This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 2, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," our look ahead to 2016. President Obama promises to take care of some unfinished business in his final year in office but could the courts rein him in?
And as the first primary contests draw near, GOP divisions deepen. So will Republicans find a nominee who can unite the party and win in November?
All that, and a look at the global hot spots and world leaders to watch.
Bur first, these headlines.
(FOX NEWS REPORT)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: for all the very real progress America has made over the past seven years, we still have some unfinished business and I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of everyday that I have left as president to deliver on behalf of the American people.
Since taking this office, I've never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I'm going to leave it out, all on the field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report" as we look at the stories to watch in 2016. That was President Obama promising to take care of some unfinished business as he enters his final year in office.
Here with a look at just what he has planned and the court challenges that could get in his way, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Bill McGurn; Opinion Journal host, Mary Kissel; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.
Bill, I'm reminded of what former New York Mayor Ed Koch said about his predecessor, "Hasn't he done enough already?"
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Right. Right.
GIGOT: So what's the unfinished business?
MCGURN: More of the same. He's got a pen and he's not afraid to use it, OK?
And I think this says something -- if you look at it, it's not just President Obama. He's going to do these things faster than the court's ability to rein him in.
MCGURN: And Mrs. Clinton is promising to do the same thing on steroids.
GIGOT: So, on what subjects?
MCGURN: For Mrs. Clinton, gun control, all sorts of things from the president, Guantanamo -- we don't know. I mean, he's just going to put it out there so fast. And look at how long it takes the Supreme Court to catch up.
GIGOT: Closing Guantanamo Bay --
MARY KISSEL, OPINION JOURNAL HOST: I think you could see several things. I think you could see unilateral action on climate change. You could see a push for criminal justice reform, a push for the trade pact with 11 nations of Asia, which could be a good thing --
GIGOT: Will that get a vote in Congress this year?
KISSEL: I don't know. Will it?
GIGOT: I think it's questionable. I rather doubt it myself.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I'm going to take a more optimistic view. He's talking about how he wants to leave it all out on the field. I think the courts may force him to leave it in the locker room.
Because if you look at a number of fronts, he's getting pushed back here. His effort to regulate the Internet, he's found -- you can't predict for sure, but what seems to be a skeptical court of appeals in Washington on his new Internet regulations. Also the government's effort to designate lots of firms "too big to fail." We have a company, Met Life, who is saying we don't want to be "too big to fail." They are challenging it in court. And --
GIGOT: Big challenges also on climate change, for example. And on his immigration, unilateral legalization of up to four million immigrants, that's also under challenge. You think most of those will go against the president?
FREEMAN: This could be a year where there really is a legal reckoning where much of the agenda is scaled back by the court.
GIGOT: Dan, I think the president's biggest focus will be on electing Hillary Clinton to succeed him. He knows that he needs a successor Democrat to cement and consolidate his legacy. You get a Republican president with a Senate and House you will dismantle much of the legacy. He needs to focus on that. I think basically he's going to be her -- as Juan Williams put it in our paper, basically her running mate.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, well, the question is whether any Democrat would want Barack Obama as their running mate. There is one datum that always hangs out there, Paul, and we'll probably mention it at least twice in this program, and that's the president's approval rating. His general approval rating is about 43 percent. That's in the red zone for a president. He needs to do something to get it up into the high 40s. If it's down around 40, or even if he has more disaster next year and it falls below 30, most Democrats will put distance between themselves and the president.
But you're right. Barack Obama wants a third term in the shape of Hillary Clinton. So I think rather than be completely antagonistic, which hasn't helped his approval rating, he's going to try to do things to make him feel more lovable, shall I say, to the American people --
-- and perhaps seem like the fellow that people thought they were electing way back in 2008.
GIGOT: Mary, I think the "Real Clear Politics" average now on his approval rating is 43.9. He wants to get it to 48, 49 at least. That would really help Hillary Clinton.
KISSEL: Yeah. And there are areas where you could see some bipartisan agreement like criminal justice reform, the trade deal, that would endear him to folks across the aisle.
GIGOT: Bill, I think the best thing he could do to improve his approval rating is roll back ISIS, Islamic State. That's where his foreign policy approval rating is really low.
GIGOT: If he could do that this year, it would help. You add a little portent in Ramadi. The Iraqi forces are taking it back.
MCGURN: And don't forget, we're worried about who President Obama, what he does in his last year for his legacy. Mrs. Clinton needs the Obama coalition.
GIGOT: She does.
MCGURN: She really needs the Obama coalition. She's not as free to criticize him if he goes off the rails as she might otherwise be.
FREEMAN: The president had alienated Independents by 2011. I don't see him in the last year of the term --
(LAUGHTER) -- trying to bring America together.
I think anyone hoping for a big bipartisan moment.
GIGOT: How does he mobilize? How does he get a better approval rate? How does he improve it?
FREEMAN: I'm not sure he's that concerned about it.
FREEMAN: And I don't see it changing over the next year. I think the executive action, the phone and the pen is probably going to be the theme. But as I said, the courts will push back.
GIGOT: You shifted from optimism to pessimism.
FREEMAN: I'm optimistic about the result.
GIGOT: Coming up, foreign leaders are keeping a close eye on President Obama's last year in office, as well, as they seek to cement strategic gains. We'll turn our attention to the global challenges ahead when we come back.
GIGOT: Turning now to events around the globe, and the challenges the U.S. is likely to face in the year ahead.
So, Dan, I think the news to watch is we have one year left in the Obama presidency and I think we have to watch what Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Khomeini, Xi Jinping in China, Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, what they will do in the next year. I think they see the next president, whether Hillary Clinton or a Republican, will be tougher to deal with. What are they looking to do this next year?
HENNINGER: I think they will be looking for their own interests, Paul. They will be trying to push their agenda in the Ukraine and the Southeast China Sea. But the big area of concern is the Middle East. We raised this in the previous segment. Look, the president has had some success here in the last month against ISIS. The Iraqi security forces took back Ramadi.
HENNINGER: That could be going the model for going after the larger prize of Mosul. The president could use some success in the Middle East. But that Ramadi success depended heavily on the involvement of the United States. There were Special Operations officers on the ground. I think Barack Obama is probably going to have to somehow commit himself to more, what I hate to phrase, "boots on the ground" in Iraq. We are not talking about a huge contingent. We are talking about enough people to keep carrying the fight to Islamic States on the ground. But he hates that. He doesn't want to do that. He would rather negotiate peace agreements with Assad and Putin. I think it's the president has a choice to make about how to achieve success in the Middle East and get the approval rating back up.
MCGURN: Yeah. If you read between the lines, President Obama has never had a Middle Eastern or foreign policy. He does --
GIGOT: -- withdraw.
MCGURN: No. He has a policy to do what he thinks is necessary for domestic politics. He thought, when he came in, it's withdrawing troops. He'll do just enough for some progress. But three of his own defense secretaries -- Bob Gates says the president didn't believe in his own strategy in Afghanistan. Leon Panetta said he was so eager to get out of the unpopular war in Iraq he left without us leaving troops there against the advice of his commanders. And Chuck Hagel said he was basically being pressured on releasing people from Guantanamo and said our credibility in Syria took a hit. I think he does what he needs to do for the domestic --
GIGOT: So you don't expect much change?
Mary, Putin, what do you think he wants? I think he want as deal in Syria to prop up Assad and then I think he wants to see if he can get sanctions removed and consolidate his gains in Ukraine. Anything else?
KISSEL: I think you put it perfectly. Also to extend his influence to the Mediterranean, which is what he's doing in Syria, of course.
Just to Bill's point, the problem is the Islamic State is metastasizing and the president is talking about gains in terms of statistics, the numbers of air strikes, amount of territory that's been lost in Iraq. You don't just need troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq. We need to deal with Libya. We have ISIS expanding into the Middle East.
GIGOT: Let me push --
KISSEL: He's not changing the strategy fast enough.
GIGOT: Let me push back -- let me push back a little bit. You have 2014 and 2015 were the years where the Islamic State was expanding and growing in its threat. We had the referee flow. Could 2016 be the year that we begin the counterattack and ISIS shrinks?
KISSEL: The president has shown no indication he's willing to expend the resources necessary to prevent another attack. There is a reason why terrorism is very high up on the list of worries for Americans now in pretty much every single poll. I expect the president to continue to do what he's done before, reach out to dictators, try to do a deal with Putin in the Ukraine, try to prop up the Iran nuclear deal as they cheat and hold Americans hostage. I wouldn't be surprised if the guy tried to go to North Korea.
FREEMAN: I think we have to accept that Ramadi is good news. If you want to make a hopeful case, as Dan said, maybe this is a model. I think one thing it points out, is we talk about the importance of American leadership, but it looks like you also have better leadership in Baghdad in terms of how it's managing the Shiite/Sunni dynamics there. I'm afraid it's happening too slowly. ISIS spreads a lot of misery, they propagandize, they recruit. Let's hope, fingers crossed, we get through the next year without more San Bernardino-type activity here. But if you want to make an optimistic case, the trend line is good after Ramadi.
GIGOT: Any other wild card, Dan, briefly, you look for this year?
HENNINGER: The one that's fallen off the radar screen is Ukraine, Paul. I think Vladimir Putin would like to consolidate gains there. The big issue will be what our allies think the United States is doing. You asked earlier about what Khamenei, Xi, Putin are going to do. I think they will start trying to strike relationships with our former allies, Putin with Egypt, the Chinese with the countries down in Asia, if the United States is not seen in 2016 as taking steps to restore those alliances which have eroded over the last several years.
GIGOT: All right.
Still ahead, with less than a month to go until the first primary contest of 2016, differences continue to divide the GOP. So Can Republicans find a nominee who can unite the party and win in November?
GIGOT: We're less than a month away now from the first presidential nominating contest of 2016. And with the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, the GOP remains sharply divided over immigration, trade and U.S. intervention abroad. So will Republicans find a nominee who can unite the party?
So, Mary, I think this should be, if you look at the fundamentals, a Republican year in the sense that it's tough for the Democrats, any party, to keep a third term in the White House. President's approval rating is down. Hillary Clinton is not the most formidable candidate.
The country's unhappy with the economy. And the world is on fire. So are they going to blow it?
KISSEL: Yes, you make a great case, Paul. You can never underestimate the Republican Party's ability to save the day for the Democrats. And, as you say, divide it over free trade. Since when was the Republican Party against prosperity for the United States, and for the global economy? Since when were we for President Obama's foreign policy, which is what Senator Cruz is proposing to do? I think it's a missed opportunity. I don't think Trump is going to be the Republican Party's nominee. But it's a great question. Who can unite the party? I don't think it's Donald Trump. It's not going to be Ted Cruz, who is not a uniter, he's a divider. I think you have to look towards somebody like Marco Rubio or Chris Christie.
GIGOT: Well, what about Trump? He's leading in all the polls, James. Do you think if he does get the nomination -- and I think at this stage we certainly can't rule that out -- you know, can he put together the Republican coalition in a way that could win?
FREEMAN: I don't think he's going to win either. I don't think he's going to be the nominee either. But could he win, sure? Hillary has vulnerabilities. She's not a very good politician. She's got a lot of baggage from the last time she and her husband were running things in Washington. Trump is a talented -- I don't know if I'd call him a politician but --
GIGOT: He understands how to play the media. He's got a good instinct for politics. This week, his attacks on Hillary Clinton this last week were really shrewd. Even the mainstream press is basically saying Bill Clinton should be fair game if Hillary Clinton's going to play the sexist card.
FREEMAN: That's right. Very good at framing it. She was also dominating the media debate. So I wouldn't rule him out as a winner if he does get the nod.
GIGOT: Yeah, Dan?
HENNINGER: If I can just continue this thought. I think Trump is just going to remain the central figure in this story right through to the convention. Look, if he's the nominee, he's the nominee, he'll be running for the presidency. If somehow he doesn't get that nomination, I think Donald Trump automatically becomes the king maker in the Republican Party in the sense that he has this solid base of support out there of people who just love Trump. And they are either going to stay home or Donald Trump will have it within himself to urge them to support the nominee. And so, you know, it is absolutely going to be necessary for those people to vote. Either way you look at it, Donald Trump is going to have a big role in that convention when we get to Cleveland.
GIGOT: OK, Ted Cruz, Bill, could win Iowa? I suspect he will win Iowa.
GIGOT: And Trump coming out of there says, you're not a winner anymore, you're a loser. How does he react to that?
MCGURN: Right. That's why New Hampshire is very big. Look, I think it's still open. Votes are a very clarifying thing. So far, we have a lot of polls and a lot of pundits but we haven't had any votes. You know, you have Cruz maybe with a third of the voters, right, and Trump with the third, right, and then you look at the others, there's 11 guys splitting up the rest. It's very possible they coalesce and it becomes a three-way race, say, between a Rubio, a Cruz and a Donald Trump.
GIGOT: Whose is going to emerge of the other candidates? I think Cruz is -- let's say he does win Iowa. Trump is still going to be a factor. What about the other four, Kasich, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie? I think those four could break out of New Hampshire. You see anybody who's the favorite there? Would that person, as Bill suggests, be able to fight a three-way race, all the way to March or April?
FREEMAN: Yes, I think this is Trump's big problem. Once the field gets winnowed and a lot of establishment candidates quit after New Hampshire, their support is going to go to the other guy. Out of the group you mentioned, I'd say Jeb Bush is the only one where you can't make a fact-based argument where he's going to be the guy.
GIGOT: He's got a lot of money and the name recognition.
GIGOT: He's still a factor in New Hampshire.
FREEMAN: Aside from the money --
GIGOT: He's a factor in New Hampshire.
FREEMAN: But in terms of looking at the progress in New Hampshire, looking at how he's running his campaign, how he's presenting himself. Kasich, Rubio, Christie, I think it's kind of pick them. In terms of looking at New Hampshire --
GIGOT: Go out on a limb, James.
FREEMAN: All right, if I had to pick, I would say Christie probably over performs because I think New Hampshire is built for that kind of town hall approach that really is his strong suit.
GIGOT: You heard it here first.
All right. New Jersey resident.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our panel's predictions for 2016.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses," but this week, our panel's predictions for 2016.
Dan, go out on a limb.
HENNINGER: Yeah, well, how about this one? I'm going to predict that the 2016 campaign is going to be the greatest exercise in political mudslinging any of us have ever seen.
Look, the higher the stakes, the lower the politics. I'm here to tell you, if it's Trump versus Hillary, you're going to need rubber hip boots to survive the 2016 campaign.
GIGOT: All right.
MCGURN: My prediction, a big victory for the Little Sisters who are suing the Obama administration over the contraceptive mandate. This is the high-water mark of the administrative state forcing nuns to provide contraception, and the Obama administration will take their second hit on this.
GIGOT: So Justice Kennedy. All right.
KISSEL: I predict that FBI Director Jim Comey is going to do the right thing and recommend that Hillary Clinton be indicted for mishandling classified information on her private home-brew server. The evidence is overwhelming. But that the attorney general will not follow through and file an indictment.
GIGOT: A decent guess.
FREEMAN: Paul, viewers have been warned about my preference for optimism.
But I am saying --
-- that we begin to recover from the Obama economy. We begin to break out of the new normal of slow growth. There's a Republican win in the fall, which further encourages people that better economic policy is coming. I think it's a good year.
GIGOT: All right. Mine is that the president wants to take two big trips this year, if he can, one to Tehran, one to Havana, wrapping up his presidency. But the mullahs aren't cooperating so he's going to have to settle for the Castro brothers in Havana.
And if you have your own prediction for 2016, be sure to tweet it to us @jeronfnc.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week. Happy New Year.
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