JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

World marks 25 years since fall of the Soviet Union; Who are Trump's money men?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," December 17, 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.

President-elect Trump rounded out his foreign policy theme this week with his much-anticipated pick for secretary of state. But the choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is being met with skepticism from top Senate Republicans who are questioning the businessman's close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the continuing controversy over the Kremlin's role in hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Here is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on Fox this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: It comes down to this with Mr. Tillerson with me, I want you to be briefed by what Russia did in our election and what they're doing all over the world. And I want you to come forward and say whether or not you believe they interfered in our election, they're interfering in other democracies. If you say they're not, I will be troubled by your judgment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Bill McGurn; and editorial board members, Mary Kissel and Joe Rago.

Dan, choice of Rex Tillerson, unconventional to say the least, not a member of foreign policy establishment, a CEO. What do you think?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: By and large, I like the pick.  Rex Tillerson is a very impressive fellow. But there's a theme to what Donald Trump is going, with people like Tillerson. He's putting in positions, like the secretary of state, economic deal makers, not politicians, and not people from the foreign policy establishment.  Economic deal makers. Trump wants our negotiations, whether on areas like this or trade, to drop to the bottom line. That's exactly what Rex Tillerson did when he did that huge oil deal with Vladimir Putin for Exxon.

The question being raised is whether Rex Tillerson or, indeed, Donald Trump, what price are they willing to pay for whatever grand bargain Mr. Trump may have in mind with Russia. In other words, for instance, would they allow, say, eastern Europe and the Baltics to be pulled into the Russian sphere of influence, which is something Vladimir Putin wants.

GIGOT: Well, that --

HENNINGER: Would that be part of the deal?

GIGOT: That would be something to --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: That's what they should ask about.

GIGOT: It's part of those countries, the Baltics, in particular, part of NATO.

What do you think, Mary? Some doubts by Republicans about his ties to Russia.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think the larger question about Tillerson is can he separate what is the business interest of Exxon from larger American interests. By that, I mean it's not the same thing to run a company as it is to run the country's foreign policy.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- a different job.

KISSEL: Well, but has he thought about America's role in the world? Has he thought about grand strategy? What does he think about what China is doing in the South China Sea? What does he think about the Iran nuclear deal? Would he cooperate with Putin in Syria? There are a lot of hard questions to ask of him. And, hopefully, we'll get that during the hearing.

GIGOT: Joe, the Russia ties are obviously an issue. So is his history as a fossil fuel executive. Oil and gas, Exxon, the biggest fossil fuel company in the world, a very successful one. Democrats are saying we're going to question him on that almost more than Russia.

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: What's interesting, Exxon endorsed the carbon tax for about a decade. In a certain way, it's kind of truth in advertising. What they say is carbon is already taxed, but the tax is collected through regulation. So, wouldn't it be better to have a more rational system instead of having a different price for carbon.

GIGOT: Good luck with that.

RAGO: Yeah. Of course, it's a political problem because you're asking Congress to give up power and give it to the markets.

GIGOT: But I'm also talking about the U.S. participation under President Obama, Bill, with the Paris Climate Accord. It doesn't have a lot of teeth, that accord. Nonetheless, it's a commitment to reduce carbon emissions over time.

The question I would ask, if I were a Senator of, Tillerson is, look, are you -- you said the U.S. should stay in Paris?

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Yes.

GIGOT: Do you still agree with that? Because I would worry as a conservative that Tillerson is going to spend his tenure at state fleeing his past because that's where he's going to get beat up.

MCGURN: All executives of oil companies are being Maomaoed by the Green lobby all the time and they try to mollify them.

GIGOT: Sure.

MCGURN: The question is, was Mr. Tillerson sincere about that? What does he believe? Because Donald Trump, I believe, has called for the Paris Accord to be scrapped, which I think 0--

GIGOT: He's skeptical of it, for sure.

MCGURN: He's skeptical. Which should, though, not only on the terms that it has no enforcement mechanisms, but because it was an end run around the Constitution. If --

GIGOT: He didn't put it to the Senate.

MCGURN: Didn't put it to the Senate, ran around them deliberately. If they can get the secretary of state -- if the Green lobby can get the secretary of state to support the Paris Accord, that would be a big victory for them. That's one of the big fights.

GIGOT: I think that's exactly where they're going to press, Mary.

KISSEL: Yeah, I think so.

One other point about Tillerson, Paul, you already have the countries of Europe moving into Russia's orbit. You look at the rhetoric out of France, look at the rhetoric out of Germany, look at what's going on in eastern Europe. You need American leadership. My bigger concern about Tillerson, not just the point about thinking about the strategic interest, is can he lead? Is he going to force Donald Trump to lead? Trump is not a guy who has thought a lot about American foreign policy. I would have preferred to see somebody seasoned, somebody like a John Bolton in that role. But I think Trump went with someone he felt comfortable with, another businessman, somebody who speaks the same language as Donald Trump, rather than someone who has been in the foreign policy world for a while.

GIGOT: How much trouble Tillerson could be in from the confirmation hearings, Joe?

RAGO: I don't think a lot, actually. If you look at leading the world's second most valuable company, that's leadership right there. He's been endorsed by people like Dick Cheney, who is not exactly a Russophile.

GIGOT: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: And Condoleezza Rice, James Baker, Bob Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

RAGO: So there may be some tie-ups. For a president to lose his secretary of state nominee, that's a pretty big --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: And --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Republicans don't want to be the people who do it.

Dan, let me ask you about Russia hacking, the accusation, the accusations.  That story blew up over the weekend. Barack Obama told National Public Radio he's going to respond to Russia somehow, retaliate somehow, either covertly or more overtly. What do you make of this after eight years of doing nothing?

HENNINGER: I think that Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio should raise this issue, which is that we know that we are capable of hacking their people as well. The question is. will we do it in a public, overt way that the whole world can see? Are we going to do it in a way no one can see and the American people have to take it on faith that we're fighting back? At the moment, they don't believe we're fighting back.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

When we come back, as the world marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, we'll talk to former Russian chess champion, Garry Kasparov, about Vladimir Putin's end game in the region and around the world, and his advice for the incoming Trump administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The world is marking the 25th anniversary of collapse of the Soviet Union this month, something Russian President Vladimir Putin has described as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. As Russia continues to assert its influence around the globe, in Syria, Ukraine, even the United States, former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, is here with his advice for the incoming Trump administration. Kasparov is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and author of the book, "Winter is Coming, Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped."

Garry, welcome. It's good to see you.

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION, RUSSIAN CHESS CHAMPION & AUTHOR: Winter is definitely here.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: It is in New York City, for sure.

Let's talk first about the 25th anniversary. That was such a hopeful moment in Russia. You were there. What happened?

KASPAROV: I wrote the book about it. You must understand, how come, 25 years we were hopeful, expecting bright future. And now 25 years later, we see the KGB, influencing events, in neighboring countries to Russia in the Middle East and even in the United States. And the free world now is in disarray and this is the result of the 25 years of lack of strategy as the U.S. foreign policy working like a pendulum, shooting from one side to another, especially eight years of disastrous policy of leading from behind of the current administration.

GIGOT: Why did Russia not embrace a more democratic future like Poland did and the Baltics did and other countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain?

KASPAROV: It's a very long and sad story. I think Russia wasn't ready to deal with its past. And I believe the decision to declare Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union was a big mistake. If you're a successor, one day, sooner or later, it doesn't matter, the past takes over your future. That's what happened, and somehow the mistakes that the administration made in the beginning of its reforms led maybe inevitably to Putin, to KGB coming back to power. And also, again, I don't want to blame the free world. But American administration, Clinton administration had no interest in talking about long-term future, about initiating global reforms. That was a unique opportunity to change the world, to change the United Nations. America in '91, '92, '93, up to the mid '90s, could dictate the terms and come up with a vision of the future, preparing the framework that could benefit everybody, similar to what the administration did in the '40s, by creating institutions --

(CROSSTALK)

KASPAROV: -- that helped win the Cold War.

GIGOT: Let's go back for a moment. Do you have any doubt that Putin tried to influence the U.S. election?

KASPAROV: Absolutely, no doubt.

GIGOT: Why would he think he could get away with that?

KASPAROV: He took a calculated risk. By the way, getting away -- it's a question of what comes. I think he knew he would be caught. So, what?  After Obama failed to inform the red line in Syria, I predicted, like many others, Putin could go further. I thought he would do other things, hurt American interests worldwide. But even I didn't expect he would go that far. For Putin, it was a matter of not just prestige but survival.  Remember when Obama called Russia a regional power, that's a biggest mistake you make with dictators. You talk big and you do nothing. Putin believed, at that point, for him to show his strength inside Russia and also worldwide, he had to do something to undermine American political system

GIGOT: The phrase "regional power" from Putin's point of view was an insult?

KASPAROV: An insult.

GIGOT: And undermined his domestic stance?

KASPAROV: Exactly. And I remember in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, you know, with a smile, he said, oh, it's so flattering for a regional power to be blamed of interference in American election.

(LAUGHTER)

That's a clear message. Now I have to say Putin looks victorious. Whether Trump benefited or not, Putin looks like a man who could actually crack into American political system. That sends chilling message to America about friends and it emboldens American enemies.

GIGOT: The new Trump administration, what would your advice be to the Trump administration on how to respond to Putin?

KASPAROV: I think Trump should stop denying this report and stop dismissing CIA. It's bad. CIA reports could be confirmed by other intelligence agencies, blaming Russia. Not China, not Iran, not the guy in his cellar, Russia squarely for interference in the political life, political process in other countries. Then, I think Trump should also accept the investigation. He should send a clear message that if Putin did it -- even if Trump was a beneficiary of that, Trump will protect America and American interests, and also the integrity of the political process in the free world, and will not let KGB to dictate the terms.

GIGOT: Interesting. But when you step back on policy, it looks like Trump thinks he can do a big deal with Putin, Europe, Middle East. That's what George Bush thought. That's what Barack Obama thought. The pattern is Trump does -- the president does a deal with Putin and he reneges on the deals over time.

KASPAROV: What kind of deal Trump can offer Putin? Because Putin definitely would like to sit at the table. And the moment Trumps sits with Putin at the bargain table, America lost. Because then you have to negotiate Crimea, eastern Ukraine, maybe the future of NATO. That's what Putin wants. He wants Russia and America to talk about the future of the world. Maybe they bring China, the big three. By the way, this is one of the advertisements bought by Russian lobbyists in Washington. It's reminding people of big three in 1945. Now Trump, Chinese leader and Putin, dividing the world. This is Putin's dream. And I think, again, what Trump administration must do now is reinforce its commitment to NATO, to quiet the panic, to quiet the panic in Europe, especially among Baltic States and Poland, that the American administration will never renege on American's role as a leader in the free world.

GIGOT: Thank you, Garry Kasparov. We'll see if he takes that advice.  It's good advice.

When we come back, as the Electoral College gets set to meet on Monday, we'll look at the last-ditch effort to convince 37 Republicans to dump Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The 538 members of the Electoral College are set to meet Monday to officially select the next president. In a 240-year-old tradition that is suddenly the focus of intense interest amid an effort to persuade 37 GOP electors to defect and vote against Donald Trump.

Here is the latest pitch to those Republicans, compliments of Hollywood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOBY, SINGER: The American people trust your voice speaks for us all.

FREDA PAYNE, SINGER: And that you will make yourself heard through the constitutional responsibility granted to you by Alexander Hamilton himself.

MIKE FARRELL, ACTOR: What is evident is that Donald Trump lacks more than the qualifications to be president.

DEBRA MESSING, ACTRESS: He lacks the necessary stability.

JAMES CROMWELL, ACTOR: And clearly the respect for the Constitution of our great nation.

B.D. WONG, ACTOR: You have the decision.

TALIA BALSAM, ACTRESS: The authority.

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR: And the opportunity to go down in the books as an American hero.

RICHARD SHIFF, ACTOR: Who changed the course of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger and Joe Rago. And Wall Street Journal editorial page writer, Kate Bachelder Odell and "Best of the Web" columnist, James Taranto, also joining the panel.

James, strange new solicitous from Republicans from Hollywood.

(LAUGHTER)

First of all, do the electorates actually have the authority, the right to vote their conscience?

JAMES TARANTO, BEST OF THE WEB COLUMNIST: I think they do have that authority under the constitution. But what that's going to mean is almost all of them pledged to vote for Donald Trump are going to vote for Donald Trump. Remember, these are people chosen by the state parties to vote for the party nominee.

Hollywood did a video very much like the one we just saw in September saying the same things about Trump and to Republican voters. Now, in order to prevent Trump from getting the majority of the electors, they would need to flip more than one in eight of them. They didn't flip more than one in eight ordinary voters who are presumably more malleable than the electors are.

GIGOT: Do you think they'll get 37 electorates, Kate?

KATE BACHELDER ODELL, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: No, I do not. The A.P. did a view and could only find one --

GIGOT: Just one?

ODELL: -- Trump elector. And he already wrote an op-ed "The New York Times." We knew about him.

GIGOT: We knew about him, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

But the state law -- there are state laws that say you must vote for the electorate. That's never been tested up to the Supreme Court level. I really don't know about its constitutionality.

What's -- if they're not going to get 37 and Trump is going to win, what's the other motivation?

ODELL: I think this is designed to fail. The entire point is to undermine the Trump presidency before it starts.

I think, originally, we were told the Electoral College is an outdated institution that we must do away with immediately, but now it's apparently our last hope against a Trump presidency. The point is to drum up as much support as possible for the idea it was a rigged election.

GIGOT: Joe, you've looked into this some. They're even misreading Alexander Hamilton in the sense of what -- again, strange new respect for the founders here on the American left. They usually don't go to originalist interpretations of the Constitution.

RAGO: Right, and that's going to last exactly until Trump's first Supreme Court nomination.

GIGOT: How are they misreading Hamilton on the Electoral College?

RAGO: The Electoral College, the electors can exercise what's called "discernment," if they find, sometimes, in an extraordinary case between the general election and when they vote, something that was not known to voters, and renders someone unfit for the presidency. That's a very high bar. And the framers never intended for the electors to be sort of second- guessers to look at this de novo and elect whoever they wanted.

GIGOT: Otherwise, the question would be, why hold an election at all?  Let's go to the 538. Or the election is merely -- it's merely some advice to the electors who are the real priesthood, who will elect the president.

RAGO: One point is the framers designed the Electoral College to insulate the electors from political pressure. Now you have the exact opposite of that, where you have a coordinated, concerted lobbying campaign to browbeat and intimidate these electors into voting for somebody else.

Some of these GOP electors have received tens of thousands of calls and e- mails besieging them to become unfaithful to the elector.

GIGOT: Dan I've gotten a lot of those in my inbox. I'm not on the Electoral but I think I'm on the e-mail list.

(LAUGHTER)

So, I'm getting a lot of those requests. How about you?

HENNINGER: Yeah, I am, too. No reply at this end.

(LAUGHTER)

Paul, this whole effort would be a laughing stock, beyond the one it already is, if it weren't for the fact that John Podesta said on behalf of the Clinton campaign that they would support this effort.

So, we have to understand what is going on here. They are attempting to undermine the Electoral College as a part of I think the larger strategy to undermine the idea of federalism, the idea that, if the 50 states have anything to say, either about electing presidents, they would prefer a national referendum, or about ordering American public policy.

I mean, it's very telling that Donald Trump appointed Attorney General Pruitt of Oklahoma as his EPA commissioner when Pruitt was the one suing the EPA for trying to impose regulations on the state. So, it's all of a piece with trying to demote the states and turn policy over to the party's intellectual elite in Hollywood.

GIGOT: James, what would be the consequence if the electors denied him 270 votes?

TARANTO: Unless they switch over to Hillary Clinton, it would be to send the election to the House with the top three finishers. The House is controlled by Republicans, mostly from states that Trump carried. So, it would be very likely that Trump would win the election anyway.

GIGOT: But you don't expect that to happen?

TARANTO: No. I think this whole effort is something like that wonderful dialogue in "Animal House," "This situation calls for really a stupid and futile gesture on somebody's part and we're just the guys to do it."

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: So it's really just a lot of noise. All right.

Still ahead, another Goldman Sachs executive joining Donald Trump's team.  What does his new top economic adviser believe, and what will be his approach to growing the economy? We'll ask former Trump adviser, Steve Moore, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: My administration will be focused on three very important words, jobs, jobs, jobs.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Donald Trump in Wisconsin Tuesday promising to make jobs his top priority when he takes office in January. The president-elect continued to roll out his economic team this week announcing he'll appoint Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn to chair the White House National Economic Council. Cohn is Trump's third Goldman Sachs hire, joining treasury secretary pick, Steve Mnuchin, and chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon.

Steve Moore is an economist at the Heritage Foundation. He served as a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Welcome, Steve. Good to see you again.

STEVE MOORE, ECONOMIST, HERITAGE FOUNDATION & FORMER DONALD TRUMP SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISOR: Hi, Paul.

GIGOT: Donald Trump, I recall, and you may, too, ran against Goldman Sachs' ties to Hillary Clinton in the election campaign. Yet, here he is picking Goldman Sachs alumni or one current member of the Goldman Sachs hierarchy for his economic adviser. What do you make of that?

MOORE: It is interesting how the Goldman Sachs people seem to infiltrate almost every administration, whether they're Democrats or Republicans --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Interesting word, "infiltrate."

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: They seem to come out of these administrations smelling like a rose.

But I will say this, when you look at the Trump cabinet so far, from the perspective of free market people and conservatives, you have to give very high marks. The people like Andy Puzder in at the Labor Department, Elaine Chao at Transportation, Pruitt at EPA, who is like Darth Vader for the environmental groups, these are top people.

There was a bit of a surprise when Gary Cohn was named the head of the National Economic Council. He's someone I know very little about, so I can't really tell you much about his policy views or his politics because he's a bit of a tabular asset to a lot of us.

GIGOT: That's the issue. Goldman Sachs, the economic team at Goldman Sachs, their economic advisers, that's a hot house of Keynesian economics.  They think government spending is the key driver of growth. They're down on tax cutting, for example. They don't care -- they don't think regulation is a real problem.

I agree with you. We looked and we couldn't find where Gary Cohn had a lot on the public record about where he stands on public policy. And you're telling us you don't know either.

What about Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary? Is he somebody you know more about?

MOORE: I do. I have gotten to know Steve. When Larry Kudlow and I were working with Donald Trump to put the tax plan together, Steve Mnuchin was at the table with us every step of the way. I have a great deal of admiration for Steve. He's a supply sider. He gets --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: He is a supply sider? OK.

MOORE: I believe so. So, he's a very smart guy.

I think where Donald Trump needs to fill in the gaps at this point, Paul, when you talk about his economic team, the senior economic people like Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, they're not people that Paul Ryan or the any of the congressional leaders know very well. They don't know much about him either. So, I think that Trump is going to have to pick someone at his council of economic advisers, someone like Larry Kudlow, perhaps, who is in the mix, who does have the relationships with the Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's, who they trust and have long relationships with, to carry the message of how to get the tax bill done, do the deregulation, the energy policy. That's the one piece of the puzzle missing right now.

GIGOT: You mentioned this week, at an event in Michigan, that Larry Kudlow was in the mix, would maybe be chosen. You say it's not settled yet, but he is in the mix. Is that a real possibility? A live possibility --

MOORE: Oh, yes.

GIGOT: -- that he could get --

MOORE: That is a very real possibility. I think Donald Trump wants him as some kind of economic spokesman for this administration. Who better than Larry to carry that torch?

But there is going to b --, Paul, I sense a little bit of tug of war in this administration between the traditional Republican supply side free traders and the more protectionist wing of the Trump camp. I think it's important for Trump to have both views at the table, at the very least, so he can have the argument of dealing with NAFTA and the Asian trade deal and so on, so the free trade and the more protectionist views are presented at the table.

GIGOT: Do you know where Mnuchin and Cohn stand on the trade issue?

MOORE: I don't know about Cohn. But Mnuchin is a free trader. There's no doubt about it. He gets the importance of comparative advantage and the fact that America benefits so much from our international trade situation.

Look, I do think some parts of NAFTA are going to be renegotiated, something Trump made a big deal about in the campaign. I think TPP, the Asian trade deal, is going to be renegotiated as well. But that doesn't mean it's going to be ripped up and thrown asunder. I think you'll see tougher negotiating, especially with China, when it comes to the issue of trade.

GIGOT: Briefly, Steve, not a lot of time, but do you agree tax reform is going to be the number-one priority on economics of both the Trump administration and the House Republicans?

MOORE: Yeah, I do think so. It's between that, Paul, tax reform and the repeal of Obamacare. I think he can do both at the same time.

I would love to see a tax bill passed and signed into law as a jobs program within the first 150 days of this administration. I think he can get it done. I think he can get it done, Paul, with some Democrats on board as well. We know lower tax rates for our businesses will bring a lot of capital back to the United States, and that means jobs.

GIGOT: I think that's an optimistic timetable, but we'll watch and see if you're right.

(LAUGHTER)

All right, still ahead, as Nevada's Harry Reid says good-bye to the Senate after 30 years, could Donald Trump's energy secretary say hello to the long-blocked nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Harry Reid delivered his farewell speech last week signaling the end of his 30-year tenure there, the final 12 as Democratic leader. Reid's legacy marked by more than one bare-knuckle political fight, but none more hard fought than against the nuclear waste repository in his home state of Nevada at Yucca Mountain. So, could the long-stalled plan get a second look President-elect Donald Trump and his pick for energy secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry?

We're back with Dan Henninger, Kate Bachelder Odell, James Taranto and Joe Rago.

Joe, what is Harry Reid's main legacy?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think he's the most consequential Democratic Senator since LBJ. He pushed through a very ambitious social agenda. He was ruthless in the use of political power. But unlike LBJ, his league see is going to be even less, because most of what he did was unpopular and he made procedural changes in the Senate that will make it easier to get rid of everything he passed, especially in the first years of the Obama administration.

GIGOT: James, the nominees, in particular, he blew the filibuster away for --

JAMES TARANTO, BEST OF THE WEB COLUMNIST: Everything except for Supreme Court justices.

GIGOT: That's going to make it easier for Donald Trump to get all his nominees through.

TARANTO: Right. Ironically, the result of what Schumer did in 2013 is make life miserable for the next four years --

GIGOT: You mean what Reid did?

TARANTO: What Reid did -- I beg your pardon -- in 2014, to make life miserable for Chuck Schumer, the incoming minority leader, for the next four years. The minority leader of the Senate used to be one of the most powerful positions in Washington when the president was of the other party, because the Senate has a great deal of power to obstruct. Reid took a lot of that away and set a precedent by which, at some point, Republicans could take more of it away, which will make it a lot harder for Schumer to block President Trump's agenda.

GIGOT: Kate, let's talk about Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste repository. Reid and Obama, I think, and I believe, and my reporting suggests this, did a bargain at the beginning of the administration: Mr. President, I'll represent you and the Senate, I will block everything and try to get as little as possible that you have to veto on your desk, if you appoint people to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who will stop Yucca Mountain.

What is going to happen now as we go ahead?

KATE BACHELDER ODELL, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Recall, Paul, also, that utility companies paid more than $20 billion for services that were never rendered and were eventually found in court for -- for never taking the nuclear waste as agreed to.

GIGOT: Those fees were for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

ODELL: Right. Rick Perry will have an opportunity to look at this. If the issue is, for lack of a better word, radioactive among voters in Nevada, so both Senators will surely try to stop it. It's not clear, thanks to Harry Reid, they'll have much to do about it.

GIGOT: You still have to do something about nuclear waste, which is building up at multiple sites around the country. It's still a problem.  It's been declared a safe spot. That, is the repository there is safe, not a threat to the environment.

So, what would your recommendation be to Secretary Perry?

ODELL: My first recommendation is he name it the Harry Reid Memorial Nuclear Waste Repository in Harry Reid, Nevada.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Not bad. But go ahead with it, as well this.

ODELL: Absolutely. It passed all the requisite environmental and safety tests, as you said.

GIGOT: Dan, what about the tone of politics? Harry Reid was known for his nastiness? He said Mitt Romney hadn't paid his taxes. That turned out to be total fabrication, but he just threw it out there. I think he called President Bush a loser. Donald Trump calls other people losers. Reid and Trump, in a sense, shared some of that rhetorical excess. What do you make of Reid's legacy?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Paul, Harry Reid was snidely whiplash without the charisma.

(LAUGHTER)

He would have tied Mitch McConnell to the railroad tracks if he could have gotten away with it.

But here is the irony of his legacy, Paul. I think he contributed in great part to Donald Trump becoming president. And the reason why is, as you were talking about earlier, he obstructed a lot of legislation in the Senate. He was as responsible as anyone for Washington becoming into a state of gridlock. And what the voters in the last election wanted was change. They wanted Washington to function one way or another. Harry Reid was as responsible as anyone, along with Barack Obama, for Washington turning into a place that accomplished nothing, at least legislatively. I think that contributed in great part to Donald Trump becoming president.

GIGOT: Yes, he is particularly, I think, responsible for the Republicans taking back the Senate in 2014 because he made sure that all those Democrats couldn't make votes that differentiated themselves from President Obama. So, he may have been one of the greatest Republican Senate leaders of all time.

When we come back, as Aleppo falls, a look at President Obama's legacy in Syria, and what the incoming administration can and should do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The al Assad regime is actually carrying out nothing short of a massacre. We have witnessed indiscriminate slaughter, not accidents of war, not collateral damage but, frankly, purposeful, a cynical policy of terrorizing civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Secretary of State John Kerry, Thursday, addressing the unfolding catastrophe in Syria as evacuations begin from the besieged city of Aleppo.  Russian-backed Syrian forces have taken control of the one-time rebel stronghold. A defining victory for President Bashar al Assad in the five- year-old civil war.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn and Mary Kissel.

Bill, where does this leave the civil war in Syria right now with Assad's victory in Aleppo?

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: It leaves us in a very bad place. Assad is firmly in power. This is not leading from behind. This is hiding from behind.

We have John Kerry talking about the largest humanitarian disaster in the world, admitting the red line was a problem for U.S. credibility.

GIGOT: The red line from 2013.

MCGURN: From 2013. Which -

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: When President Obama --

(CROSSTALK)

MCGURN: -- given just to avoid taking action then. And ---

GIGOT: Just to rehearse this, President Obama said, if Assad uses chemical weapons, we will punish him. Then he threatened bombing. And then he said, no, we're not going to do that.

MCGURN: Let the Russians come in.

You have Samantha Power, at the same time, the woman who wrote the book on genocide -

GIGOT: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

MCGURN: -- to the United Nations. Giving a speech, attacking Iran, Assad Russia, saying have you no shame.

What about the administration? Where have been the principled resignations. Not John Kerry. Not Samantha Power. I think the ambassador to Syria resigned two years ago over this.

This a disaster that could have been avoided. And it's a disaster that would not have been possible in this scale without the Russians.

GIGOT: Mary, people criticized President Bush for intervening in Iraq and said this is what happens when you intervene willy-nilly where we shouldn't be. Syria is the consequence of not intervening.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Of retreat, exactly.

GIGOT: Of abdication.

KISSEL: Yes, it is. The scale of humanitarian disaster, Paul, is just extraordinary. It's gruesome. It's a country with 23 million people, and you almost half a million killed, and more than 12 million displaced. And even with Assad retaking the city of Aleppo with Russia and Iran's help, that doesn't mean the civil war is over.

GIGOT: Right.

KISSEL: You still have Kurds fighting. You still have Sunnis fighting.  And you also have the United States pushed out of the way. Russia, for instance, doing this evacuation, quote, unquote, "deal with Turkey." They said, we don't have to talk to the United States anymore, they just don't matter.

So, what's the legacy of Obama in Syria? It's not just this slaughter, which is essentially Obama's Rwanda. It is the empowerment of our enemies, the abandonment of our allies, and it's really a signal to the rest of the world, not just to people like Assad and Putin and Rouhani, but to the Xi Jinpings of the world. America has retreated and we'll let you do what you may to your population.

GIGOT: Dan, it's also led to the refugee crisis in Europe. Refugees in that part of the world, Syria, in particular, also Libya, but Syria have flooded into Europe and discombobulated that politics. And I understand John Kerry's fury. I think it's appropriate. And yet, we -basically, he's admitting we have no leverage to do anything about it because we're not willing to act.

HENNINGER: Yeah. This is discrediting of the Obama foreign policy model.  Every presidency comes in there with an idea of how to conduct foreign policy. Obamas was that he could move mountains with diplomacy. He would cite the Iranian nuclear deal as an example of diplomacy working, setting aside whether that's true or not. He then, after establishing the red line with Bashar al Assad over the use of chemical weapons, did the diplomatic deal with Vladimir Putin to disarm Assad's chemical weapons. In the eventuality, what he ended up getting was Assad and Putin bombing Aleppo back to the stone age. And it was a result of the diplomacy abjectly failing under those circumstances. So, we know at this point that diplomacy alone is not going to solve that problem in the Middle East.

GIGOT: We've got Donald Trump now coming in. He has talked as recently as this week about creating safe zones, Bill, in Syria. Which, to do that, would require either a deal with Russia somehow or the intervention by the United States alone. What do you think --

(CROSSTALK)

MCGURN: More forces, right?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: And he doesn't want to do that.

MCGURN: Right. I think this is the challenge for Donald Trump. I think he's projected a policy of strength more than President Obama, but I think, at the same time, he sometimes implied it's a matter of going in and bombing ISIS, we can do this quickly and so forth, we shouldn't go around to look to invade countries. I don't think we are looking to invade countries. But the challenge is going to be pretty broad. I'm more hopeful the people he's brought in, General Mattis and so forth, pretty steely eyed about this, and know where the problems are going to be.

Look, the thing about Syria and the Obama policy is that this tiny country has caused so much destabilization, not only for its neighbors, but Europe, and so forth. We want to make sure that doesn't expand to the rest of the Middle East.

GIGOT: All right, Bill, thank you very much.

Thanks, Mary.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Mary, you're first.

KISSEL: I'm giving a big miss to Facebook, which this week said it was going to start cracking down on fake news, because I guess you can't trust the average Facebook user to distinguish fact from fiction. And I guess our social media now has to be a safe space like our college campuses. But I think the more ominous sign here, Paul, is some of the media organizations that Facebook is pointing to as neutral arbiters aren't neutral at all. Media outlets like Associated Press or snopes.com or Politifact. They're not neutral. They are left-leaning media outlets.  And this is a slippery slope leading to censorship.

GIGOT: Bill?

MCGURN: Paul, a big fat miss to the politically correct officials at the United Nations for dropping Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for women and girls. It did so after a petition complained that Wonder Woman is too white and too curvy and too underdressed to be a fit role model. As a writer at the very sensible Independent Women's Forum put it, they're body shaming Wonder Woman.

(LAUGHTER)

This is the most popular comic female superhero of all time. She helped us win World War I. And plainly, the United Nations has issues with strong women.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Kate?

ODELL: This is a hit for Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. This week, he announced he's stepping down. He has run one of the most economically destructive agencies in the Obama administration. I know it's stiff competition. But his legacy includes treating the Internet like an 1890s railroad, as a public utility. He had been coy about whether or not he would step down when Trump took office.  So, it's great news he's leaving town.

GIGOT: All right, thank you, Kate.

And, Dan, wrap it up for us.

HENNINGER: All right. A big holiday hit to America's teenagers. The big Monitoring for the Future survey of 50,000 high school students found illicit drug use is at its lowest level by teenagers since the early 1990s.  That also includes all drugs, marijuana and alcohol. Nobody quite knows what's going on here, but I do recall that there was a woman back then, Nancy Reagan, who said, "Just say no". Maybe it works.

GIGOT: I don't know if they've included Boulder and Denver in that survey.

(LAUGHTER)

Maybe not.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. Thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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