This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 17, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the Paris terror attack as France's prime minister says they're at war with radical Islam. So why won't the Obama administration use that term? And does it matter?
Plus, Mitt Romney hopes the third time is the charm as he eyes another White House run. Will it be different this time around?
And ahead of his State of the Union address, the president previews his latest government give away. We'll look at his plan for free community college and other goodies on the agenda for Tuesday night.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
The Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen claimed the responsibility this week for the deadly terror attack on a Paris magazine by two French brothers, and warned of more tragedies and terror to come. That threat came a day after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told members of the National Assembly that France is, quote, "at war with terrorism, Jihadism and radical Islamism," a term that the Obama administration will not use.
White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, says because it isn't accurate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out act of terrorism and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam in their own deviant view of it. We haven't chosen to use that label because it doesn't seem to accurately describe what had happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining us the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.
So I want to get to the Valls/Josh Earnest exchange, debate, if you will, Bret. But first, what have we learned in the past week about the Paris terror attack and this later attack on Belgium that is most important in your mind about the terror threat?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, that the terror threat is intimately connected with events in the Middle East. The claims by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that they were responsible. Obviously, we have to investigate --
GIGOT: You find that credible?
STEPHENS: Of course, I find that credible. This is a long-standing pattern we have, a tremendous amount of evidence that the Kouachi brothers were -- and the collaborator who attacked the Jewish supermarket had spent time in Yemen. They had known Anwar al Awlaki, the later America-born extremist preacher, who has also radicalized people like the Ft. Hood shooter. So it's a reminder that's what happening in the Middle East with the consolidation of the so-called J.V. team of terror, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and also Islamic State is having immediate consequences for the security of Europeans.
GIGOT: I would add Syria, the Syrian civil war, because it looks like there's ties between the -- the Belgium plot that was uncovered, looks like it had its roots in people who had returned to Europe from Syria. We don't know that for sure but the --
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think that point has to be emphasized. That video that Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula put out are well produced. They are now recruiting individuals in Europe. They were European, speaking individuals to be trained in Syria and Iraq and go back and become sleeper cells in England and across Europe. I would guess probably eventually in the United States. That is part of the strategy.
GIGOT: It's changing the European security calculus, because the whole modern European vision has been cross European borders. You have been able to move freely. Now if you get the people who have passports, they can go anywhere, so they don't just threaten France, if they're French. They don't just threaten the U.K., if they're British. They threaten the whole continent.
STEPHENS: Well, the U.K. is different because the U.K. Is not part of --
(CROSSTALK) STEPHENS: -- of the free travel arrangement. I think a lot of Brits will be very relieved by that fact. But there's an agreement, which allows for this free travel. I think you'll hear political voices not just on the far right, but among conservatives, among a lot of Europeans saying this has to end. Unless there's a European-wide security agreement that makes sure that people who are traveling to the countries and certainly those who are trying to come back are blocked, are detained, investigated or followed.
GIGOT: Dorothy, let's talk about the debate over whether or not we should talk about this as somehow related to the -- the terror threat is somehow related to Islam. You heard the quote from Josh Earnest. You saw the quote from Prime Minister Valls. Who has the better argument?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Who has? Well, the prime minister of France has. You not only listen to him say that we are -- we are at war with radical Islam, we are at war with the jihadis, but he said we want to segregate jihadis in prison. Can you imagine anyone in the Obama administration even mentioning the word jihadis, saying, yes, this is the specific action we are going to take?
GIGOT: What about Earnest's point it isn't accurate? Because these people do not --
RABINOWITZ: Paul, there's one answer to this. It is a kind of social, clinical insanity that we are representing to the world. This is - -
GIGOT: This is so obviously false, is that what you mean?
RABINOWITZ: Yes. It's not nothing. We may say, yes it's important to fight it. It's very important that we are presenting the spectacle to the world.
RABINOWITZ: Let's just say this. You have Boko Haram --
GIGOT: In Africa.
RABINOWITZ: -- that has murdered hundreds and hundreds of children, women. What were they saying during this slaughter? We are killing you because you are not the right Muslims, because you are infidels. They do not conceal this list of things. You are not allowed to vote, according to the interpretations given by these groups to Islam. That is why the Taliban is slaughtering people.
GIGOT: But it doesn't matter to the war on terror, what does it matter to the threat of terror? Let's assume the White House said this, what does it matter?
STEPHENS: Because this is an ideological struggle as much as it is a military or an -- or an intelligence battle that we're fighting. Imagine if Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's adviser in 1940, said we are not at war with the good German people or with nationalism, an ideology, which is perfectly acceptable in many ways. We are certainly not at wars with socialism. We are just at war with a small band of militants who have seized this country. Or during the Cold War we said we don't have a struggle with communism. Communism is an honorable ideology. Many communists eschew militarism and it's this group of people who happened to seize the Kremlin. That's the problem we are facing. We are not confronting the Islamists at the level at which they're challenging us.
RABINOWITZ: But, Bret, we are not confronting the American people with the true posture, which is we have an enemy, we know who the enemy is. What we are doing is showing that this is a nation, in Josh Earnest's description, who, when presented with, OK, what is this program that you're going to have about radical -- not radicalism --
RABINOWITZ: What kind of extremism, he couldn't think of another kind of extremism. So burning is the desire of these people to avoid any connection --
GIGOT: All right.
RABINOWITZ: -- to the threat.
GIGOT: Sorry, Dan, this is the last answer. You'll get your licks in later.
GIGOT: When we come back, Mitt, 3.0. He's eyeing another White House run. So would a Romney candidacy be different this time around and would it keep other potential contenders on the sidelines?
GIGOT: Well, he's confirmed to top donors that he's mulling another run for the White House and, no doubt, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is a force to be reckoned with as the GOP field takes shape. But why does he think he'll win this time and will he be a better candidate in 2016 than the last time around?
We are back with Dan Henninger. "Wall Street Journal" "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.
Dan, why does he think he can win and why is he running? Why does he want to run?
HENNINGER: I think we need to make a distinction. He's running for the Republican nomination for president. I think the idea is, once he secures the nomination, he'll figure out how he runs for president. To get the nomination, you need several things, which he has. You need to have about $1 billion to get through the first three months of the primaries. Mitt can raise money. He has organization. He has organization in the early states, people that are willing to work for him. He has experience. He has campaigned before. I think on the foreign policy piece, he'll argue that his view of Vladimir Putin was right, that shows that he has --
GIGOT: It was.
HENNINGER: It was right, that he had some credibility there. And I think if you combine those elements, he thinks he can compete against the other four or five people running for that nomination and get the nomination.
GIGOT: Let's stipulate that we had an editorial this week, James, that was skeptical --
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Yes.
GIGOT: -- about the Romney candidacy. I will admit I had something to do with that. So --
GIGOT: you heard Dan's case. I would say he only needs about $100 million to get through the primaries, but do you think that's plausible?
FREEMAN: Well, sure. But we have seen this over and other again. Money alone does not do it in presidential politics. You need a message, you need political skills, you need conviction. Conviction, that last part, has been a problem for him because he has been all over the map ideologically. He had one of the great business careers of all time. He's really one of the great investors of all time, if you look at the 15 years he was at Bain Capital. Unfortunately, he has not been able to tell that story, has never been able to defend it when people attack it. And if you look at his political career, it is almost unblemished by success. You're talking about a one-term Massachusetts governor whose signature achievement was making a mess of their health care system. So I don't understand the premise of a Romney candidacy.
GIGOT: I should say that you were saying he has to defend that Bain Capital record, he has to defend the Bain Capital record, all throughout the 2012 campaign. You wrote it many times. He never took our advice.
FREEMAN: He wouldn't do it. It's a bizarre mystery, but it's been answered, and I think at least in the sense --
FREEMAN: -- not capable of doing that. He had ample opportunity.
GIGOT: Sorry, James. He said that would be arguing on their turf.
FREEMAN: No, it's his turf. Because that's the only premise of his candidacy. If you take away his business success, what are you left with?
GIGOT: Kim, how is the Romney campaign -- a potential Romney candidacy being welcomed by members of the Republicans you talk to in Washington?
KIM STRASSEL, POTOMAC WATCH COLUMNIST: Not so much. I think that one problem is most of the Republicans down here have been very excited by what they were looking at, the depths of a new field of candidates running. And for many, Romney does feel like a retread and a two-time loser. That's a concern to them.
The other thing that worries them, Romney very famously complained in 2012 that it was hard to run against a president who just was offering a lot of free things. The problem was that Romney never offered the country an alternative vision for how the country should run, one of growth and opportunity. So when Romney walks around a bit, there seems to be an argument that maybe he would do better against Hillary Clinton, but she's going to reprise the exact same themes. Democrats are going to be talking about class warfare, talking about income inequality. And he has never necessarily shown himself to be a candidate who has an answer for those.
GIGOT: And he could be the perfect foil for that kind of a campaign if he doesn't -- if he's not willing to offer that alternative vision and simply runs as somebody who says, yeah, I'm a rich guy and I won't show you my tax returns.
HENNINGER: I think he probably believes that if he gets the nomination, he can create what someone once called the vision thing. He can come up with a vision. And, you know, I think his biggest problem that we haven't mentioned here is Romneycare. If there's one thing conservatives agree about it's that they don't like Obamacare.
GIGOT: This is the Massachusetts health care plan that he passed.
HENNINGER: And to this day, he has not repudiated it. This seems to be the one issue in which Mitt Romney is very stubborn. He will not take any sort of responsibility for being the precursor to Obamacare. He denies that, but I think that's going to cause him a big problem in the primaries.
GIGOT: Who else does he hurt in the field if he gets in?
FREEMAN: Well, I think certainly he hurts Jeb Bush. He would hurt Chris Christie if he gets in --
FREEMAN: Well, those are basically all people who are going after those same high-dollar contributors in the business community. So I think -- and votes as well, in terms of your business, moderate Republican, those people are all going to be going after that vote And those dollars. So I think he's definitely -- you could say he makes it a more wide-open race, so maybe that's a good thing. But you'd like people in it who Republicans think might win.
GIGOT: All right, James, thanks.
When we come back, just in time for his State of the Union address, President Obama rolls out his latest federal entitlement. We'll look at his community college give away and other goodies likely to be on the agenda Tuesday night.
GIGOT: Well, ahead of the State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama has been traveling the country, previewing his domestic policy priorities for 2015. And at the top of the list is a plan to make community college free for millions of students with the federal government paying 75 percent of tuition and states picking up the rest of the tab.
So, Kim, this week, the president reportedly told Senate Democrats he's going on offense. What does that mean?
STRASSEL: It means he's trying to change the narrative away from the Republican focus in Congress and the fact they'll be sending him a lot of bills that he does not want to have to sign. He doesn't necessarily have to keep talking about vetoes, so he's going to roll out this list of new initiatives. In some ways, they are very much like past State of the Union initiatives, a lot more freebies for people. He was out across the country this week not just talking about new free community college, but a break on mortgage payments for certain homeowners, new ways to help pay for manufacturing. You're going to see this in the State of the Union address, but it's an attempt to get the focus back on things he wants to do.
And don't forget, paid family leave, James. You know? That's a nice thing to be able to offer Americans, at somebody else's expense.
FREEMAN: Yeah. There's -- the theme here is basically transfer wealth from taxpayers to those people who work in state and local governments. Community college, it's essentially free for those who need financial aid. So what --
GIGOT: Because of Pell Grants and variety of aide programs.
FREEMAN: Both federal and state.
FREEMAN: So what is going to do is allow people who work in state government to spend money on other things that they were going to spend on community college or its allowing the community colleges to raise their prices to capture all of the new subsidies. I hate to also make the impolite point here, but community colleges are not working very well. Graduation rates are very low. Even --
GIGOT: About a third, one-third of entrants graduate after two years. So it's not very good.
FREEMAN: Yeah. So instead of asking difficult questions about are these state and local government programs working, how can we make education and training more relevant to the modern workforce, the answer here is more money. I mean, just to put taxpayers at ease, I don't see a chance the Republican Congress gets talked into this, but it is a way to change the subject, for example, from the disaster that is the four-year college student loan program.
GIGOT: I should say that community colleges are very widely in quality. Some are quite good, but others are really awful.
HENNINGER: Right. But what do they have in common? They're all very local. I mean, there is a larger theme here. What is going on when Barack Obama decides that the federal government is going to throw its arms around something as local as community colleges? I think what it is -- and we'll see it in the State of the Union -- he's going to spend the last two years of his presidency showing us big government on steroids. Barack Obama wants to extend federal authority into control into as much of American life as he can. And say the Environmental Protection Agency -- some of the other agencies have been taken to court and they have lost in court. But I think his idea is you win some, you lose some. Net-net, the federal government will be much deeper in American life when he leaves office.
GIGOT: What about the argument that K-12 is already a universal entitlement, public education, we want everybody to get an education. But in this competitive world where skills matter, we have to extend that to college. Why not?
FREEMAN: Well, a lot of times the community colleges are basically remedial centers for people who didn't learn in the K-12 system so maybe we ought to make the K-12 system work.
But there is also an issue and what you're seeing now is a lot of the innovative programs, not government controlled, not government subsidized, but very focused on particular skills, whether it's software coding, something related to manufacturing, a lot of times done by businesses, done by nonprofits. I think there is probably a fear in the government world that these things may make community colleges irrelevant.
GIGOT: Kim, political question. The president knows there -- he has known this is unlikely to pass. So what's he doing here? Is he trying to set this up as an agenda for 2016 for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?
STRASSEL: Yeah, he's going to use part of his State of the Union address to make the case for why he's not going to work with the Republican Congress, do more executive orders and more vetoes, and this is about setting this stage for a next Democratic president.
GIGOT: All right. Kim, thanks.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week -- James?
FREEMAN: Paul, this is a miss to IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, who said this week that since the Congress is only giving him an $11 billion appropriated budget, the IRS will not even have the resources to pick up the phone this tax filing season, in many cases, won't offer any tax prep. Basically, because the IRS targeted conservatives and then stonewalled and then had their budget cut as punishment from Congress, he's decided who really has to suffer are the elderly, the poor, the disabled filers who need help with their tax returns. Outrageous.
GIGOT: All right.
STEPHENS: This is a huge hit to the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi, or Phi Psi, the fraternity at the University of Virginia. This week, they were finally cleared by the Charlottesville police of any wrongdoing. They had been famously accused of being the place where a gang rape took place against a young University of Virginia undergraduate student. Charges are totally false. The brothers knew it from the beginning. They bided their time, waited to be officially cleared. They have come out with honor and distinction, which is more than can be said for "Rolling Stone" magazine or the administration of UVA.
GIGOT: All right.
STRASSEL: A nit to the news that billionaire environmentalist, Tom Steier, is debating running for the California seat of retiring Barbara Boxer. Paul, about the only thing I can think of that would be more fun than watching Tom Steier spend $75 million, as he did in this last election on a failed attempt to get Democrats elected to the Senate, would be watching him spend $75 million of a potentially failed bid to get himself elected to the Senate. Run, Tom, run.
GIGOT: Yeah. All right.
What happens if you lack the resources to file your tax returns? This IRS --
FREEMAN: I'm willing to try it, but I don't think it will end.
GIGOT: All right.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.
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