars that inevitably turn over and dump all this oil into the environment. It would be better to be going underground --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- through a pipe.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not only will you alienate our closest ally, namely Canada, but they're going to use another pipeline in a different direction. It's not going to change in any way the amount of oil that they're going to develop through this thing. It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, that says it all.

Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Ukrainian protest movement will break into pieces, John, and some of them will be unattractive to American liberals.


MS. CLIFT: Wal-Mart and other big-box chains will come under increasing pressure from Republicans not to raise the minimum wage.


MR. LOWRY: The tea party/establishment Senate race to watch is in Mississippi, where the long-time appropriator, Thad Cochran, faces a very serious threat from a smooth-talking tea party candidate, Chris McDaniel.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mentioned the number of people who have abandoned looking for work. That number is going to continue through this coming year because of the very weak economy in terms of employment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will again seek elective office in Ukraine, and she will win.


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