Sign in to comment!

Journal Editorial Report

Will voters buy Hillary Clinton's populist pitch?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 18, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Hillary Clinton is off and running to the left, promising to take up the cause of everyday Americans and taking shots at hedge fund managers and CEOs. Is she a credible champion for the middle class?

Plus, Marco Rubio joins what is shaping up to be a crowded Republican field, declaring that yesterday is over. So is he the face of the GOP's future?

And the White House pulls its veto threat as an Iran vote moves to the full Senate. Did President Obama blink? Does he have Congress exactly where he wants them?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Stuart Varney, in for Paul Gigot.

Hillary Clinton kicked off a second presidential run this week with a move to the left, striking a populist tone as she vowed to work for, quote, "everyday Americans" while railing against overpaid hedge fund managers and CEOs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you look across the country, the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there's something wrong with that. There's something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker.  There's something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VARNEY: So is she a credible champion of the middle class? Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

Dan, is she a credible champion of the middle class?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: The bigger question, is she a credible champion of herself. Hillary has her own believability problems. She's obviously a member of the 1 percent. And what Democrats are worrying about is whether she is going to make these political mistakes as she goes out there. If you want to attack rich people, that's one thing, but then to say that the average CEO makes 300 times more than the average worker when she's giving speeches for $250,000 to $300,000 a crack, that's a political mistake. I think as she goes forward, she's going to have to square the circle between the fact that she's a mega-celebrity, one of the world's most famous and rich people, running around the country claiming that she's the champion of truck drivers.

VARNEY: So she's got a tough job positioning herself as the champion of the middle class?

HENNINGER: She's not there yet.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Yeah. In terms of her pay and those speeches, on an hourly rate, most CEOs would love to get her rate. I think she is not that credible as a champion.

Also, remember, when she in some cases was collecting these big checks from universities and when she was making her tour around the country speaking, there were some kids on these campuses saying, wow, that could have gone a long way toward tuition, for example, if Hillary had not been demanding such high speaking fees. So she's got some work to do to convince people she's a champion of the middle class.

VARNEY: Kim, same question to you. Can she be a credible champion of the middle class?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I don't even know how she can do this, Stuart. Here's the problem. Hillary Clinton has been out of elected politics for a long time now. She has spent all of those years positioning herself to be the inevitable nominee for the party in 2016. But while she's been out of this and busy doing it, the party has moved along. You now have a liberal wing that has crafted this agenda outside from her and handed it to her. And it was never what she was ever about. So she not only has the problem with her own wealth, this is a politician who has long had, when she's run for office, strong ties. She's going to be funded by private equity managers, hedge fund managers. And having to explain all of that I think is something that she's not necessarily ready to do because she was never prepared to do it.

VARNEY: Kim, she's going to raise $2.5 billion. That's an astronomical amount of money. How do you square that with the middle class?

STRASSEL: This is -- remember, the Clintons were the people that were actually sent out in this last midterm to go and help the kind of more conservative Democrats out there because that's the part of the party that they always represented. And now with pressure from Elizabeth Warren, the demand is that she run this very populist campaign. I'm not sure she's fluent with the language. And I think she carries a lot of baggage which is going to make it very difficult for her to do.

VARNEY: James, she's got some things going for her, hasn't she?

FREEMAN: Yeah, money. That's the biggest thing.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, it's going to be awkward trying to appear like a regular person with all this money.

(CROSSTALK)

VARNEY: Hold on a second.

FREEMAN: -- and that's the number people are talking about. That's more than Romney and Obama combined raised. It's so much that this week she brought on as CFO of the campaign, a former high-ranking Wall Streeter.  This is -- I don't know what the thinking is exactly but if the amount of money is so large that she's going to raise that you actually need a financial pro to manage the assets that are sitting in the campaign, this is a spending blitz that politicians have barely dreamed of.

VARNEY: Look, I'm looking for some support for Hillary here, that she has got some things going forward.

HENNINGER: She's got the Democratic organization. This is a huge and powerful --

(CROSSTALK)

VARNEY: That's a big deal.

HENNINGER: Yeah. They're going to get out the vote. They're going to spend money. A lot of these billions will be spent on TV advertising to drive the message. The question is, the disconnect between Hillary Clinton and the message. As Kim has been suggesting, the progressives have decided that Hillary is going to basically be a stand-in for Elizabeth Warren.  It's going to be a left wing Democratic, big-government campaign. Can she push that across?

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: Is that, in fact, what the middle class wants?

VARNEY: Is that how you define the issues here? Big government, all government, all the time, President Obama and Hillary Clinton, versus Republicans, small government, market oriented policies. Is that how the whole debate is shaping up?

HENNINGER: The debate is shaping up over an extension of the Obama policies of the last six years, which has created or at least occurred in an economy that has created a lot of middle class anxiety. Is more of the same going to alleviate that anxiety or is an alternative going to do it?

VARNEY: Kim, doesn't Hillary Clinton want to get away from the Obama legacy? Are they shrinking middle class?

STRASSEL: Well, this is her challenge. Probably, arguably, the smartest thing that she could do is start defining her differences with him because he's not necessarily a very popular president at the moment. The problem she has is she's got to run in a primary and she's got a left wing base that wants her to go even further than he has gone. Those are the tensions against her.

Now, by the way, just to talk about, she does have built-in advantages, things like demographics. One thing that always helps people like Hillary Clinton, she's got the women's vote, she's got other factions of the Democratic community that are sitting there waiting for her to get them. Can she enthuse them to come out? That's one of her challenges.

VARNEY: To be continued, everyone. Thank you.

Still ahead, he launched his own bid for the presidency this week with a promise to reject the leaders and ideas of the past. So is Florida Senator Marco Rubio the candidate to take the GOP into the future?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday --

(APPLAUSE)

(BOOING)

RUBIO: -- began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday.

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: Yesterday is over.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VARNEY: Marco Rubio, Monday, making his own White House run official and taking a swipe at Mrs. Clinton along the way. So is Florida's freshman Senator the new face of the Republican Party and the GOP's answer to Hillary in '16?

We're back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel and James Freeman.

Kim, to you first. Is he the man of tomorrow?

STRASSEL: He has the potential to be. It's interesting that Marco Rubio was talking about yesterday. When he first came into the Senate, he was elected back in 2010, this was a guy who really was on fire, very much the kind of new breed of Republican reformer. He was out there talking about entitlement reform before most of the party would. He came in, he pushed through immigration reform, a smart immigration reform. I think the problem is Washington can warp people. He got enormous blowback after that immigration reform. And he has spent a lot of the last few years trying to make amends with the base and he has not been as bold as he once was. So we'll see which Marco Rubio ultimately comes out in this election.

VARNEY: Where do you stand on this one, James?

FREEMAN: I think Marco Rubio, if he had come along as a candidate for president in '08, 2012, I think Republicans would probably have eagerly embraced him. His problem now, I think, is this is -- to me, this is the strongest field since 1980 and you have -- you are going to have a bunch of governors with real records. You're going to have some very formidable candidates. He is a young career politician, very charismatic, very effective speaker, but not much -- similar to Ted Cruz, not much in the way of tangible achievements or experience. I think that's going to be a challenge as he gets on a stage with a bunch of the governors.

HENNINGER: But, you know, I think Marco Rubio has tapped into something here that hasn't quite been recognized. When he starts talking about yesterday, he's standing there, everyone thinks he looks so young.  Well, half the electorate looks like Marco Rubio, right?

VARNEY: That's right.

HENNINGER: I think, I talked to a lot of these people, including younger conservatives. They're saying we really would like somebody from that generation and you've got a slate of candidates like Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, who are that generation, just as Barack Obama was. And Hillary Clinton is the only thing the Democrats have on the other side and, literally, he's right, she is yesterday.

VARNEY: There is a battle going on within these candidates, within the Republican Party. The new faces of tomorrow versus some of the older faces of today and yesterday. That's a profound battle indeed, James.

FREEMAN: And also, in a way, he's promoting in some ways the politics of yesterday though. His tax plan is not a bold, forward-looking proposal you might expect from someone with more youth and energy, which he obviously has. He's basically saying let's redistribute the credits but in a different way than Democrats. I think he's not talking about how do we grow the economy to the extent he should be.

VARNEY: Hold on a second, James.

Kim, come into this, please. I saw Rubio's tax plan. I thought it was relatively bold, lower top rate of individual income tax, lower the corporate top rate of tax. Isn't that relatively bold? Isn't that going for growth?

STRASSEL: Some of it is. The corporate part of his tax plan is actually fairly bold and it would, for instance, and importantly, zero out taxes on capital gains and dividends. That is all about growth.

The individual part is problematic. As James said, he has embraced this sort of branch of the Republican Party that believes that what we ought to be doing to get votes is to redistribute the wealth to people, to the middle class and say, here, here's more money, child tax credits, things like that. The problem that Rubio is going to have is that when that is placed next to, for instance, very simple flat-tax proposals by some of the other candidates, it does potentially look a little bit complicated and old-fashioned and not bold enough.

VARNEY: But, Kim, doesn't it look more electable? When you've got Ted Cruz out there saying, put it all on a postage card, that's your tax return, now that is a radical proposal.

STRASSEL: Look, behind this, the argument behind Rubio's thing is that we need to make a pitch to middle class voters, they don't really care about income tax cuts on the top rates, but they'll like it if they get more child tax credit money. The problem that Rubio has and the party has in going down that road is you cannot out-pander the Democrats on tax credits. Hillary Clinton is always going to be able to outbid him. Who is more electable then?

VARNEY: Kim calls it pandering. I call it moderation because I think most Republicans want to win above all else.

HENNINGER: Just think, a general point, Stuart. On the Republican side, you've got these young, attractive, articulate candidates competing with one another, saying interesting things. On the other side, you have one candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has got to keep her act afloat for the next 19 months. I think it gives the Republicans an inherent interest aspect here that is going to raise these candidates as they move forward.  It will be fascinating.

VARNEY: As we said in the last block, to be continued.

HENNINGER: Yeah.

VARNEY: And, yes, we will.

Now, when we come back, the White House drops its veto threat as an Iran bill moves to the full Senate for consideration. So is that a setback for the president? And does it really give Congress a say in a final nuclear deal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VARNEY: After months of resistance, the Obama administration said this week that the president would sign a bill giving Congress a voice in the proposed nuclear accord with Iran, backing off earlier veto threats after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the compromised measure. So is this a setback for the president in his quest to close a deal? Does it give Congress a real say in the outcome?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.

A broader question to start with, if I may. Is there any doubt in your mind that this deal will be signed by the president and it will go through?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: There is, but for this reason. Look, when it comes to the president himself, it reminds me of that movie from the 1980s, "Say Anything." With President Obama it's "sign anything." He will sign any deal that he can get the Iranians to agree to.

VARNEY: I'm sorry, I'm going to jump in. Does that mean that Congress has any real oversight after this arrangement?

STEPHENS: Well, Congress will have political oversight. Whether they are going to be able to really stop a deal is a different question all together.

But here's an important thing to note. I still hold that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, is going to look for an excuse not to sign a deal for two reasons. One, ideologically, he is opposed to making any sorts of agreements with the Great Satan. It just goes against everything he's believed for 75 years of his life. But the second thing is, if the Ayatollah Khomeini walks away from the deal, Stuart, he knows that this president is so desperate that when they come back to the negotiating table six months from now, the concessions that we've made so far become the starting point, the baseline for the next round of American concessions, and what the ayatollah wants is immediate relief of all sanctions.

VARNEY: Kim, what do you say? You're in Washington. You know that city very well. Is the president going to just sign anything?

STRASSEL: More importantly, to go to your point, this piece of legislation does not allow Congress, in essence, to do anything to stop this. Look, they are going to pass this unanimously. By the way, it's always bad news when something passes unanimously in Washington. What it says is that Congress gets 30 days to review a deal. But in the end, Stuart, if even 41 Democrats -- the Republicans could say they disapprove of that deal, but if even 41 Democrats vote to block that, block a resolution of disapproval, there is nothing the Republicans can do about it. At the same time, though, this does allow Barack Obama to say, see, Congress got some sort of say in this. So he's getting political cover, which is why he decided that he would go ahead with this legislation in the end. It doesn't restrain him. It helps him.

VARNEY: OK.

Dan?

HENNINGER: I think what's happening here, Stuart, with Congress is that this Iran deal is turning into the Obamacare of foreign policy, which is to say an initiative in which the Democrats are beginning to fall into line behind the president. This is the legacy at the end of his presidency just as Obamacare was at the beginning. And while, yes, they want to have their say, they've gotten enough of a big lead to say we do this kind of contempt vote but then the president does whatever he wants to do with the Iranians and we'll be there to support him at crunch time. It's their deal.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHENS: I'm not sure the politics play the same way. ObamaCare was the make-or-break moment of the Obama presidency early in his time in office. This is a president on his way out.

To Kim's point, I think it's going to look very bad for 41 Democrats to filibuster even what amounts to a symbolic vote. That's going to be a very, very tricky vote for at least several of those Democrats. Remember, there are only 44 Democrats, 46 if you count a couple of Independents, in the Senate. Several of those are going to be vulnerable, and having them filibuster is going to be bad politics. Chuck Schumer made a remark a few months ago in which he said, look, you know what, ObamaCare wasn't such a great thing for us Democrats looking at the way congressional elections played out. Becoming the president's foot soldiers in this bad agreement that I think a vast majority of Americans will feel very suspicious about is not going to be good for Democrats going into 2016.

VARNEY: Look, if real oversight is virtually off the table, what about military sanctions -- not sanctions but a military attack as a last resort? The Russians are going to supply these air defense missiles.  Doesn't that neutralize any attack?

STEPHENS: I think the chances that -- look, the United States, Russian missiles or no missiles, the United States has the wherewithal between E2 stealth bombers, Tomahawk cruise missiles, a whole variety of capabilities to take out Iran's nuclear installations. Iran is a third- world country trying to get 70-year-old technology. This is not a country that stands 10 feet tall. The problem is there's no political appetite to do it. There is certainly no appetite in the White House. If anyone is going to do it, it will be Israelis. And the question is, why haven't they done it yet.

VARNEY: They're going to get a bomb, aren't they?

STEPHENS: It looks like that.

VARNEY: All right.

We have one more break to take. And when we come back, out "Hits & Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VARNEY: Favorite time. Time for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.

Kim, you are first.

STRASSEL: A miss, Stuart, to all the liberal activists who have announced that they will engage in a hunger strike until the Senate confirms Obama nominee to attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Theatrics is fun but my advice is if they really want to get something done, they should go talk to their liberal friends in the Senate and advise them to stop filibustering bipartisan legislation. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he would be most happy to move the Lynch nomination just as soon as Democrats work with him to get some things done, and she probably has the votes to get through.

VARNEY: All right.

Up next, Bret Stephens?

STEPHENS: This is a hit to Senators Orrin Hatch, Republican, and Ron Wyden, Democrat, along with Paul Ryan in Congress, for putting together a deal which will give the president fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. It is one of the largest trade agreements in history. It would bind the United States and 12 countries in the Pacific region to a trade pact, which would involve 40 percent of the world's trade. It's a win for that side of the Pacific but it's mostly a win for our side of the Pacific, for our workers, for our manufacturing sectors, for our economy. We should pass this. It's the one good thing Obama may do in his presidency.

VARNEY: It's a hit.

All right, Dan, you?

HENNINGER: Well, I would like to give a miss to whoever was responsible for stopping this guy in the toy helicopter for landing on the capitol lawn. A, he gave an interview to his hometown newspaper. He sent blast e-mails to the Secret Service. He was streaming it. Even that didn't prevent them from stepping in and stopping this guy before he hit with a potentially dangerous --

VARNEY: They didn't see him for 80 miles of flight. Amazing.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

That's it for this week's show. Our thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Stuart Varney. You can catch me weekdays on "Varney & Co." on the Fox Business Network. We start at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Content and Programming Copyright 2015 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.