• With: Dan Henninger, Dorothy Rabinowitz, James Freeman, Mary Anastasia O'Grady

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's Supreme Court warning. Was this week's attack a preview of what's to come if ObamaCare goes down?

    Plus, as Mitt Romney notches three more wins, calls grow for Rick Santorum to exit the Republican race. Should he do it before his home state primary?

    And the budget battle is joined as the president ties Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan's plan. Could it hurt the Republicans in November?


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.


    GIGOT: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    Those words set off a firestorm this week, with many seeing President Obama's comments on the Supreme Court as a warning to the justices that they will pay a political price if they strike down all or part of his signature health care law. Liberals claim that no less than the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is at stake. So was this a preview of their campaign strategy if ObamaCare is overturned?

    Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, assistant editorial page editor James Freeman, and editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz.

    So Dan, President Obama is known for choosing his words carefully, doesn't speak -- usually doesn't say what he doesn't mean. So what was he trying to do? Was he trying to lobby the Supreme Court?

    DANIEL HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I agree he doesn't say what he doesn't mean. He is a belief (ph) politician. And I think what happened here is what we sometimes call a Freudian slip, in which someone inadvertently says something they actually believe. Yes, he understands Marbury versus Madison, but Barack Obama...

    GIGOT: That's the case that set in place judicial review.

    HENNINGER: Yes. All right. But Barack Obama is a belief politician, and he believes he's a great charismatic national leader leading large masses of people. He's that kind of leader.

    And I think what he was saying here is that, I have the democratically elected Congress behind me. I have this large mass of people. And you have to be aware of that. And it was a catastrophe when he said it. I can't see that he was lobbying the court because the crackback (ph) even among liberals was overwhelming. This was a statement of his belief about the court being subordinate to the legislature and his legislation.

    GIGOT: But did he think, James, that this could actually help with the Supreme Court, maybe push them in the direction he wants them to go? That doesn't strike me as plausible.

    JAMES FREEMAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Only if he believes that Justice Anthony Kennedy can be intimidated into joining the side to affirm the law. As we kind of puzzle over what he meant by this, I think one thing you can say for certain is that this was someone who looked at the oral arguments and decided his side had lost because it was not the sound of a winner, saying, well, we'll let the court do its work, and we had a nice exposition of the views.

    But this -- this idea that he doesn't know or seems not to know that for more than 200 years, the Supreme Court has been able to decide whether laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are constitutional? It's kind of amazing. He was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, president of the Harvard Law Review!

    GIGOT: All right, let's listen to Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, defend the president's statement.


    JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In speaking on Monday, the president was not clearly understood by some people because he is a law professor. He spoke in shorthand.

    The president believes that the Supreme Court has the final word on matters of judicial review, on the constitutionality of legislation. He would, having been a professor of law.


    GIGOT: Dorothy, were you persuaded?

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Persuaded. They have this secondary form of demagoguery, next to the president. First of all, the president is in this speech is credited by Jay Carney with not being understood. So whose fault is it? It's the masses, the rest of us, the ignoramuses who didn't perceive the depth...


    RABINOWITZ: ... of this argument being put forward to us. Mr. Carney has had a long and somewhat more normal (ph) a troubled history in his (ph), and you can't blame him. This is what happens.

    But this was a most extraordinary problem. You had the words of the president, unprecedented. You can't erase them from memory. And Jay Carney explaining it was all OK.

    GIGOT: But is -- is -- if the president goes in this direction -- let's say the court does overturn part or all of the law, and if the president goes in this direction of making the Supreme Court a campaign issue, is that smart politics? Can it work?

    RABINOWITZ: No, it can't, but he's already done that. You know, he's in this...

    GIGOT: Well, he set it up, but he could back away from it. And he could -- he could accept any decision and say, Well, look, this is the law. We'll now move on.

    RABINOWITZ: The president does not care about what he can and cannot do. It will not be effective politically. But he does have this feeling that he's focused on the masses who are his and only his. The enemy is out there.

    And you have to remember, there was a time when the president or somebody we used to call an object of our Rorschach test (ph) -- he could be anything. We know a very different man now, the one who has declared war, us against them, us against the evil empire. And that confidence that's in him is going to carry him along and...


    HENNINGER: ... very much become an issue in the election. The Supreme Court is almost inevitably an issue in every presidential election. And let's not kid ourselves. There is a division of belief among conservatives liberals over -- over the law in this country. And it isn't always reflected in Supreme Court decisions, but on this sort of thing, it is.

    And I would expect the president to indeed go out, and in his way, say, Give me the authority over the next four years to replace a couple of these conservatives and get a court more in line with the beliefs of the American people.

    GIGOT: Well...

    HENNINGER: We've been having that argument for a long time.

    GIGOT: And if ObamaCare goes down, his base is going to be very demoralized because this is his central liberal achievement, and if that is overturned, even if it's in part, there's going to be a lot of liberals who are saying, Well, what else has this administration done for us? And then they're going to need to be fired up, and what better way to fire them up than to say, Let's make the Supreme Court an issue?