This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 18, 2017. 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. A shake-up in the Trump White House this week with National Security adviser Michael Flynn resigning after reports of the transcripts of his December phone calls with Russia's ambassador were leaked and contradicted his claims made to White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, that sanctions were not discussed.
President Trump reacted to Flynn's ouster at a wild and wide-ranging press conference Thursday, defending his former national security advisor and condemning the leaks that led to his resignation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person and I asked for his resignation. He didn't have to do that because what he did wasn't wrong, what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information because that was classified information that was given illegally. That's the real problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and Deputy Editor, Dan Henninger; Editorial Board Member, Mary Kissel; and Assistant Editorial Page Editor, James Freeman. So, we've got a lot to unpack here.
But let's start with the issue of whether or not it was right to ask for Mike Flynn's resignation, James.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, I would say no based on the information we have to date. 70 years ago, President Truman signed the National Security Act preventing intelligence agencies from spying on Americans.
This conversation happened while Mike Flynn was a private citizen before he took office. So, I don't know why this isn't the story. Why was the government listening to his conversation?
GIGOT: All right. We want to get to that, but first of all Donald Trump said he fired him because he gave incomplete information to the vice president. If that's the case, can you - wasn't he justified in firing him in that instance?
FREEMAN: Well, there is a question there. (INAUDIBLE) they were discussing sanctions. And when the Russian official brought it up, did Mike Flynn discuss it or did he just vaguely say that they would have conversations about lots of things in the future?
But I really think it's important that there is not a constitutional or a legal requirement for Mike Flynn to always tell the truth to Mike Pence. I really hope that people start focusing on the bigger issue, which is what was he doing or why was he targeted.
MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I'm sorry. I have to respectfully disagree with my esteemed colleague James Freeman. Vice President Pence went on national television and told the nation that the issue of sanctions was not discussed between Gen. Flynn and the Russian ambassador and it's embarrassing to the vice president. He was misled. That in and of itself is reason to fire him.
Now, there's been other news that the vice president might have been willing to forgive him. That's great. He's a nice man. But when you go on national television and mislead the American public unknowingly, that is a firing offense.
GIGOT: All right. Then let's unpack this a little more and get to the other issue, which is, what about the ties between Mike Flynn and other Trump officials and Russians in the campaign? That seems to be the big issue here that could dog the administration going forward? And you wrote this week, Dan, with a question mark, is this Donald Trump's Watergate. What did you mean by that?
HENNINGER: Well, what I meant was, not so much that it's literally Watergate, but that it's beginning to be a Watergate-like atmosphere, which is to say, back then, there were a lot of anonymous sources writing about the Nixon administration. And what it meant is the Nixon presidency was thrown completely on the defensive. They spent all their time trying to respond to these stories, bombshells, alleging things that they had done.
Similarly, with the Trump presidency now, here we have Donald Trump at this press conference having to spend all this time talking about Mike Flynn. Presumably, the Trump presidency has an agenda that they want to - they have things to do. And if you get to the point where your presidency is always being pushed back by anonymous stories and the sort of undulating wave of negativity like this, then your presidency starts to get into trouble.
GORANI: Mary, what do we know so far? Just factual detail, the Russian ties with Flynn.
KISSEL: We know very little. We know that Gen. Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador several times. We know that sanctions were mentioned. We know Gen. Flynn did not disclose that to the vice president, allowed him to go on national television and make these statements and that President Trump fired him. That's what we know.
But there are a lot of known unknowns here.
GIGOT: There's no transcripts that we've seen. We only have reports from government officials telling journalists what are in those transcripts.
KISSEL: Exactly. Not only do we not - have we not seen the transcripts, we don't know the context of the conversation. We don't know if his phone was illegally tapped or if the government had a FISA warrant on him. Why didn't the FBI inform the Trump transition team before all of this came to light? There are a lot of known unknowns here.
HENNINGER: Somebody does know the answers to all these questions, which is to say the intelligence services. Look, if Mike Flynn was being investigated as a person of interest, then they had some reason for that. What do they have? Donald Trump should ask them to come into his office and lay it out on his desk, so that he at least understands what's going on.
GIGOT: And, James, Trump made a very categorical denial of any relationship with Russia between himself and as far as he knew, he said, any of his officials. So, he's out there on a limb now. That's contradicted and there's any real ties and collusion shown, that might be an impeachable offense.
FREEMAN: Look, I really think talking impeachment and Watergate is way premature. We don't know anything yet.
GIGOT: Of course, I'm saying we don't know anything, but if he's contradicted -- that's my point.
FREEMAN: But I think - this is where the press corps, normally, you would hope, when they see the government spying on a private citizen, instead of immediately saying, oh, he must've done something really bad, you would hope they would say this is kind of an extreme measure, let's see the goods.
I agree, President Trump should've been asking the same thing. I think this demands an explanation. And, remember, how over the last ten years, how much people have freaked out over metadata collections not targeting any individual, no content of the calls, simply the times and circumstances of calls. And here we are, everyone seems to be shrugging their shoulders that this citizen was spied on.
GIGOT: No, I think this is deeply troubling, James. I agree with you. And I think that the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, which are investigating the Russian hacking and Russians influencing elections, need to put this on their agenda as well.
Still ahead, tensions with Moscow rising as a Russian spy ship was spotted off the East Coast of the United States. Is Vladimir Putting testing President Trump and how should he respond? We'll ask Ambassador John Bolton next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you ask me, what am I going to do with the ship, the Russian ship as an example, I'm not going to tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Tensions with Russia are rising amid reports that Moscow has secretly deployed a new cruise missile, one that American officials say violates a 1987 arms control treaty. This, as a Russian spy ship was spotted this week off the East Coast of the United States.
President Trump was asked in his press conference Thursday if Russian President Vladimir Putin is testing him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I think Putin probably assumes that he can't make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal. I don't know that we're going to make a deal. I don't know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough - the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But, you know what, I want to do the right thing for the American people and, to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: John Bolton is the former US ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor. Welcome, John.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Glad to be with you.
GIGOT: So, we should say, put on the record first to our viewers that the Wall Street Journal, we have said, you would make a fine national security advisor for President Trump. Get that off the table.
Now, Mike Flynn, did you think he had to go once it was disclosed that he had not provided complete information to the vice president.
BOLTON: I don't think there was any alternative at that point. We, obviously, don't know what the conversation between Flynn and vice president was about. But if there is a breach of trust, it's not repairable.
I do think it's important to understand that the underlying conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak as far as has been reported was not problematic.
GIGOT: There's nothing illegal about that happening.
BOLTON: Or improper or unethical or anything else. So, what the purpose of the evasion or falsehood would've been is not clear to me.
GIGOT: But would it have crossed a line if Flynn had said to him to the Russian, don't worry about the sanctions, we'll repeal them?
BOLTON: Well, I think it would've been inadvisable to say that, but it would not have been improper. There's no allegation here that Flynn did anything to act as though Donald Trump was already president of the United States. That would've been a red line.
Every diplomat in Washington wanted to know at that point what the new Trump administration would do. They tell them some things. They don't tell them other things.
GIGOT: Right, OK. All right. Now, looking historically, just step back a bit, who do you think was the best national security advisor to a modern president?
BOLTON: Well, the most prominent was, obviously, Henry Kissinger because of his dominance of policy, but in terms of running the process, in my own experience, I would say Brent Scowcroft under Bush 41.
BOLTON: Because during the two preeminent crises of the Bush 41 administration, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of Yugoslavia - while we're on the subject - just a few things happened in that four-year - there was a lot going on.
And what Scowcroft did, I thought superbly, was manage a complex interagency process for a president who knew these issues intimately, but wanted to know what the facts were, what the arguments were, what his options were.
And I sat on the end of TV screens, I sat in meetings for countless hours during those four years, as did many others, and I just thought Scowcroft was masterful.
GIGOT: So, you need that honest broker quality, so that everybody who has a point of view at a senior level gets to make his case and say, look, Mr. President, you've got to think about this and that. You don't want somebody who's going to be too secretive and close off debate.
BOLTON: I think there's no perfect way to run this process, but the national security advisor, I do think has two preeminent functions. One, to make sure, on the input side, the president knows what he needs to know to make the best-informed decision. And then, on the output side, to make sure that when the president makes a decision, sometimes recalcitrant, even dissident agencies, carry it out.
GIGOT: So, he's got to also be an implementer? Or an enforcer?
BOLTON: And enforcer would be a better way to put it. Scowcroft himself famously reviewed the Iran Contra mess and made it clear the NSC should not be an operational agency.
GIGOT: All right. Let's turn to Russia. Is it unusual to have a spy ship off the American coast?
BOLTON: Well, it's unusual in recent years. But, look, it's in international waters. I think it's sort of putting a thumb to the nose. We do it too, not that I'm expressing moral equivalence, but everybody does this.
The real offensive behavior, I think this week, as you noted, was the deployment of this cruise missile, only one of many violations of the 1987 INF Treaty, this being the most recent.
GIGOT: Yes, this is a medium-range missile and that was barred by that agreement with much fanfare. You and I both remember that very well. What do you think Putin is up to here? Is he basically saying stop me? See, what - I'm going to keep going until you do?
BOLTON: I think that's exactly right. Look, they have been planning this, they've been upgrading their ballistic missile forces, their cruise missile forces, their nuclear arsenal under the New START Treaty that Obama signed and the Senate ratified. I think they are in effect threatening Western Europe with this. It was to safeguard Western Europe we agreed to the INF Treaty.
And, ironically, the only two countries in the world that are barred from manufacturing and deploying intermediate range missiles are ourselves and Russia, not China, not Iran, not North Korea. And Russia is violating the treaty. That means there's one nation that's constrained, us.
GIGOT: Well, Jim Mattis, the Defense Secretary, was in Europe this week. We've got a lot of security talks this week in Europe. And he basically said, in addition to telling NATO countries, you better start paying more for defense or the Americans are going to have some doubts about whether we want to continue spending as much as we are, he also really threw some cold water on the idea of a grand bargain with Russia. And he said, their behavior is going to have to change first.
What is your sense of the likelihood of some kind of bargain between Trump and Putin where Putin says, OK, I'll help you with ISIS, Islamic State, in return for getting rid of sanctions?
BOLTON: Well, I wouldn't make that bargain because I don't think it's - you've got equivalents there in the terms of what's happening. I think Russia's behaved objectionably in Eastern and Central Europe. I think it's behaving objectionably in the Middle East. And ISIS alone, as important as its destruction is, shouldn't give the Russians a pass on those Ukraine- related sanctions.
I thought Mattis did a good job in articulating the point that we expect the NATO members in Europe to pay more without threatening the end of the alliance. And we'll see more on that discussion this weekend.
GIGOT: All right, John Bolton. Thanks. We're going to hold the ambassador over for our next block. Still had, another early test of the Trump administration's foreign policy as the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is assassinated. We'll take a closer look at the threat posed by that increasingly unstable regime when we come back.
GIGOT: Another rogue nation seemingly testing the new administration with the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly assassinated this week, poisoned at an airport in Malaysia.
The bizarre episode follows last weekend's test firing of a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, a launch that coincided with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit with President Trump. We're back with Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel and Ambassador John Bolton.
So, Mary, obviously, nobody knows for sure who ordered the hit, but it does look like it could have been ordered - probably was ordered from Pyongyang.
KISSEL: Yes. I think that's a fair assumption, Paul. Kim Jong-nam was living under China's protection in Macau, and so it's significant that he was killed outside of Macau in a third country. He had made reform-minded statements. He was being protected by China as possibly someone who could come in and take over North Korea as China's puppet sometime in the future.
But, Paul, it's important to understand, North Korea's regime rests on bloodlines. This is a very risky move by Kim Jong-un to take out his half- brother.
GIGOT: And he previously killed his uncle who was potentially a threat.
KISSEL: That's right. And it's, again, important to note that the uncle was close to China. So, I think you are seeing a continuation of a theme here and you're seeing a leader in Pyongyang who perhaps is still consolidating his power even though he has been on the throne for years.
GIGOT: John, how do you read this in terms of the stability overall of the regime?
BOLTON: Well, I think it's extraordinary that they carried out this assassination in a foreign country. It's one thing to kill your uncle in North Korea. So what?
But I think it shows why the population of South Korea over the past several years has gotten increasingly nervous about the threat from the North and the erratic behavior of the leadership, thus strengthening our ability to deploy theater missile defenses, but also to convince the South Koreans to be much more worried about the North Korean nuclear program.
GIGOT: But there's a South Korean under an impeachment fight and the next president of Korea, the next year - elected within a year or so could be more dovish.
BOLTON: No, if anything, I think this shows you've got instability in the North and the South and, therefore, the risk of something going awry in a leadership contest in the North, while the South is paralyzed, is significant.
GIGOT: Dan, two missile launches since the Trump presidency began. How do you think Trump should respond to the next one?
HENNINGER: It's a real scorpion dance here with the North Koreans and how to respond to them. Look, they have got nuclear capabilities. As crazy as the regime is, they have the ability to build nuclear weapons and to launch missiles.
So, there is something formidable inside North Korea. Now, people argue all the time that the Chinese are the people who should be leaning on the North Koreans. And there is talk about sanctioning Chinese companies that do business with the North Koreans.
But Donald Trump also has other fish to fry with the Chinese. There is the South China Sea. There's the trade talks that he wants to take on with them. So, all of this is intertwined. If policy towards North Korea is going to include the Chinese taking action against them -
GIGOT: We've been leaning on the Chinese to help us with Korea for how long, Mary?
KISSEL: For years and - for 30 years. Look, you could return North Korea to the list of the state sponsor of terrorism. You could enact secondary sanctions as we did with Banco Delta Asia, a Chinese bank that was doing business with North Korea that we know that that really hurts the regime.
We could use the UN report on human rights and really push the rights agenda. We know that that really riled the leadership.
And we can encourage more defections. We've had some very senior defections in recent years.
Let's air drop notes into North Korea and tell them that we support them. We want them to have a better life. There are a number of things that we could do on a sliding scale.
GIGOT: Three administrations that I know of have done - tried the same policy of - they've tried many different policies. They've tried sanctions. They've tried engagement. They've tried bribery. None of it has worked. Republican and Democratic.
What should we do differently than what we have been doing to stop the nuclear program in Korea?
HENNINGER: Yes. Look, I think over a 25-year period, through different policies, though, it's been a consistent effort to negotiate North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. And that means 25 years of failure.
Year 26 of negotiations is not going to produce a different result. Therefore, you have to think of something larger than simply dealing with the nuclear program. And I have believed for some time the only real way to resolve this problem is to reunite the two Koreas. Now, that's not easy -
GIGOT: A regime change in the North basically.
HENNINGER: With China's help. And I do think that China does have the wherewithal through the oil it provides, the food and other humanitarian necessities. They fear a collapse in North Korea that would put American troops on the Yalu River. Conveniently, we don't want American troops on the Yalu River. We want them somewhere else. And China fears a human wave of refugees into China.
GIGOT: Yes. So how do we get to work with them?
HENNINGER: We could change their behavior, China's behavior. There are signs that many Chinese leaders understand what an ugly piece of baggage this regime is. Now, this is going to be hard. I wish we had started 15 years ago. We may not have enough time to convince China that their ultimate long-range interest is a reunited Korea.
GIGOT: All right. Thank you all. Still ahead, the left and right unite to take on a Trump cabinet nominee. So, what was behind Andy Puzder's fall? And will the president's labor secretary pick fare better in the Senate?
GIGOT: President Trump on Thursday announced former US attorney Alexander Acosta as his new pick for labor secretary, just a day after Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination. Puzder, a fast food executive, who faced mounting opposition from both the left and the right, pulled out of consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing after as many as a dozen Republican senators expressed reservations about his nomination.
We're back with Dan Henninger and Mary Kissel; Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor, Allysia Finley; and Assistant Editorial Page Editor, James Freeman also joins the panel.
So, Dan, what took down Andy Puzder?
HENNINGER: What took down Andy Puzder was timidity by the Republicans who were under assault both by the unions and more notably by the ant- immigration right, which said that Puzder was a little bit too sympathetic to the idea of bringing in immigrants on a legal basis to work for small industries and so forth.
GIGOT: So, now, legal immigration is a black bag. You can't favor legal immigration and serve in the Trump cabinet?
HENNINGER: As of the Puzder nomination, the answer to that is yes. And as that gets resolved, that's where we sit now.
GIGOT: How do you read it, Allysia? You were reporting this for us. My sources suggest that maybe some people inside the Trump White House were willing to say, yes, you can push him over and may have signaled to Breitbart and some of these restrictionist voices in conservative media that you can open season on Puzder.
ALLYSIA FINLEY, ASSISTANT EDITOR OF WSJ'S OPINIONJOURNAL.COM AND PRODUCER OF THE OPINION JOURNAL LIVE: I think that's right. I think he got caught in the crossfire between the union left and the restrictionist right. They used the fact that he had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper long ago against him, even though once he learned about her status, he had fired her and helped her procure legal assistance to become documented.
GIGOT: Right. But that attack from some on the conservative right did scare Republican senators.
FINLEY: I think that's right. They got - a lot of them got - as many as 12 got cold feet and they asked the White House be spared from having to take a vote on him.
GIGOT: The danger for Trump, Mary, shows Republicans don't seem to - in the Senate, don't seem to be all that afraid of disagreeing with him and taking down one of his nominees. And the White House didn't lift a finger really to help Puzder.
KISSEL: Yes, I thought that was interesting. You go back through the Trump tweets and there weren't tweets about Puzder. Lots of tweets about Ivanka, but Andy Puzder, well, you know -
GIGOT: He's only a cabinet officer.
KISSEL: He's only a cabinet officer. Who cares? I guess the loss too with Andy Puzder is that he was deep into the weeds of all of the really terrible regulations that were issued under the Obama administration.
Obscure things like the persuader rule and the fiduciary rule. Hundreds and hundreds of pages that really put a damper on business investment in this country. So, he could have done a lot of good. Thankfully, he's nominated a guy who, I think, is equally as qualified.
GIGOT: Let me ask about that James Freeman. Alexander Acosta, how do you feel about him as a replacement for Puzder?
FREEMAN: Yes. He's good stuff, an experienced Washington hand. Good pick. But I think this is a real loss with Andy Puzder and it's really inexplicable this lack of courage on the part of Senate Republicans because I know Donald Trump has said a lot of things over the last year and earlier that make it difficult for them to stand next to him.
Not so with Andy Puzder. This was a very well-informed, articulate critic of Obamacare, of the overtime rules that really kind of discourage ambitious young people who want to work hard and put in some sweat equity, a very articulate critic of the minimum wage -
GIGOT: All true, James. All true. But when you've got the left firing at him and the right firing at him and the White House basically marshals no defense, what are you going to do in the Republican Senate?
FREEMAN: I mean, you've got to shoot back when the left is firing at them. You know they hate him for all of these reasons we've been talking about, along with the fact that he serves up big hunks of red meat instead of - as he told Allysia Finley a few years ago, it's not a restaurant chain for people who want to eat nuts and bark. Everyone about this guy offended the left and that's why you would have hoped for a more aggressive response from Senate Republicans -
GIGOT: I think you're aiming at the wrong target. Senate Republicans, sure, they got weak-kneed, but if your White House is not defending your nominee, Allysia -- I talked to Puzder's people and what they told me is that if it weren't for Puzder's PR firm, you had nothing else.
FINLEY: Right. Nobody even (INAUDIBLE) any meetings with him and the Senators. There was no liaison or anything. They just let him hang out there to dry.
GIGOT: And this suggests to me, this is the sign - despite the fact that Trump says we're a fine-tuned machine, the White House, this is not fine- tuned or even a machine when you let your nominee like this to hang out.
FREEMAN: Well, it's only four or five moving parts. It can't be fine- tuned. But they're understaffed and they just didn't have the people in place to organize a support for somebody like Andy Puzder and that shows the inherent weaknesses of not putting the government together sufficiently.
KISSEL: Can I insert some sunshine into this gloom and doom. Alex Acosta is a very accomplished guy. He's been confirmed by the Senate three times. He effectively neuters every attack Sen. Elizabeth Warren is going to levy at him because he has prosecuted the banks that she hates and he's endorsed by groups like (INAUDIBLE) on the left that she adores. I don't think he's going to have trouble getting confirmed. And I think he will be just as pro-market - pro-free market rather as Puzder would have been.
GIGOT: Yes. I know Alex Acosta and I think he's a very good choice, Allysia. How do you read his background?
FINLEY: I would agree. I think the irony here is he's also been very supportive of immigrants and immigrant rights and increasing immigrant access to public services.
So, the restrictionist right did not proclaim victory here.
GIGOT: All right. Thank you very much. Still ahead, the fight for the future of the Democratic Party, playing out in the race for DNC chair. So, will the Clinton or Sanders wings prevail in next week's vote?
GIGOT: The fight for the future of the Democratic Party is heating up ahead of next week's vote for DNC chair. And after a contentious 2016 primary, the battle between Clinton and Sanders wings of the party is on full display with former Labor Secretary Tom Perez boasting the support of fellow Obama administration colleagues like Joe Biden and Eric Holder and his chief rival Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison locking up the endorsements of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Doug Schoen is a Fox News contributor and former pollster for President Bill Clinton. He joins me now from Los Angeles.
So, Doug, you wrote, I think it was this week that the party - the Democratic Party is literally on life support. Is it really that bad?
DOUG SCHOEN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It is, Paul. Look, we have been steadily losing offices, we've been losing statehouses and governorships in the last eight years. The state parties themselves are moribund and the strategy that the activist wing has taken, this resist Trump, is something that is bereft of policy, it involves demonstrations and frankly attacking other Democrats who have the temerity to want to even sit and listen and potentially work with the new administration.
I think, Paul, very simply it's madness, politically and socially and economically.
GIGOT: Tell us how you really feel, Doug. I want to get to this resistance strategy and what should - a little later. Let's get with the DNC chair fight first. Is this really - did I frame it correctly by calling it a fight between basically be the Obama/Clinton wing on the one hand with Perez and the Sanders/Warren wing on the other with Ellison.
SCHOEN: Yes. I think that's exactly right. Ellison opened an early lead. There are reports from the Perez camp that they've got 180 of the 244 votes they will need. Those are heartily and enthusiastically dismissed by the Ellison camp.
And the Ellison camp has literally been in the streets attacking Democrats who are opposed to keep Ellison and are willing to work with the Trump administration. And there is real possibility that the vote could be actively disrupted, which no matter who wins, Paul, could be a bad note for the Democrats.
GIGOT: But I have to tell you, if you look at the platforms of both of these guys, both of these candidates, it is Tweedledum and Tweedledee. There is no real difference fundamentally, it seems to me, between what they believe ideologically.
SCHOEN: Well, that's why I wrote in your newspaper that I thought the Democratic Party was heading in a calamitously wrong direction. I think if you emphasize redistribution over growth and confrontation over conciliation, you will continue to lose that working class vote in the Midwest that the Democrats need with 10 senators up in states that President Trump won.
The Democrats can ill afford moving to the hard left. And candidly, I see my party moving in a direction that is virtually unrecognizable.
GIGOT: Yes. But, look, why not - let's get to the point about resistance. The strategy does seem to be resistance. But if you are sitting in the House and the Senate and you're a Democrat and you watch the women's march on inauguration weekend and then you've watched what's happened with the Trump administration and the protests against him by Democratic activists, what choice do you have? How can you resist a base that is that activated against the president?
SCHOEN: Well, that is exactly what led people like Senator Schumer, the minority leader, to go from I can work with President Trump to say he's going to oppose virtually all his legislation and nominees. And in the short term, it makes sense; in the longer term, I think it is a very bad and destructive strategy.
GIGOT: But my point is - my question is, does Schumer really have a choice because if he goes in any other direction and starts to -- try to cooperate, isn't he at risk of being - having protests against him? So, if you are Schumer, isn't this the easiest path to pursue?
SCHOEN: Yes, it's the easiest path and indeed there have been demonstrations already outside his house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. But I am not convinced it's a winning strategy.
Look, when I worked for Bill Clinton, we took the party back to the center away from the left, balanced budget, welfare reform, crime control and we need a party that continues to reposition itself, not embraces activism and left-wing redistributive politics that is out of touch with the American people.
GIGOT: All right. But here is what I hear from a lot of Democrats. Look, the Tea Party strategy of 2010, which was a resistance to President Obama, that worked beautifully in 2010. We took back the House. We picked up seats in the Senate.
Why shouldn't the same thing work for the Democrats this time in 2018? After all, it looks like the Trump administration is having some difficulties and Republicans haven't put any victories legislatively on the table so far? So, why not go for total resistance?
SCHOEN: Well, because the voters in the ten states or so that are Trump states that Democrats have senators up and congressmen - as well congressional seats that are open and available for contesting, they are much more moderate to conservative.
This is a moderate to conservative country. And to just be in the streets with activism is not reflecting the base they are trying to reach, which is what did happen in 2010. The conservative wing of the Republican Party, the now Tea Party or freedom wing did reflect activists. I don't believe that working-class voters who voted for Donald Trump have a lot of sympathy with the so-called resistance wing and I think we'll see that two years from now on election day.
GIGOT: All right. Doug, thanks for being here. Good to have you. When we come back, after five years of drought, California deals with a fallout from this winter's record rainfall and its strain on the state's aging infrastructure. So, do Governor Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump finally agree on something?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Jerry Brown, Governor of California: I was very glad to see President Trump announce his $1 trillion infrastructure program which I fully embrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Infrastructure is profoundly important. And in our complex society, whether it's electricity or gas or water or roads or bridges, there's a lot to be done. And we're not talking about a few million, we're talking about tens of billions. And that is why I was really glad to see President Trump announce his $1 trillion infrastructure program, which I fully embrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: California Governor Jerry Brown getting behind President Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. After nearly 200,000 people in Northern California were urged to evacuate last weekends, fleeing the rising waters and crumbling spillways of the nation's tallest dam.
Residents of the community surrounding the Oroville Dam were allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday. But officials say the crisis is not over as record rainfall is putting California on track for its wettest winter on record.
We're back with Dan Henninger, Allysia Finley and James Freeman. So, Allysia, I thought that California was in drought and they would welcome rainfall. It doesn't look like actually the drought is over.
FINLEY: Look, the state won't declare the drought over because they want people to conserve. We're on track for the wettest winter on record. Precipitation is twice the average. Up and down the state, reservoirs are overflowing with water. So, they're having to release water, which they can't store because they don't have enough reservoirs. So, the issue right now, there's too much precipitation.
GIGOT: But this is a normal California weather pattern from my reading of history. It's a dry climate, but then - and you get to dry, dry, dry, dry and then suddenly you get these very wet seasons, very wet years which we've had this year and to some extent last year.
FINLEY: Right. It's a cyclical pattern and this is why they need to build more reservoirs. And farmers, in particularly, having to be pushing to build more reservoirs to store the water when you have these storm surges, so they can tap the water during these dry years.
GIGOT: And why is the Oroville spillway failing? I guess it's never been used in -
FINLEY: The emergency spillway hasn't been used since it was finished in 1968.
GIGOT: So, nobody really even knew if it would work?
FINLEY: It would work, right.
GIGOT: Is it is just an infrastructure failure or is this - in the sense that is this is a failure of the federal member, state governments to actually focus on the public works projects or is it something else?
FINLEY: Nobody knows. There's going to be an investigation. Nobody knows exactly what caused. It was relicensed in 2005. It was met all the specification for the federal government and state regulators. They thought it was in fine shape. So, nobody - environmentalists who say (INAUDIBLE) we need to be spending more on maintaining our damns, well, that's not necessarily the reason why this happened.
GIGOT: Because, James, this seems to be a question of priorities. If you're going to spend $65 billion on a train, a bullet train that is highly controversial between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you're not going to spend money on something else.
FREEMAN: Yes. I think this is maybe - it has to do with that old saying about how you want to be prepared for at least the possibility of success.
There was so much whining about the drought and perhaps they were believing their rhetoric that this was some sort of new state of affairs under climate change that here we are - this infrastructure that Jerry Brown is talking so much about, of course, you can't build it in California because when this emergency money goes out there, we're going to find endless environmental impact statements, years of lawsuits, people wanting to protect the delta smelt and other beloved critters. It's going to be a problem. Even if you now have some rising political will to make sure you have enough reservoir capacity -
HENNINGER: Well, speaking of political will, James, this is something we hope the Trump White House is following because they are talking about $1 trillion infrastructure bill. And what happened here gives you an idea of what will commence once that gets put in play. There's so much politics, so many environmental issues, local politicians who want things built in their backyard, people who don't want things built in their backyard, as a result, infrastructure never gets addressed. It's going to be a very heavy lift for Donald Trump.
GIGOT: And some environmentalists, Allysia, they don't even want any dam.
FINLEY: They hate dams. So, they're just blaming, look, climate change is going to put more stress on our infrastructure and dams. They're going to fail. We shouldn't build any more dams - period. And we should destroy the ones that already exist.
GIGOT: All right. So, who should build - who should rebuild the spillway because I assume that's going to get done. Federal government or California?
FINLEY: The state. The state has money. It has an $8 billion rainy day fund. What is the rainy day fund for essentially?
FREEMAN: Literally, a rainy day.
GIGOT: Yes, a rainy day. All right, we take 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. Mary, start us off.
KISSEL: Well, Paul, I am giving a hit to the Trump administration for reversing President Obama's policy of indulgence towards that criminal state to our south, Venezuela, and putting the vice president of Venezuela on the blacklist and bringing the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, bringing her into the White House for a photo op with the president and the vice president. I think it's absolutely terrific. Now, let's do more.
GIGOT: OK. James?
FREEMAN: Paul, this is a miss too. America's colleges and universities, as you know, they've been raising prices faster than inflation for decades. A big reason why student loan debt in the last ten years has gone from less than $500 billion to $1.3 trillion and now they are saying increasingly at a number of campuses they do not want to give kids credit for advanced placement scores that they do in high school. And I think we ought to be skeptical here because if kids are able to complete college in three years instead of four, obviously, that's bad for business.
GIGOT: And parents who want to pay less tuition. Allysia?
FINLEY: This is a miss to the New York City MPA. There was a new report this week that subway delays have increased by 150 percent in the last four years. Meanwhile, fares are going to go up again next week - next month. So, you pay more for worst service. How New York is that?
GIGOT: All right. Dan?
HENNINGER: Well, I'm giving my hit to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who is trying to hold the NATO alliance together. And he was over there saying they have got to step up and start spending the two percent of GDP that they promised. We spend 3.6 percent of GDP. That accounts for about two-thirds of all the spending in the alliance. And Jim Mattis said, look, if you don't it, we're not going to promise as Donald Trump has been suggesting that we're going to be able to be there for you. Good news is the Germans, the Danish and the Dutch all said publicly Gen. Mattis has a point, we have to pay our fair share.
GIGOT: Right now, Britain, Estonia, Poland and Greece and the US are the only ones who make it.
HENNINGER: That's right.
HENNINGER: All right. Thank you all. 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. And thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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