This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," December 3, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Donald Trump's cabinet continued to take shape this week, with the president-elect saying Thursday night that he'll nominate retired General James Mattis as his defense secretary, with a formal announcement set for Monday. That's coming just a day after his choices for two key economic appointments, former Goldman Sachs partner, Steve Mnuchin, for treasury secretary, and billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, for commerce. With the economy his central theme this week, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence traveled to Pence's home state of Indiana Thursday to take credit for his deal with Carrier, the heating and cooling company that announced Wednesday it's keeping nearly 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis instead of moving them to Mexico.
Let's bring in Wall Street Journal columnist, Kim Strassel; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and Bret Stephens.
Bret, let's start with General Mattis. Good pick?
BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: Terrific. My joke about Mattis is that he can scare the feathers off a chicken just by looking at it. And you want --
GIGOT: And Putin, too?
STEPHENS: Well, that's exactly it. You want a defense secretary who's going to automatically inspire the respect from your adversary, whether Tehran, Pyongyang or Moscow. Also, a secretary of defense is going to inspire the respect of his generals and of American troops. I think Mattis, he was the first general to go into Afghanistan and into Kandahar Province in 2001 as a one star. This is a guy who is well known in the Defense Department. He's seen as sort of a scholar, a warrior. He's exactly the kind of guy -- I don't think we have seen the likes since George Marshall was secretary of defense.
GIGOT: Speaking of Marshall, Mattis, having been an officer, is going to have to have a special dispensation from Congress. They have to pass a law to allow him to be able to serve as defense secretary. Do you have a problem with that?
STEPHENS: I don't. I think we have to support the principle of civilian control of the military, but Mattis has been out of the military for about three years. He has the confidence of John McCain and other Senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee, so I don't think that's going to be particularly problematic. Nor, by the way, would it be problematic if former General Petraeus served in a cabinet position.
GIGOT: A preemptive strike there, Bret. I agree with you on both.
What about his economic choices, Mary? Let's turn to those. We've got Steve Mnuchin at treasury, a Wall Street guy, and Wilbur Ross, investor, steel, textiles. What do you think?
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Well, on treasury secretary, I think he could have done worse than Steve Mnuchin. Steve Mnuchin talks got growth. He says we can do 3 to 4 percent growth. He's a tax cutter. I think he's not good on individual tax rates. He seems to have that sort of Keynesian line that the rich should paid more. But we could have done worse.
On commerce, I don't think he could have done worse.
Ross has a long history of being a protectionist and he basically would, in the Commerce Department, send a very bad signal to the rest of the world about free trade. The U.S. should be a leader in free trade in the world, not a leader in protectionism.
GIGOT: Yet, that's what Donald Trump ran on, James.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: He also ran on draining the swamp, and Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross are not a couple of swamp drainers.
GIGOT: Now wait a minute. But is that -- explain that. Why is that?
FREEMAN: Especially on Ross, given this protectionist bent. What he's doing is he's ramping up the Commerce Department's role as kind of the center capitalist cronyism in Washington. This is where CEOs who don't want to compete are going to go to get special favors for their industries.
GIGOT: That's the big problem with protectionism, isn't it? It's basically government intervening on behalf of certain companies to help them out.
FREEMAN: Yeah. So, this government is about to get a lot more important and powerful in a very bad way in Washington.
As far as Treasury, I agree. Steve Mnuchin, I think he will be generally favorable as they seek to cut taxes, but he's squeamish on cutting tax rates on people with high incomes. If it's going to benefit workers, create jobs, we ought to be for it.
GIGOT: Kim, is this tension between what James and Mary are describing, between Mnuchin and his growth impulses, tax reform, helping the economy grow with anti-regulation, deregulation, versus the protectionism instincts in Ross, is that the tension we're going to see in the Trump economic program?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Yeah, absolutely. One thing about the Mnuchin and Ross picks, and it's a little worrisome as well, is that what you've got here is two guys that left is already saying are from Wall Street and the intention of the left and the press is now going to be make them out to be the kind of old-fashioned, anti-populist thing that Trump ran on, to make the Trump campaign feel guilty about this, and play on those instincts so they won't cut top rates and they won't do some of the reform things that Trump said he would.
But, yes, there is a bigger tension within the campaign about growth versus protectionism and they have not settled it, and these guys are the perfect examples of those two warring camps.
GIGOT: Let's take up the specific example this week, Mary, which is the Carrier deal. Trump went to Indiana, took credit for saving these jobs. On the other hand, he really did hold a gun to the head. I hate to use that metaphor, but it's true. He really said, look, we're going to put some tariffs on your products if you don't keep these jobs here, if you move that plant.
O'GRADY: Yeah, it's a very worrisome signal about where the administration is going here. We were worried about it, but now he's proved he's going to do these kinds of things. Let's remember, he would not have been able to put tariffs just on Carrier products. That's illegal. He would have had to put some broadly across the industry.
GIGOT: There is -- OK --
GIGOT: But there's a difference of opinion about whether or not, under Iran sanction laws, you can actually sanction an individual company. Some lawyers are saying Trump can do that.
O'GRADY: As your solicitor, I would say he --
O'GRADY: However, let's keep in mind also that Mike Pence -- the subsidies are $7 million from the state of Indiana.
GIGOT: Indiana, correct.
O'GRADY: Mike Pence is the governor of Indiana. Plus, he's the head of the Economic Development Corp in Indiana. If -- this could have been done by Mike Pence, if this was about the $7 million subsidy, Mike Pence could have done it long ago. He could have done it in the summertime. But, in fact, I think what happened here was Trump saying to Carrier, listen, United Technologies, which owns Carrier, has a lot of defense contracts, keep that in mind, and if -- you want to think about staying up all night thinking about what I can do to you.
GIGOT: I think --
O'GRADY: Carrier was worried.
GIGOT: I think - yeah, I think that's all true. But he also did say, look, we're going to cut your corporate tax rates from 35 to 15, we're going to make a lot more competition in the United - you make a lot more competitiveness to stay here. And that was incentive as well.
STEPHENS: Look, for business to thrive, it requires a certain amount of predictability, and when you have a charismatic president who likes to swoops in to save jobs in politically sensitive states, you don't have that kind of predictability. Frankly -- and I'm not the first person to observe this -- this was a tactic that Vladimir Putin likes to employ for political effect, going to one company or another and telling them not to cut jobs. It's a dangerous and populous precedent.
GIGOT: All right, thank you all.
Amid growing concerns over conflicts of interest, Donald Trump vows to leave his global business empire, so just what does the president-elect have planned and will it be enough to silence his critics?
GIGOT: Amid growing calls from Democrats for Congress to investigate his business dealings for potential conflicts, Donald Trump took to Twitter this week vowing to unveil a plan on December 15t h that would take him completely out of the organization that bears his name. The president- elect didn't provide any details about how he plans to separate himself from his company, saying legal documents were being prepared. But Trump has previously said that he'd leave his business operations to his three oldest children, Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka.
We're back with Kim Strassel, James Freeman and Bret Stephens. And "Wall Street Journal" editorial page writer, Kate Bachelder-O'Dell also joins us.
So, Kate, do you think it's good news, the Trump tweet about saying he'll separate himself? But of course, the details on that.
KATE BACHELDER-O'DELL, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: It's great news. And we'll judge the merits of the plan when it arrives.
But I would note how broad the conflicts are here. We have the children running the business operation but we also have Ivanka sitting in on political meetings, like with the Japanese prime minister at Trump Tower. We have her husband who is likely to be a White House advisor. And I would also note he has his own interests that are being litigated in the paper.
GIGOT: Jared Kushner.
GIGOT: His son-in-law.
BACHELDEDR-O'DELL: Right. So, it's a broad problem and I think we'll have to see the details.
GIGOT: Well, at a minimum, do you think that he -- what do you think he should do? Should he start -- this is president-elect -- by selling his assets in Trump.
BACHELDEDR-O'DELL: This is a vortex, so I think he has to make a clean break and get rid of his assets and sell them and basically put the cash proceeds in a blind trust of stocks and bonds that's managed by an independent trustee and not his children.
GIGOT: So that would take the kids out of managing. Do you think that might be a potential - that poses a potential conflict because I think he would like to find a way, even if he sells the company, to at least have the children still do the business.
BACHELDEDR-O'DELL: Yes. I think it's more a political question than a legal question since presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest laws. The question is whether he can set up a plan that satisfies these questions. And there are a lot of them.
STEPHENS: The question also is, does he want his presidency defined by endless media and congressional tussles over whether his policies may be engineered to do favors for one business or another, whether it's the United States or abroad. And if that's how he wants his presidency to wind up, that will be a shame. That's presumably not why he ran for office. So, to quote J.P. Morgan, "liquidate, liquidate, liquidate."
GIGOT: So this would be, for example, if his tax reform gives some benefit to real estate properties, Democrats will say, wait a minute, you're helping the Donald Trump Organization.
James, what do you think about this?
FREEMAN: Certainly, we have to see his plan, see how he intends to manages this conflict. Certainly --
FREEMAN: -- we, as journalists, ought to keep a close eye. But do I think it's reasonable to say to him you must immediately liquidate all of these highly illiquid assets and have a fire sale? I mean, New York skyscrapers don't trade on an exchange. This is not something you can sell quickly without taking a very large loss. I think we also have to understand we don't want to create rules to him that we haven't applied to his predecessors.
GIGOT: We haven't. What rules are we applying to him that we haven't applied to --
FREEMAN: We'll if you're saying you have to go all to cash, that would be a new standard in politics.
GIGOT: Well, other people have done that all along.
GIGOT: Jimmy Carter -- OK, Jimmy Carter. What happened to jimmy Carter?
BACHELDEDR-O'DELL: Basically, all of his predecessors have liquidated their assets in one form or another.
FREEMAN: They allowed to own assets. They didn't all go to cash. They still --
FREEMAN: So the point is --
GIGOT: But they were in a blind trust and they didn't know what those assets were and how they were being --
FREEMAN: And it's certainly within his interest, when he comes out in December, to say here's the plan and here's how I'm going to avoid conflicts. But just to step back a little, I think people did understand, because he was hawking his products during the campaign trail, what businesses he was in. They're relatively transparent. For instance, I had problems with the way Mike Bloomberg ran this city. I don't think it turned out his ownership of the media company that bears his name was the big problem there. And that had far more conflicts than this --
STEPHENS: What Kate is saying, I think, is the essential question isn't necessarily a legal question or even an ethical question. It is a political question, how do you want the next four years to be defined. What happens if Democrats take control of one House or another of Congress in two-years' time and hold endless hearings on the subject, which is a certainty.
STEPHENS: And I am sure that talented children like Ivanka Trump and her brothers will do just fine no matter what comes next for the Trump Organization.
STRASSEL: Can I inject a bit of --
GIGOT: Yes, inject a bit of realism here, Kim.
STRASSEL: I think the realty side here is being missed. Look, this is Donald Trump, and his entire business empire is based off his name and his brand. And I think the likelihood that he is going to sell his companies and his businesses are what we should be looking at, and it seems to me a very small prospect that he would.
GIGOT: All right, but --
STRASSEL: So the question then needs to be --
GIGOT: Is that wise? Is that wise for him not to do that?
STRASSEL: It is arguably not wise. However, I think the question is going to have to be, given that realty, what is the situation in which you can have a business setup that is the best form of this that you can have a blind trust, that you can have very clear rules that wall the president off as much as humanly possible from sort of self-interest and protect him from the criticism that will come. And I would probably imagine that that's what his legal team is attempting to crack.
GIGOT: Last word, Kate?
BACHELDEDR-O'DELL: I think the big argument from the Trump camp is that they cannot put the children out of business. And I think the idea that Ivanka Trump can't pay her bills is not going to be persuasive to the public who is relying on him.
GIGOT: OK, thank you, Kate.
When we come back, recounts get underway in some battleground states amid claims of voting irregularities. This, as the president-elect says voter fraud robbed him of a popular vote win. We'll look at both charges, next.
GIGOT: A vote recount got under way in Wisconsin Thursday, part of a push initiated by Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, that includes Michigan and Pennsylvania as well, amid claims of voting irregularities in these battleground states. President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to blast the recount effort as a scam while alleging serious voting fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California, tweeting last Sunday, quote, "In additional to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
Han von Spakovsky is a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He's also co-author of the book "Who's Counting, How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk."
So, welcome to the program.
Let's start with the recount. Is there any evidence of enough voter fraud in these states to overturn the election outcome?
HANS VON SPAKOVSKY, SENIOR LEGAL FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION & FORMER MEMBER, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION & AUTHOR: Well, remember, Jill Stein is not claiming voter fraud. She's claiming hacking of the voting machines. She has absolutely no evidence of any kind to do that. And in fact, the way those machines work, they are not tied into a central computer system. They are not networked. That is the machines, for example, that scan ballots. The ability of hackers to get into it is just about nil. This is a complete and total waste of time by Jill Stein.
GIGOT: To even take her suggestion of hacking seriously for a second, what would a hacker have to do in our decentralized election system to affect the outcome of the result? How would they have penetrated so many different sites?
SPAKOVSKY: They couldn't. For example, most electronic voting machines, again, they're not networked. So, you would have to get physical access to each electronic voting machine. Similarly, in precincts that use paper ballots, those that are scanned by a computer, you would have to get physical access to the computer scanner. That is almost impossible, or very, very difficult, so the chances of this being hacked is just about nil.
GIGOT: Just in a normal recount, have you ever seen a recount that overturned more than 10,000 votes in any kind of election?
SPAKOVSKY: No. No, look, in the last two decades, there's been a little more than two dozen statewide recounts. Only in three of those was the race overturned. One of those was the Coleman-Franken race in 2008 in Minnesota. In every single case, the margin of victory was less than 1,000 votes. You simply are not going to get a bigger movement than that even in a statewide recount.
GIGOT: Let's talk about Donald Trump's claim of fraud in the election. What do you make of his claim that there were up to millions of fraudulent voters?
SPAKOVSKY: I would say he's more right than his critics. We actually don't know the answer to that. And the problem is that our whole voter registration process is pretty much based on an honor system. I will tell you, we know for certain that noncitizens are illegally registering and voting. There have been cases all across the country of people being prosecuted for that. But there's no systematic way of verifying citizenship. A number of surveys have looked at this and noncitizens themselves admit that they are registered to vote. It could be anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent of noncitizens being registered.
GIGOT: OK, let me just take - that's because if you're an illegal immigrant here, you can go out and get a fake I.D., fake Social Security card, fake driver's license and then walk in and vote, even with those fake documents. Nobody is going to check those. They'll do it -- as you say, it's the honor system. So, that's the basis for the ability of people to register even if they're not citizens, correct?
SPAKOVSKY: Yes. But also, noncitizens who are here legally, many of them go to get driver's licenses and they're asked where they want to register to vote, and they're allowed to register. A case in Virginia, just before the election, more than 1,000 noncitizens were found registered in just eight counties in a state, all of them here legally, but illegally registered. And many of them have voted in prior elections.
GIGOT: But there's a question of magnitude here. Do we have any sense of what that magnitude is? You mentioned anecdotes, and anecdotes are worth mentioning but, statistically, we don't know how many might be fraudulent voters, do we?
SPAKOVSKY: We would have to look at the surveys. Looking at the surveys, it could be 2 percent to even 6 percent of noncitizens voting in any given election, which could be anywhere from a couple hundred thousand to over a million.
GIGOT: What should states do to limit this type of voter fraud?
SPAKOVSKY: Every state should have a law like Kansas that says when you register to vote, you need to provide proof of citizenship. And the Trump administration needs to start a new project whereby the Department of Homeland Security starts checking state voter registration lists to verify citizenship of people who are registered to vote.
GIGOT: But this is typically done on a state basis. This is not something you would do nationally in terms of voter I.D. laws?
SPAKOVSKY: That's right. But states have had problems with the Obama administration because the Obama administration has tried to stop all verification of citizenship on voter registration lists.
GIGOT: OK, Hans von Spakovsky, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.
SPAKOVSKY: Thank you for having me.
GIGOT: Still ahead, Nancy Pelosi keeps her post as Democratic leader in the House while President Obama weighs in on what he thinks was behind his party's election losses. So, did Democrats learn the right lessons from their defeat?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We have a responsibility and we embrace the opportunity that is presented. We know how to win elections, we have done it in the past, we'll do it again. Never again will we have an election where there's any doubt in anyone's mind where the Democrats are when it comes to America's working families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi following her re-election Wednesday as House minority leader. Pelosi beat back a challenge by Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who launched an upstart bid to replace her after the party's disappointing November election results and amid concerns the Democrats have become out of touch with the white working-class voters who sent Donald Trump to the White House.
President Obama weighed in on that concern in an interview released this week, telling Rolling Stone magazine, quote, "In this election, they turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it had to do with our inability, our failure to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is FOX News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country. But part it is also Democrats not working at a grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments.
We're back with Kim Strassel, James Freeman, Kate Bachelder-O'Dell, and Bret Stephens.
So, Kim, the three weeks into this post-election period, what lessons are the Democrats taking away?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: The heads are still in the sand.
They just -- they do not want to acknowledge that this is not a failure of getting their message out. It is the message itself. But this is what you're now hear from them everywhere. Obama, it's just that people were watching too much Fox News. Nancy Pelosi, we need to do a better job of making sure that the middle-class voters understand that our policies are all about them.
But the problem is the voters understood that these policies were not, in fact, working for them. And this is why they lost the election.
GIGOT: What about the --
STRASSEL: Re-electing Pelosi is just keeping the same in place.
GIGOT: What message was the Democratic rank and file sending when roughly a third voted against Pelosi, Kim?
STRASSEL: They were sending a message on a number of fronts. One, that they want new and younger leadership. Nancy Pelosi has been in that spot now for 10 years. She's four for four in terms of losing elections. They want new voices and a new bench. So, that's part of it. But they also want a change in policy. What we have is Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, when he was still in the Senate, speaking to what is a shrinking base of their most liberal supporters with policies that cater to those supporters.
BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: I think if Obama wants to understand why the Democrats lost the election, he should look in the mirror. And in particular, on two points.
GIGOT: Not Fox News?
STEPHENS: Health care and the Iran deal. When history remembers his presidency 10 years from now, they'll remember that he shoved those two things down the throats of the American people, and they both failed on his watch. That combination of American weakness and fecklessness abroad, and the health care law didn't deliver what it promised, but delivered continuously rising premiums, goes very far towards explaining exactly why that happen. I don't think the Democrats are going to resolve their problems until they come to grips with those two failures.
GIGOT: But as I read the liberal press -- I read it, I have to, I'm fated to by my job --
-- I think that what they're doing is they're saying James Comey did it, the FBI director, he's at fault. Hillary Clinton did it because she was a lousy candidate. They're not looking at their ideas, Kate.
KATE BACHELDER-O'DELL, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: In addition to Nancy Pelosi's will to power, I think part of the story is that Democrats have lost 900 legislative seats and a dozen governorships since 2008. The party has no bench. They have no one to put forward to take her on.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I first, would like to defend the owners of bars and restaurants for giving consumers what they want to watch.
I think the problem --
GIGOT: Not in the airport, James. Every time I go into airports --
FREEMAN: Look, they can't really have a debate in Washington because there are no moderates left in their elected representation in the House or the Senate. So, you had this kind of phony debate over the last week where Tim Ryan, who sort of looks like a middle-America voter, was running against left wing coastal Nancy Pelosi. But the truth is he's pretty far left. He's for Obamacare, for Cap and Trade, all of the crazy EPA regulations. So, the debate that ought to be happening about how you bring that party back towards caring about economic growth and job creation can't really happen within the party.
GIGOT: Kim, let me play devil's advocate here. The vote was close. Donald Trump --- even the middle of the evening on Tuesday, a lot of people in the Trump campaign didn't think they were going to win. They narrowly won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, otherwise, Hillary Clinton would have won the election. Trump lost the popular vote. So maybe Pelosi is right to bet that all we need to do is see the Republicans mess up and we'll inherit the Congress again in 2018.
STRASSEL: That is a real risk for Republicans, which let's all hope that they understand that all the spotlights are on them and they have no more excuses if things don't go right.
But this argument, you see all these Democrats saying, we need to change the Electoral College. That's not going to happen. The reality is this has largely become the party of both coasts, the east and west coasts. They need to figure out how to a new way that they can talk to while working-class Americans, a broader caucus out there, because, increasingly, they're becoming the party of identity politics with a narrower and narrower message. The Democrats and the Republicans, as parties, both do best when they are big tents. And the Democrats for now seem to have given up on that idea.
GIGOT: Interesting fact, Republicans won the House vote nationwide by 3.2 million votes. Trump lost the popular vote by 1.5 percentage points or something.
STEPHENS: Yeah. Look, the Democrats have a geographics problem, which -- and that's one issue that someone like Tim Ryan was trying to address. They also have a cultural -- basically, a cultural problem. When you listen to Nancy Pelosi, you are looking at a very wealthy, left or west coast elite, who clearly doesn't seem to have much empathy or sense of what, say, coal miners in Appalachia are going through. And until they fix those, the problem remains.
GIGOT: All right, thank you, Bret.
Still ahead, Donald Trump's pick for education secretary under fire from teachers unions for her school choice position. We'll talk to someone who knows Betsy DeVos well, when we come back.
GIGOT: President-elect Donald Trump's choice for education secretary under fire from the left with teacher's union chief, Randi Weingarten, calling Betsy DeVos, quote, "The most ideological anti-public Ed nominee since the creation of the Department of Education.
DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist and school choice advocate is chair of the American Federation for Children, where my next guest is a founding board member and executive council. Kevin Chavous joins me now from Washington.
So, welcome to the program. Good to see you again.
KEVIN CHAVOUS, FOUNDING BOARD MEMBER & EXECUTIVE COUNCIL, AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN: Good to see you again, Paul. Thank you.
GIGOT: The unions are saying Betsy DeVos wants to gut public education, that that's her agenda. What's your response?
CHAVOUS: Well, that's absolutely not the case. Betsy DeVos is an excellent choice. I have worked closely with her for many years. And in spite of this hype around this notion that she wants to privatize education, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what she really wants to do is empower parents because so many parents have kids who are trapped in bad schools.
And I must say, Paul, one of the most amazing things about education politics, they don't like any education secretary.
You know, one of the things they said about Arne Duncan is he's destroying what it means to teach and learn. They came out again John King (ph). So, anyone who bucks the status quo, they're going to be against. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican. So, I think Betsy DeVos is in good company if they're talking about that they don't like her.
GIGOT: Let's talk about the agenda at the national level. You and Betsy DeVos has been fighting for school choice at the state and local level. But what can an education secretary do from Washington to promote that agenda?
CHAVOUS: A couple of things. One is to have a school choice advocate. And the essence of school choice is putting the power in the hands of the parents not the government or the bureaucracy. That's a far-cry difference in the way public education has been run over the past several years. But to have a school choice advocate as the leader of education is that bully pulpit. And she's going to make sure that policies are in place that help parents be able to find quality options for their kids.
GIGOT: But you don't have a lot of money at the federal level. As you know, most of the money is state and local. So, you don't have that leverage. Plus, the Congress passed an update to No Child Left Behind earlier this year, so you're not going to change that law. So, it's basically the bully pulpit and maybe a little bit at the margin, is that how you do it?
CHAVOUS: Money, but it also sets the right tone. Look at the attention that her selection has already been given. It sends a message to parents that they matter. It sends a message to kids that we're going to deal with your needs today and not tomorrow. The other thing that's really, really important, it sends a message to the status quo that the status quo is unacceptable.
Yes, most of the action is in the individual states, but there's so much that can be done in terms of leveraging public funds. And I'm sure Secretary DeVos will do that in creating better options for the states to access money to promote school choice.
GIGOT: And from your point of view, it doesn't matter if they're charter schools, which are forms of public schools, or vouchers that can go to private or even religious schools. From your point of view, either one is OK?
CHAVOUS: Either is OK, and the more the better. And each jurisdiction needs to pick the form of choice that works for them.
But keep in mind, no school district has ever reformed itself from within. The best form of reform, frankly, and pressure, comes by way of school choice. If you look at what's happened in D.C., in Florida, in Milwaukee, in New Orleans. Because they had robust and diversified school choice offerings, it energized the local school district to reform itself. That's what I think that Betsy DeVos, her leadership, can demonstrate. And I think people will embrace that.
GIGOT: What you've been doing with American Federation for Children is to fight basically across legislative districts in the states against the unions to be able to turn some of these legislatures more towards the pro- choice, pro-reform argument. Tell us how that's been going. I know there's -- it's an under reported story that you guys have had a lot of victories this year.
CHAVOUS: We do. And one of the things I'm very proud of working with Betsy and the fellow board members working under our leadership that we've been able to accomplish is we actually go to individual states, we design laws to work for kids. We elect legislators who support promoting school choice. And the beautiful things about it, which flies in the face of the union rhetoric, is we're bipartisan. We elect a lot of Democrats and Republican who are in favor of school choice.
And the hallmark of Betsy's leadership when she was our chair is she believes in collaboration. I think that's going to be a big surprise, Paul. I think she's going to be a star in the cabinet because she believes in reaching across the aisle and putting politics secondary to the interest of kids. And frankly, it's the toxic nature of the politics in America that has infected our education policy. And I think Betsy is going to go a long way towards removing that.
GIGOT: You came up as a Democrat in Washington, D.C., as I recall, on the city council?
CHAVOUS: I did. And I helped start our charter movement and our voucher program, our scholarship program. And look, after 10 years of our scholarship program in D.C., we have got 6,000 kids who have benefitted from it. And get this, of those 6,000 kids, 90 percent have graduated from high school, some of the best private schools in the area. And then those 90 percent, 90 percent of those graduates have gone on to college. It's been a life-changing experience.
And this is what school choice is all about. It's about making sure parents are able to afford these options that otherwise they wouldn't be able to get.
GIGOT: All right, Kevin Chavous, thank you very much for being here.
CHAVOUS: Thank you, Paul.
GIGOT: When we come back, as Dictator Fidel Castro is laid to rest in Cuba, a look at his brutal legacy and how U.S. relations with Havana are likely to change under the Trump administration.
GIGOT: The remains of Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, making their way to their final resting place in the eastern city of Santiago this weekend following a four-day journey across the country he ruled for nearly 50 years. The Obama administration declined to send a formal U.S. delegation to the funeral with the White House acknowledging this week that its relationship with Havana remained, quote, "quite complicated," a situation President-elect Donald Trump will inherit in January.
We're back with Kim Strassel, Mary Anastasia O'Grady and Bret Stephens.
So, Mary, what's the Fidel legacy?
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: It's complete and total ruin. He inherited a country that was one of the most prosperous in Latin-America in 1959. He immediately shot more than 500 people by firing squad. He turned a revolution that was actually designed to restore the constitutional government into a dictatorship. And he got very rich in process. And he got very rich in the process. And --
GIGOT: Millions of Cubans fled.
O'GRADY: And he stripped the soul of the Cuban nation.
STEPHENS: And the legacy extends beyond Cuba. It also goes into Latin- America, the example of Castro. Look at a country like Venezuela today, experiencing hunger, electricity shortages, skyrocketing crime, 1,600 percent inflation. This is a country that modeled itself explicitly under Hugo Chavez and now President Maduro on the Cuban way. That is what it resulted in. So, it's been more than just the effects on the island itself.
GIGOT: Kim, the Obama administration had a policy, a breakthrough two years ago, a policy change with Cuba. How has it changed on the island at all?
STRASSEL: It hasn't changed at all for average Cubans. What you've seen is the state has been able to take advantage of this normalization of relations in the United States. You've got Americans that can go over there and use hard currency. But it's largely the regime that has profited from this.
I think this is why when Trump comes in, he's going to have to very much rethink that policy. And maybe this is a chance to start from scratch after 50-something years of people digging in on sides on this issue.
GIGOT: Here's the question, Mary. Castro's dead. A lot of people we know have talked to, dissidents, say he was a huge obstacle, symbolic and real, to any kind of change on the island. His brother is now dictator and the military has been built up to control it. But is this a moment where maybe, maybe some of the authoritarianism on the island breaks up?
O'GRADY: It's a possibility. And I don't think we should actually close the door to that. But I also think it's pretty fanciful. Raul Castro has no intention of going anywhere, and there's the next generation of Communists behind him and the military government, which, as Kim says, is the big beneficiary of all the hard currency that comes through tourism.
So basically, what the U.S. should ask for is relief of all political prisoners and no more putting new ones in jail. Stop beating the dissidents. And allow some normal level of entrepreneurship, some free speech, and some economic freedom.
GIGOT: And access to the Internet. That would be a --
O'GRADY: Yeah, but the thing is, I don't think that the Castros are going to agree to any of that. And they have always said, we will not take any conditions from the empire.
GIGOT: And if that happens, Bret, if Mary's right, how should Trump respond?
STEPHENS: He should punish the Castro government very sharply. I reported earlier this week about a leading Cuban dissident. He expects repression to increase because Raul is going to be nervous about the base of his power now that the symbol of tyranny, as he put in, is now gone. I think what Donald Trump should do is make it very clear that, in exchange in Cuba, the United States will look favorably on it. But as Raul Castro becomes more authoritarian, the United States will exact a heavy and personal price on the regime.
O'GRADY: And we should remember that the economy in Cuba is in really, really bad shape, and it's probably going to contract this year. So, they're desperate for dollars. And that's why opening up to Cuba at this time is a big mistake.
GIGOT: But that's an incentive for them to change, is it not, if they actually want to improve lives for Cubans?
O'GRADY: Agreed. But opening up unconditionally is a mistake when they're on the ropes.
GIGOT: All right, thank you all.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Kim, start us off.
STRASSEL: So this is a hit for Barack Obama for reassuring the nation this week that his wife, Michelle, will not run for elected office. You know, there used to be a tradition in this country, Paul, the president and the first lady, when they were done, they would attain the highest office of the land, they would fade off, do some charitable work, be elder statesmen. That all changed with the Clintons with their desperate grasping for power again that subjected the nation to another 30 years of the Clinton regime. So, there's some grace and humility to this move. Congratulations to the Obama. Maybe even Chelsea Clinton will pay attention.
GIGOT: All right.
O'GRADY: Paul, this is a hint for Mecklenburg, North Carolina, district attorney, Andrew Murray, who this week said he found no legal wrong doing in the shooting death of Keith Scott. Remember that Mr. Scott was killed in September by a police officer. Initially, it sparked two days of rioting in Charlotte, North Carolina, before anyone knew the facts. I think it was very courageous for the district attorney to actually do a real investigation, find out that the shooting victim was armed, the police were -- had reason to use force, and to put the thing to rest.
GIGOT: All right.
BACHELDER-O'DELL: This is a miss for the taxpayer, and not the first. This week, the Government Accountability Office reported that the government is set to lose $108 billion on student loan forgiveness. President Obama, as a way to attract Millennial votes, has expanded programs that allow borrowers to limit their repayments based on their income. Democrats pitched this as a way to save money.
GIGOT: Yeah, they actually scored it to save money.
BACHELDER-O'DELL: That fiction has been exposed.
GIGOT: All right.
FREEMAN: Yes. We've heard about all this debt. Another disturbing fact about Millennials is that only 20 percent of them has ever tried a Big Mac.
We were reminded of what they have been missing this week with the passing of Jim Delligatti, a World War II Army veteran and long-time McDonald's franchisee and, most importantly, creator of the Big Mac in 1967. Great contribution. Giving us tasty food at a low price. Thank you, Jim.
GIGOT: All right, thank you, James.
Remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us on @JERonFNC.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. And thanks to you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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