THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; RICHARD MCGREGOR, FINANCIAL TIMES TAPED: FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2011 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MARCH 26-27, 2011
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Gadhafi Grounded.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Today I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An international effort to protect Libyan civilians from the forces of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. That international effort is a no-fly zone over Libyan air space, intended to protect Libyan civilians from bombings by Gadhafi's air force.
The United Nations Security Council last Thursday authorized the no-fly zone in Resolution 1973. The resolution's emphasis is clear: Save Libyan civilian lives. Quote: "Grave concern at the heavy civilian casualties; ensure the protection of civilians; a complete end to violence against civilians; protect civilians in civilian- populated areas; protect civilians," unquote.
Ten Security Council members voted yes on the resolution: U.S., U.K., France, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa. Five members abstained: Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, India.
The 10 votes was just one more than the nine needed for passage, and it did not include input from the 192-member United Nations General Assembly. But international support for the no-fly zone is now waning. The Libyan government is alleging that coalition bombings have killed many civilians. Doctors on the ground say over 100 civilians have died, military deaths not included.
The 22-member Arab League this week accused the U.S. and the coalition of ignoring the U.N.
AMR MOUSSA (Arab League): (From videotape.) Insofar as we are concerned, the Arab League, we requested the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in order to protect the civilians, in addition to safe areas for the civilians to sit in without attacks on them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Brazil, Russia, India and China, the BRIC nations, B-R-I-C, are all calling for an immediate cessation of the no-fly zone. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it's Gadhafi that is stained with civilian blood.
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) It's perfectly evident that the vast majority, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Gadhafi.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If this NATO-led no-fly zone does not remove Gadhafi, will the U.S. be forced to put boots on the ground? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: If you're talking about Marines, no; Army troops, no. You may get some special advisors in there, John. But here's what's happening now. The no-fly zone has been established. Gadhafi's air force does not exist. His airfields don't really exist anymore.
What's happened is the Europeans are going to take over the no- fly zone, but the Americans are engaged in an aerial war to help the rebels. And we're now moving to where the American air power and missile power is firing at Libyan tanks and at Libyan troop concentrations. We're firing missiles into the compound of Gadhafi in Tripoli. And so what's going on now is America is conducting its own air war, and basically the objective is to destroy, degrade, damage and demoralize the Libyan army to the point where it turns around and gets rid of Gadhafi. We're not going to put troops on the ground.
But if this doesn't work, John, I think President Obama has a real problem, because his problem is this. He didn't get the authorization from Congress. He got it from the Security Council, but he didn't get it from the American Congress. And right now a lot of people are bailing on him, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He can't declare war without the --
MS. CROWLEY: Congress --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- without the Congress.
MS. CROWLEY: -- declares war.
MR. BUCHANAN: He cannot --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has no power to declare war.
MR. BUCHANAN: Unless -- look, Libya did not attack us and it did not threaten us. In that case, he has no power to go to war unless authorized by Congress or declared by Congress.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear the law. The War Powers Act was approved by Congress in 1973, 37 years ago, after U.S. involvement ended in Vietnam. The act calls on the president to notify Congress when U.S. troops are in combat situations and to withdraw them within 60 days of the notification unless both houses of Congress declare war or otherwise approve the use of troops.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, that is only in the case that Americans are attacked or imminently threatened.
MS. CROWLEY: Imminent threat.
MR. BUCHANAN: If there's no threat or no attack, you've got to go to Congress under the Constitution.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he is in violation of the Constitution.
MR. BUCHANAN: The Constitution of the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You maintain that.
MR. BUCHANAN: I certainly do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he should be impeached?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think he should be impeached. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the president of the United States is violating the founding document of our country --
MR. BUCHANAN: Because I don't think we ought to do that right now. But quite frankly, would it be an impeachable offense? Nixon bombed Cambodia secretly, and they talked about that as an impeachable offense.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. They didn't have to impeach Nixon, because he had to forcibly resign, to get out just before he was impeached. And it had nothing --
MR. BUCHANAN: But they didn't use that.
MS. CROWLEY: Not for that.
MS. CLIFT: And it had nothing to do with that. It had to do with --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much trouble --
MS. CLIFT: The congressional --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Obama in any trouble?
MS. CLIFT: No. No. The congressional objections are a sideshow. They don't really want responsibility for this. They just want the right to complain, and that's what they have. And they're going to watch to see how it turns out. And if it turns out badly, then they'll complain. He's done plenty enough consulting with Congress. He's well within the law.
But your original question about ground troops -- the president could have done a better job explaining to the American people what he was doing. I still don't understand how basically a movement candidate who built such a phenomenal campaign of public support has failed to build public support for any of his policies, from health care to participating in a humanitarian intervention in Libya. And there was an overwhelming case that there was going to be a massive slaughter by Gadhafi in Benghazi if the White House didn't act, in concert with the other nations.
But the quote that they leaked is that the president said no American boot is going to touch a grain of Libyan sand. Maybe the French will go in with ground troops, but it is not this president's job. But there are other tools that are not military, including the $35 billion that he has in one place that will be frozen. There are some financial incentives for him to bail out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he's violated the Constitution? How much trouble is he in? Is he in any trouble?
MS. CROWLEY: No, I don't think he's in any immediate constitutional trouble, because, look, the founders afforded the commander in chief enormous discretion to assign American military forces to combat zones, because the commander in chief needs to act with dispatch. You've got 535 members of Congress. They cannot act with dispatch.
War Powers Act -- every single president since Richard Nixon has treated it essentially as unconstitutional, including this one. He does have enormous leeway. The problem here is that he has committed us to this military operation in Libya. Libya is essentially a sideshow. There are no American strategic interests involved in Libya.
Now we have humanitarian and geopolitical crises popping up in Iran, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Those places actually are strategically important to the United States. And what's going to happen here is that the president has set this precedent, but now he's going to fall back behind the U.N., behind the Congress, behind NATO, and say, "Well, gosh, golly, I'd love to intervene in all these critically important places, but I just can't get the coalition to do it."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Richard.
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, look, he's not in trouble now, but he might be. So he needs to get lucky. And so does the West, frankly. The big problem now is that you've got a U.S.-led mission, and the stated goal is not U.S. policy, which is to get rid of Gadhafi. And so you've got to try and go around that.
But the no-fly zone is not a problem. That's under NATO. But NATO has 28 members, including Turkey. And Turkey is extremely concerned. This is why the negotiations were held up the other night about Libyan civilians being killed. So you want to attack the Libyan army, but the Libyan army are all in Libyan cities. And you attack Libyan cities, you're going to kill civilians. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. And, of course --
MR. MCGREGOR: And then the whole coalition will fall apart.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, the whole -- the direct and repeated emphasis of the U.N. was "Don't take civilian lives"; not only that, but "Prevent civilians from being killed."
MR. BUCHANAN: John, that's why --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They didn't say it's OK to kill the rebels. They didn't say it's OK to kill the military forces.
MR. BUCHANAN: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're all civilians.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's why they separated it, John. The no-fly zone is NATO, and they're not going to kill civilians. They're going to protect civilians. But there's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Gadhafi have --
MR. BUCHANAN: There's another war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- civilians on his side, non-military on his side? Of course he does.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, but here's why -- look, the no-fly zone is NATO. But the other part of the war, which the Americans are going to run, is the attacking and killing of his army.
MS. CLIFT: Wait a second. You're saying that --
MR. MCGREGOR: They're being joined together now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.
MS. CLIFT: -- the Americans are going to run that. They're running it for the moment, but they're transferring that power as well.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, that's the key question, whether we stop --
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- whether we stop attacking.
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. BUCHANAN: If we do, we lose the war. MS. CLIFT: They're attacking Gadhafi's tanks. And I think one of the --
MR. BUCHANAN: Troops.
MS. CLIFT: The tanks. One of the U.S. generals said if Gadhafi's --
MR. MCGREGOR: And the troops in the tanks.
MS. CLIFT: -- troops are going to -- if they're taking a tank, they ought to not take it to Tripoli, basically. (Laughs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, one of the really strange, almost frightening parts of this is that 25 years ago we had a replay of the Libya conflict with Ronald Reagan. Here's Ronald Reagan, who faced exactly the same hostile setting that President Barack Obama is experiencing today.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: (From videotape.) When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I'm in this Oval Office. Self-defense is not only our right. It is our duty.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, you were there when Reagan gave the speech.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, I wrote the speech.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You wrote the speech.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, the final draft.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me the background of that, and show me how it is congruent with what's going on today, exactly congruent.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, it is not. It's different for this thing. We were attacked at La Belle Discotheque two weeks earlier. They blew it --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Berlin.
MR. BUCHANAN: Berlin. They killed American soldiers and wounded about 50 of them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two. Two.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but they wounded about 50 of them. This was a retaliatory response for what they did, a single action by Ronald Reagan in response. This comes under the War Powers Act, I think, no doubt about it. But it was not -- this is a different thing Obama's doing. He is going after a nation that didn't attack us and didn't threaten us. It's in a civil war, and he attacked it. MS. CLIFT: He is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's also killing civilians, obviously, on the ground.
MR. BUCHANAN: And he's killing --
MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, Gates's lame excuse is "We're killing more military than we are civilians."
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got no right to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is that?
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got no right --
MS. CLIFT: You expect --
MR. BUCHANAN: Hold it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Let him finish. Let him finish. He was there. Let him finish.
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got no right to kill Libya's soldiers. What are they doing? They're defending their country and putting down an insurgency of a government. They've not known any other.
MS. CLIFT: Going after --
MR. BUCHANAN: They have a legitimate right to do that.
MS. CLIFT: Going after the Libyan army is part of the U.N. resolution. You may disagree with it, but it is within legal bounds.
MR. BUCHANAN: To protect civilians.
MS. CLIFT: And this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you select the army versus civilian when you're bombing from above?
MS. CLIFT: Do you -- do you just separate out what was about to happen in Benghazi, and you would have just sat aside --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's --
MS. CLIFT: -- and let that occur?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's new talk that there's one --
MS. CLIFT: This is not -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's new talk that presented to Gadhafi to split it by some of his own friends --
MS. CLIFT: You act like this is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to split it and have the east go to Gadhafi -- I think that's where Tripoli is --
MR. BUCHANAN: The west.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The west go to Gadhafi --
MS. CLIFT: You act like this is the first time --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- after he gets Tripoli. Well, maybe -- maybe the --
MS. CLIFT: You act like this is the first time we've ever had a no-fly zone. We've done it in Kosovo. We did it in Iraq. We caged Saddam Hussein.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No-fly --
MS. CLIFT: There is a possibility that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The audience should understand what a no-fly zone is. No-fly means that the enemies cannot -- this is the case of Gadhafi. He cannot fly, but we can fly. That's what no-fly means.
MS. CLIFT: Right. And NATO --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It doesn't mean that we can't fly. It means the enemy can't fly.
MS. CLIFT: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what Obama wants. That's what he's got.
MS. CLIFT: Yes. And it is not the first time that the U.S. has done that. We've done that in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And Hillary says it never worked.
MS. CLIFT: And I don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She says it never worked.
MS. CLIFT: And I don't --
MS. CROWLEY: By the way --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary said that last week on the show. MS. CLIFT: It got rid of Saddam Hussein.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, go ahead.
MS. CROWLEY: By the way, we've done these no-fly zones over the former Yugoslavia, over Iraq. It doesn't necessarily prevent the kind of humanitarian slaughter that we're trying to prevent here.
Look, two differences between Reagan and Obama. Number one, American leadership. Reagan didn't wait for any kind of international stamp of approval to move. And number two, with Reagan there was a clear mission, a clear strategy and clear American presidential leadership.
MS. CLIFT: That was before --
MS. CROWLEY: We have had none of that in this case.
MS. CLIFT: That was before 9/11, before George W.
MS. CROWLEY: It doesn't matter.
MS. CLIFT: It matters.
MS. CROWLEY: You know what, you can argue --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.
MS. CROWLEY: Eleanor, you can argue that post-9/11 you need it even more.
MS. CLIFT: No, you don't need leadership that goes into --
MS. CROWLEY: You don't need leadership? (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: -- a Muslim country. You don't need leadership --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a laugh of scorn?
MS. CROWLEY: Yes. You don't need leadership. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: I want to finish.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly, quickly. MS. CLIFT: You don't need leadership that goes into a Muslim country all alone. This was an international coalition --
MS. CROWLEY: American presidential leadership, Eleanor --
MS. CLIFT: -- in a post-9/11 age, in a post-George W. Bush era, where we created a war in Iraq that was unnecessary --
MS. CROWLEY: Oh, here we go.
MS. CLIFT: -- and left under --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One well-known --
MS. CROWLEY: (Inaudible) -- Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: It has more to do with it than Reagan 25 years ago.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, one well-known member of Congress raised the question of whether or not Obama has committed an impeachable offense. Who was that?
MS. CROWLEY: Dennis Kucinich.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Dennis Kucinich. What's his argument about this being a possibility?
MS. CLIFT: Notice how many people --
MR. BUCHANAN: The Congress has --
MS. CLIFT: -- are lined up with Dennis Kucinich. Zero.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He hasn't really made his case.
MR. BUCHANAN: Here's the reasoning. Congress --
MS. CLIFT: You asked.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, he doesn't have a case.
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he's saying this question should be raised.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, here's the case.
MS. CLIFT: And you raised it. (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: Congress alone has the power to declare war or authorize war in the Constitution. Obama -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this war? Is this war?
MR. BUCHANAN: If you attack a country --
MS. CROWLEY: Of course it is.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- and kill its soldiers, those are acts --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And civilians.
MR. BUCHANAN: And Gates himself said these are acts of war.
MS. CLIFT: And you accept --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do you think about this?
MS. CLIFT: You accept --
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, I --
MS. CLIFT: -- that Gadhafi says that it's the Americans that are killing civilians --
MR. MCGREGOR: I mean, if he's going to be --
MS. CLIFT: -- as opposed to what Gates says about who's killing them?
MR. MCGREGOR: If he's going to be impeached -- as a newcomer to the States, if he's going to be impeached for this, then it's a pretty low bar.
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
MR. MCGREGOR: Let's face it. But is it war? You can talk about war or, as Ben Rhodes said, a kinetic clash of some kind. That's just semantics.
Obviously it's war. As Pat said, Robert Gates said it when he was trying to talk the president out of it, in fact.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you can freely expostulate on the odds, but let's put that to the test. What are the odds, zero to 100, that Obama will be impeached?
MR. MCGREGOR: Zero.
MR. BUCHANAN: Zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zero.
MS. CROWLEY: Over this?
MS. CLIFT: Zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zero.
MS. CROWLEY: Over this? Zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zero.
MS. CLIFT: And anything else. (Laughs.)
MR. MCGREGOR: Less than zero.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is zero.
Issue Two: Hot Rods.
GREGORY JACZKO (Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman): (From videotape.) The bottom line is that there clearly appears to be a challenge keeping that spent fuel filled with sufficient water.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Japan's nuclear reactors at Fukushima-Daiichi continued this week to produce dangerous levels of radiation. Exposed nuclear fuel rods emit radiation unless they are submerged. So workers are trying to contain the radiation by covering the exposed nuclear fuel rods with water.
Japan's nuclear crisis has renewed a debate in the U.S. over what to do with spent nuclear fuel rods. Currently 145 million pounds of spent fuel is stored at 77 locations in the U.S., and 44 million pounds of additional spent fuel is added every year. This spent fuel is stored in tanks, and most of the tanks are located right next to the nuclear reactors.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that the system dealing with spent nuclear fuel is OK.
MR. JACZKO: (From videotape.) Right now we believe that spent fuel certainly can be stored safely and securely with the existing system.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Many Americans want a single repository in a faraway place for the rods to be housed. For three decades, the U.S. Congress funded research on what to do with the rods. Thirteen-point- five billion dollars was spent on research: Repeat: $13.5 billion on research. One burial site was finally chosen -- Yucca Mountain, a former salt mine in southwest Nevada.
In 2009, two years ago, after more than two decades of research, President Obama decided to cut funding for Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository site. Reportedly he made his decision at the urging of Nevada's Democratic senator and leader, Harry Reid.
Question: What was President Obama's primary motivation in nixing the Yucca Mountain repository? Was it science, namely the seismic studies? Or was it politics, to boost Harry Reid's re- election prospects last year, which Harry Reid was worried about, but he did survive?
MS. CLIFT: Well, there may be a political component, but Yucca Mountain is so yesterday. The space there is too small to accommodate all of the accumulated civil and Defense Department nuclear waste. So it's outdated. It's been overtaken. And I think the bigger problem facing the nuclear industry in the U.S. is to create and find places to build these pools of water that can hold the spent fuel rods while they cool down to the point where they can be transported and moved into those big caskets.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do they transport it?
MS. CLIFT: Well, if you keep it right next to the reactor, you don't have to take it very far.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if you brought them to Yucca, how would you get them there?
MS. CLIFT: By train or by truck.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By train or by truck.
MS. CLIFT: And people don't like that going through their neighborhood. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens during the course of the journey from the East Coast to where we are, Nevada?
MS. CROWLEY: Well, there is a lot of concern that if you transport this kind of nuclear material across state lines over long distances, you could either have an accident or you could have a terrorist attack. And so there's some concern about having a single national repository for this kind of stuff.
The problem is that in keeping it in the nuclear power plants in these kinds of casks, as Eleanor points out, the problem is that these plants weren't made to store the wasted fuel rods. And so what do you do with them? They can't exist for too much longer the way they are, and we don't have a national depository.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has the Financial Times editorialized on this subject?
MR. MCGREGOR: No, they haven't. But I'll tell you what. If the U.S. can't find a place to do it, lots of other countries will; France, for example, which runs a commercial operation doing this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One site for the spent rods?
MR. MCGREGOR: No, at a number of sites. But if the U.S. turns its back on nuclear power, you can be sure that China, Japan and South Korea won't. So this is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll have to be -- we want to keep nuclear power. But what are you going to do with these rods?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, here's the thing. What the French do, it's a process of breaking it all down and glassifying it and then storing it. And they are taking it from other countries and making money off doing it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, since you know so much about it, did you hear the science that you got from Eleanor, namely that this Yucca Mountain is not big enough to sustain it? It lacks the size.
Is that what you said?
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
I mean, Yucca Mountain --
MR. BUCHANAN: But, you know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you believe that? Do you have any knowledge of that?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't have any knowledge of that.
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We heard what the nuclear regulatory head said.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, let me -- let's assume it's true. I think the French have the answer to the problem, and the Americans won't adopt it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And what do we do with that $13.5 billion that we researched for Yucca Mountain?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I would --
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, state politics is behind this, John.
MS. CLIFT: I think we probably have to do what the French are doing and the Brits, and that is, they recycle this fuel. So they get more than one use out of it, so it doesn't have to be stored --
MR. BUCHANAN: The old breeder reactor.
MS. CLIFT: But the waste --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all agree --
MS. CLIFT: Nuclear waste is a continuing problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all agree that President Obama is not going to restore Yucca Mountain to its original status, that these rods are going to stay next to the nuclear plants. Is that correct? MS. CROWLEY: For now.
MR. MCGREGOR: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For now. Correct?
MR. MCGREGOR: Yeah, for the moment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Odd Couple.
FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From videotape.) We don't always see eye to eye. Do we, Newt?
FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): (From videotape.) No. But we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, three years ago. They were talking about climate change. But Gingrich is now a likely Republican candidate for president and is unlikely to pledge support for climate change's demand for green energy. That's because of the political power of the tea party, it is said.
The tea party has emerged as the unofficial bosses of the Republican Party. Sitting to my right, Financial Times Washington bureau chief Richard McGregor pointed that out on Tuesday. Quote: "The rise of highly motivated tea party activists as the king makers in Republican primaries has added an extra level of calculation for Obama's opponent," unquote.
GOP hopefuls are already looking for how to get rid of their moderate political baggage.
Item: Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. He supported cap and trade.
Item: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He supported action to combat climate change.
Item: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He passed a state health insurance law that some believe mirrors elements of "Obamacare."
Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler is convinced that the GOP 2012 candidate will have to pass the tea party test.
MARK MECKLER (Tea Party Patriots founder): (From videotape.) That the American people identify with tea party values; it's an acknowledgement that they have to connect with the tea party. If they don't, they don't have a chance. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that's a bum rap against Romney, namely that there is federal funding or something wrong with his Massachusetts plan that's going to inhibit a big turnout for him? Have you read Romney's book where he explains in detail for about 10 pages what the Massachusetts health plan is that he introduced?
MR. MCGREGOR: I haven't read the book, but I don't think you need to, basically, in a political debate, because he's being pinged already, so much so that he's backing away from it. He doesn't try to explain what he's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, trade off the error?
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, he doesn't try to explain what his policy was. He simply says it was different and let's move on. He doesn't -- he doesn't want to own his own policy, so I don't see why he wants to explain it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, why does he do that? Why doesn't he just pick up the language --
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, because the Republicans hate it. It's a subset of "Obamacare." So clearly he doesn't want to have to support it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who looks the cleanest to you as far as tea party invulnerability is concerned?
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, you know, maybe Michele Bachmann, but she'd be the least candidate you'd want. So that's the problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the problem?
MR. MCGREGOR: Well, because she -- you know, she's -- the tea party love her, but she's not somebody who the Republicans would want to have (as) a candidate.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, she and Sarah Palin --
MR. MCGREGOR: And it's inverse proportion to each other.
MR. BUCHANAN: She and Sarah Palin are both tremendously acceptable to the tea party, but they don't pass yet the threshold of being seen as a president by the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, because they just haven't gotten there yet, whereas Romney is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why? Do you mean --
MR. BUCHANAN: Romney is seen as presidential -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the names, like Donald Trump's name is out there?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, no. It's not celebrity status. It means the threshold of reaching president. What Ronald Reagan had to reach in the debate, where people saw him as a president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see Donald Trump --
MR. MCGREGOR: They're not serious candidates.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see Donald Trump screaming on "The View," "Where is the birth certificate of Barack Obama?"
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, listen, that has great appeal to the tea party folks.
MS. CLIFT: This is the price of purity. If you want a birther or if you want Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, tell me the month and the date and the year when they will achieve that level. Will they be seen as presidential candidates? I don't think that's coming, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, you need the tea party in the general to support your candidate.
MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, but --
MR. BUCHANAN: And a lot of them will get it.
MS. CLIFT: But if you elect a candidate -- if you nominate a candidate that the party loves, that is someone that cannot win a national election in this country.
MS. CROWLEY: No --
MS. CLIFT: Tea party -- excuse me. Tea party --
MS. CROWLEY: I would not --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Tea party people can win certain districts and certain states, but they cannot win a national election.
MS. CROWLEY: Well, what we saw in November --
MS. CLIFT: And the Democrats actually have a chance --
MS. CROWLEY: What we saw in November was a national --
MS. CLIFT: The Democrats actually have a chance of taking back the House, because they need to recapture 25 seats. MS. CROWLEY: Forget it.
MS. CLIFT: And there are at least 25 tea party freshmen who are not --
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah, not happening, not happening.
MS. CLIFT: -- (resonating ?) well in their districts.
MS. CROWLEY: If the government keeps spending like this, the tea party movement is only going to accelerate. And all of the top-tier Republican candidates, whether it's Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, they're all facing enormous pressure from the tea party, and they're going to have to change their positions and modify them to accommodate the tea party on spending and the size of government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no: U.S. boots will be on the ground in Libya?
MR. BUCHANAN: No Marines to the shores of Tripoli this time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No.
MS. CROWLEY: No.
MR. MCGREGOR: Yes, but hopefully after Gadhafi's gone.
MS. CLIFT: OK.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: After Gadhafi's gone.
MR. MCGREGOR: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Peacekeeping.
MR. MCGREGOR: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting. I'll go along with you, Richard. And welcome.