This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 16, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," a new pope from the new world. What the election of Francis means for the Catholic Church's influence in the United States and around the world.
Plus, the Obama charm offensive continues. With his poll numbers slipping, the president heads to Capitol Hill. But is he really looking for common ground? And how should Republicans respond?
And Hollywood activists embrace them, and President Obama wants to put a million of them on America's roads, but are electric cars all that green?
Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Well, some surprising firsts this week for the 2000-year-old Catholic Church as the College of Cardinals elected Jorge Maria Bergoglio as their 266th leader. Pope Francis, as he is now know, is the first Jesuit, the first pope ever from Latin America, and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. The 76 year old pontiff was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope in 600 years to resign.
So what does the choice mean for the Catholic Church, its influence around the world and the 70 million faithful right here in the United States?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan.
So, Peggy, we've had a few days for the choice to sink in. We've learned more about this new pope. What do you make of the choice?
PEGGY NOONAN, COLUMNIST: I continue to marvel at what a surprise it was because of his age, because he wasn't on anybody's list. That said, I think the key fact of him is that he took the name Francis. He's the first Francis ever, took it from St. Francis of Assisi, one of whose great stories involved being told by Christ, "Clean up my church which is in ruins." This suggests to me that this very humble seeming man, even a shy seeming man, a guy with little show biz. It suggests to me, he knows the trouble the church is in, the scandals, the Vati-Leaks, all of this stuff. And he will, at age 76, move urgently, my sense is, and try to clean up the stables.
GIGOT: Dan, there were some stories saying he won because another reformer, Archbishop Scola, was overlooked. Do you think that he's going to come in with the reform mindset that Peggy talked about?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think that reform mindset is inevitable. It's obviously the biggest problem the church had in the last 10 or so years so he will have to address that.
I think it goes beyond that, Paul. I think there's much to be said about this pope that resembles Pope John Paul, II, Carol Wotilla, who came from Poland. This pope comes from Argentina. Both men could be called politically astute and morally astute. And given the fact that the pope is responsible not merely for the abuses in Europe and the United States, but Africa, China, the Middle East, where religious freedom is not just an idea, it's a public policy. And from the days of the catacombs in the earliest years of the church, it has been the pope's responsibility to protect his people. And I think this pope background suggests he'll be good at doing that, dealing with these other foreign countries.
GIGOT: It's interesting, the Argentina background. He's had an uneasy relationship, Mary, with the Argentine government, the center left government of the Kirchners there. What has that taught him?
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Paul, there's an old joke about the Argentines that says they're Italians who speak Spanish and think they're British.
I think one of the things this pope brings is sort of a bridge between Argentina, being the most European of Latin American countries, and Latin America itself, and the developing world, as Dan says. And I think what he -- what he's learned there is that the threats to the church are not just evangelical -- they're inroads that the evangelicals have made in Latin America, but also secularism, which is more of a problem in Argentina and in Europe than it is in other parts of Latin America. And I think what he -- the reason he ran into trouble with the Kirchners, the current president and the former president, is because he was challenging them on issues of corruption and basically materialism. And these are the key points that made him an enemy of the government. He never says specifically to the government, you know, you are -- you should do this, that or the other thing.
O'GRADY: He talks about values and he talks about basically materialism.
GIGOT: You made an interesting point in your column this week, Peggy, the distinction between -- sometimes the tension that exists between the so-called social-justice Catholics and the more traditional doctrinal Catholics. And you think this pope could bridge that difference. What do you mean?
NOONAN: I just have a feeling, as I first watched him speak, I thought clearly -- I'd been reading about him a little -- this is a man, as they say, who has a heart for the poor. Now, all Christians are called to have a heart for the poor, but he has demonstrated it. It's characterlogical with him. He has concern for the vulnerable. At the same time, he is, in my view, marvelously strongly pro the forces of life, pro the culture of life.
In the Catholic Church, there's been a little division between the social justice, worry about the poor, and the more traditional worry about all human life. I hope I didn't put that unfairly or tangentially. And this man seems to himself fuse those two tendencies. And maybe just by being, he could help the distance between the two groups be healed a little bit.
GIGOT: Because those aren't necessarily contradictory. They're both tendencies --
GIGOT: -- central tendencies within Catholic doctrine.
NOONAN: Yes. It gets messed up in regards to politics.
Could I say something with regard to what Mary said? It's so interesting to me, but I think that George Weigel made the point that this new Pope Francis also comes from a nation in which the church has real and profound tensions with the government. And that gives him an experience that applies to the Catholic Church in China, the Catholic Church in Cuba, the Catholic Church in all nations that are not fully free.
O'GRADY: And it clashes with the government are not -- I mean, they're about corruption, but they're also about the life issues that you're talking about. And in this government, first the city of Buenos Aires approved gay marriage and then the government it on a national basis and he had a lot of struggles with them on that point.
GIGOT: That's it for our own college of cardinals here.
When we come back, President Obama's charm offensive continues as he meets with Republicans on Capitol Hill. Is his outreach sincere or an attempt to prop up sagging poll numbers? And how should Republicans respond?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're doing our very best to reach out to the other side. And I think there's a genuine desire on the part of Republicans and Democrats to try to get something done. I think there's a weariness among the membership in the Senate and the House about this constant grind, day in, day out, of argument and crises instead of productivity and movement forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: President Obama, sounding a bipartisan tone as he spoke to supporters Wednesday night in Washington. With the sequester cut now two weeks old and his numbers dipping, the president continued this week with what many are calling his charm offensive, heading to Capitol Hill to meet with members of the House and Senate from both parties. So is outreach sincere? And how should Republicans respond.
We're back with Dan Henninger and Peggy Noonan.
So, Dan, two weeks ago, the president was attacking Republicans for these supposedly horrible spending cuts, and now he's reaching out to them. What do you make of the change in strategy?
HENNINGER: Well, what I make of the change in strategy is that the Republicans called his bluff and allowed the sequester happen, and the sky didn't fall. The apocalypse he predicted didn't happen.