Are Democrats offering anything new heading into 2016?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 17, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST:  This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with Democrats giving her a pass on the e-mail scandal, is it clear sailing for Hillary Clinton from here?

Plus, after seven years of Obamanomics and a failed foreign policy, are the Democratic candidates offering something different or more of the same?

And the left's campaign to silence opponents continues.  A think-tank economist is the latest victims.  Will climate change dissenters be next?  
Find out after these headlines.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VERMONT & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.






GIGOT:  Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report."  I'm Paul Gigot.

That was Bernie Sanders Tuesday night in the first Democratic presidential debate, giving front-runner Hillary Clinton a pass on the e-mail scandal that's dogged her campaign so far.  But Sanders and his fellow Democrats on the debate stage aren't the only ones ready to dismiss the issue, with President Obama telling Steve Kroft, on "60 Minutes," Clinton's use of a private server didn't pose a national security risk.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can tell you that this is not a situation in which America's national security was in danger.  We don't get an impression that here there was purposely efforts to hide something or to squirrel away information.


GIGOT:  So is it clear sailing for Hillary Clinton from here?  Let's ask "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, you wrote this week that you thought that Bernie Sanders' comments about the e-mails were bad politics, despite the big applause she got in the room and a handshake from Hillary Clinton.  Why do you think that?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  It was political malpractice.


Look, you have -- Hillary Clinton was up there and was basically coroneted.  You had four other men who gave her a pass on her greatest vulnerability and a legitimate issue, by the way, for the public to understand what's gone on.  They were largely unfit to debate with her on stage about issues.  She ran circles around them.

You know, Bernie Sanders likes to talk about how he's in favor of the 99 percent.  And this is an issue he should have brought up for that reason.  She's a person that believes she doesn't have to play by the rules of the 99 percent.

GIGOT:  Here is an argument I think Sanders would make.  Look, the Democrats don't want to hear this.  OK?  There is no audience within the Democratic Party for this kind of criticism.  So it would hurt me if I did it.

STRASSEL:  If he thinks this progressive wing he's courting is going to elect him alone, and he's never going to be president.  It is Independents, swing state voters.  There are people that do have an abiding interest in what happened with Mrs. Clinton's server.  If he wants to win the race, he has to address it at some point.

GIGOT:  Clear sailing from here, Dan, for her?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR:  I think so.  The X factor is the FBI investigation.

GIGOT:  Right.

HENNINGER:  We don't know where it's going.

GIGOT:  I want to ask about that later.

HENNINGER:  But, by and large, I think the party has concluded that she will be the nominee and that, barring an economic or global meltdown, it probably is going to win the presidency.  I think they are making that bet as well.  You have to understand this is Bill and Hillary Clinton.  If you really get too far out in front in thwarting her past and the presidency, you are going to be punished by them and the Democratic Party.  They are stepping back.

GIGOT:  I think that explains why Martin O'Malley was so tender to her.  He wants a career, a future in the party.

HENNINGER:  HHS secretary.

GIGOT:  Yeah.


What about Joe Biden?  The conventional wisdom now is that Hillary Clinton boxed him out from getting in.  Do you agree?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR:  I think it would probably-- he may need another event, a new disclosure to have a pretext to get into the race but --


GIGOT:  Time's running out.

FREEMAN:  but I don't think he's necessarily out of it.  What that did is clarify for him the opportunity.  We have been saying it for a while --


GIGOT:   For the lack of opportunity?

FREEMAN:  Well, there is enough material out there for someone who has the will to go after her on ethics, on violations of law, the classified e-mail she kept at home, violations of the Federal Records Act.  If someone wants to make the case, it's there.  He now understands that's his opening if he wants.

GIGOT:  Is it there with Democratic primary voters?  That's my question.


GIGOT:  There may be in the general election.  I agree with you.  What about with Democratic voters?

FREEMAN:  Bernie Sanders obviously knows more about his voters than I do.  He's seen polls that we haven't.  But I think it is very unlikely that a lot of that idealistic vote he's carrying now has nothing to do with Clinton corruption, has nothing to do with people turned off by the dynastic Clinton machine and all of its weird alliances and fund-raising operations.  So I think there is still an opportunity.

GIGOT:  Kim, what did you make of President Obama's comments about the e- mail scandal, saying there was no intent, no national security problem, number one?  Number two, there was no intent to violate federal law.  Was that a signal to the FBI?

STRASSEL:  It was an enormous signal to the FBI, saying back off, don't go after the woman who was likely to be our nominee.

By the way, Paul, this is a habit of the president.  Think about it.  He did the same thing back when the FBI was supposedly investigating and supposedly is still supposedly investigating the IRS scandal.  It only took a few months after the revelations about the targeting that happened that he came out and was dismissing it.  Within a few months of that, he had declared there was not a, quote, "smidgen of corruption."  Now, there is no way for him to know, just as we assume there's no way for he knows about what has actually happened with Hillary's server.  This isn't him giving information.  This is him giving orders.

GIGOT:  Yeah.  How does he know what was in her mind?

HENNINGER:  He can't know what was in her mind at all.  Who knows?  Who knows what was in her mind.


But they are playing with fire here, Paul.  They start leaning on the FBI, the FBI at the level of the investigation, is not beyond leaking to the media what exactly what they have found on those servers, if they think they are being suppressed by the White House.  And Jim Comey, the director of the FBI, is in an impossible situation now if he got to the point where he wanted to conclude there was nothing going on.  People will think he was leaned on --


GIGOT:  People are going to think he was leaned on by the White House.

This will continue as an issue.  We'll follow it.

When we come back, from the economy to foreign policy, to climate change, what Tuesday night's debate revealed about the priorities of the Democratic Party headed into 2016.


SANDERS:  If we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy --


SANDERS -- the planet we are going to be leaving our kids and grandchildren may well not be habitable.




CLINTON:  There is a lot that I would like to do to build on the successes of President Obama, but also, as I'm laying out, to go beyond, and that's in my economic plans, how I would deal with the prescription drug companies, how I would deal with college, how I would deal with a full range of issues that I have been talking about throughout this campaign to go further.


GIGOT:  Hillary Clinton at Tuesday night's debate promising to continue the policies of the Obama administration and then some.  So are Democrats offering anything new headed into 2016?

So, James, the interesting thing I found from that debate about the Democratic Party, they think the economy is lousy.


GIGOT:  Time and again, they said middle class is taking it on the chin, that the rich are benefitting.  This is after seven years where they have held the White House.  Is that good politics?  Why are they doing it?

FREEMAN:  Yeah, it's odd.  You look at the performance here.  She talks about building on the successes, 1970s levels of people in the work force, slow growth --


FREEMAN:  -- slow growth in wages.

GIGOT:  She made the case also that inequality is terrible and growing.  She echoed that.  The others, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, the others said the middle class is just getting crushed.

FREEMAN:  Yes.  It's a fundamental disconnect where they are saying how much they appreciate what the president has done and want to take it further, while also saying the economy is terrible.  This is a message that I think they have to be careful it is very -- it was obviously popular in the room the other night with partisan Democrats, and the hard-core is no doubt on board.  For Independents, this will be a tough sell.  It raises a question of why she's going so far to the left.  After this debate, she may decide there is not much competition and now she can come back to the middle.

GIGOT:  The argument is things are lousy, but it's not our fault.

HENNINGER:  That's exactly right.  They've got to make that argument.  I keep saying, Paul, I'm convinced the modern Democratic party literally no longer understands how the private economy works.  It is a complete abstraction to them.  Their solution is more of the same, which is more state policy to force the economy to perform; Minimum wage, $15, more regulation, and policies like that.  How do you pay for all of this?  By taxing.  As Bernie Sanders said, he was going to put a tax on Wall Street speculation to pay for tuition-free college.


HENNINGER:  It's preposterous.

GIGOT:  Well, the French tried that transaction tax, in a different word, because it didn't raise the revenue they thought it would.

Kim, so where is Hillary Clinton differing from President Obama on domestic issues?

STRASSEL:  She's not in too many ways.  What's basically going on here is that this is also a bit of an excuse, and we shouldn't forget that.  The Democratic Party has moved less under Barack Obama.  They want to be able to grow government even larger than it is.  They took over the health care industry.  They'd like to take over the energy industry.  So what they are doing is basically saying we'll give you more free, more government regulations, more control.  I think by talking about these topics, too, like global warming, it is a way of moving away from the message, as you were just expressing, this complicated message they have about trying to explain how it is that the economy is terrible and it's not their fault.

GIGOT:  The other thing I noticed, James, climate change is the new health care.  If regulating the health care economy was the priority in 2008, energy -- the energy economy is the target now using climate change as the method.

FREEMAN:  Yeah.  Again, this is why I think Hillary does have to wonder.  Beating these basically weak contenders on the stage --

GIGOT:  Basically?

FREEMAN:   -- doesn't mean that she's crafting a message that the whole country will buy into.  We heard recently from a former Obama campaign staffer saying, believe it or not, the Obama coalition was not that ideological, that a lot of the people who showed up normally don't vote were people who were excited about his candidacy.  She's going even further.

GIGOT:  But I have to tell you, if the Republicans do not, are not able to make the case in the economy, she could get away with it.

They make a huge mistake, Dan, Republicans, if they under estimate Hillary Clinton as a candidate.  She was very effective in the debate.  She'll have her message down.  She will try to walk this balance between making the case that President Obama has done everything he possibly could, and it's worked so well, if not for the Republicans in Congress.

HENNINGER:  I agree.  The basic factor is there is a great amount of economic angst state and angst in the public.  That doesn't mean the public blames the Democrats for it.  They are looking for an answer.  If she presents one that's more rhetorically convincing that the Republicans, sure, she'll get their votes.

GIGOT:  Kim, briefly, do you think Joe Biden will get in?

STRASSEL:  I don't know.  She looked very strong on stage.  She also boxed him in a little bit in that she's clearly looking for places where she can be different and he will not be able to, because he has to carry on the Obama legacy.

GIGOT:  All right.

When we come back, progressives step up their campaign to silence critics.  A think tank scholar is the latest victim.  Our climate change dissenters, next.


GIGOT:  Shut up or we'll shut you down -- that's the message from progressives to those who dare disagree with them.  Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren recently attacked a think-tank scholar who testified against the financial regulation she supports.  And following the lead of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a group of scientists sent a letter to the Obama administration last month urging them to investigate climate change dissenters under the RICO act, the statute used to prosecute the Mafia.

So, Kim, let's start with the RICO issue.  That's quite extraordinary.  Why is RICO -- this would be civil RICO, not criminal RICO, but, still, it gets treble damages.  Why is this so extraordinary?

STRASSEL:  It's extraordianry because, as you mentioned, this law was passed to prosecute the mob.  Now the left wants to use it against any climate scientist who they believe -- and the argument they would make is that, somehow, they are feeding the public false information that is damaging the public interest and so you, somehow, need to go after them.  So I guess the only statute they could come up to, think of, because this is just an outrageous prospect.  The debate in science is what makes science work.  As much as they would like to just finish this entire discussion, the fact is that there are a lot of scientists out there who continue to disagree.

GIGOT:  The analogy they want to draw, Dan, is to big tobacco, which covered up health care problems with smoking.  And they want -- the left claims that Exxon and other companies did the same with climate change.  But the climate change issue is really, the projections are based on computer models, not by actual evidence, not by actual evidence of what we've seen so far, that the world has, you know, warmed some in the last century, but can they really bring a RICO action against companies for that?

HENNINGER:  Well, just for the entertainment value, let's get on the table, RICO is an acronym.  It stands for Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.

GIGOT:  Yeah, it's the mob.

HENNINGER:  The mob.


HENNINGER:  If you're a climate change researcher and you're sitting there and they're shouting RICO at you, you're going to be heading for the hills.  It is intimidation, and this is what the left does.  And Elizabeth Warren has been at the center of it.

GIGOT:  Let's talk about Elizabeth Warren's case against Robert Lichten, the Brookings scholar, how did that go?

FREEMAN:  Right, she got upset because he was willing to tell the truth, which is that this new Obama reform of retirement systems is going to cost investors billions of dollars.  She was very angry when Lichten reported this research on Capitol Hill.  Two months later, she sent Brookings a note, saying, basically, I want information because I've discovered that he didn't adequately disclose -- his disclosures were vague about who defended it.  In fact, on the first page of the report that was delivered to Congress, it said that a mutual fund company had paid for research.  By the way, she has taken money from that same mutual fund company.

GIGOT:  Well, the Brookings Institution says, now, that has nothing to do with it, Robert Lichten didn't -- he violated one of our rules by saying -- by when he testified, identifying himself as a Brookings Institution scholar when they're not supposed to do that.

FREEMAN:  Yeah, I --


GIGOT:  Do you buy that explanation?

FREEMAN:  No, and this is why I mentioned the two-month lag, which is why it's relevant.  She's been carping about this issue for a long time.  Brookings knew that he had been misidentified in terms of the research was done as an outside project, not a Brookings project.  He talked to Brookings about it when it happened.  It was two months later when Warren started putting the pressure on Brookings that, all of a sudden, they seem to have decided this was a horrible thing he had done, and pressured him to resign.  So clearly, Brookings, a think tank, supposedly been an independent academic institution, caved to pressure from a politician.

GIGOT:  Well, and this is tragedy for the country if we can't have debate in the Democratic Party on issues like regulation.  Brookings has a distinguished history of scholars who have actually -- the led the fight in the 1970s for deregulating some of their research, deregulating the airline industry, deregulating railroads and other things.  It's a real credit to them as independent thinkers.  Is that era over?

HENNINGER:  It is absolutely over.  This is the new Democratic Party.  It's run by progressives.  They enforce internal party discipline.  Remember what happened to Senator Robert Menendez when he dissented from the Iran deal.  He got indicted by the Justice Department.  That is the only other person I can think of in the Democratic Party who has dissented from standard party policy.

GIGOT:  And he --

HENNINGER:  He's in trouble.

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


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

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL:  A miss to Barbara Bird Bennett, who was the head of the Chicago Public School System.  Mrs. Bird Bennett was brought in to clean up a system that is rife with waste and corruption and incompetence.  Instead, she's now looking at seven and a half years in jail after she pleaded guilty this week to being engaged in an enormous kickback scheme in which she profited to the tune of $2.3 million.  This is what parents talk about when they say they want more school choice.  They look and they believe there's a public education establishment that is corruption from the top to the bottom, and Chicago Exhibit A.

GIGOT:  Thank you, Kim.


FREEMAN:  Paul, this is a miss to minimum wage activists who always seem to pretend that forcing wages higher has no economic costs.  We saw Walmart announcing that it would raise wages, under a lot of pressure from these groups.  High fives all around among the activists and a big applause from the media.  But what happened?  This week, Walmart investors got smacked when the word came out on how this is going to hit next year's earnings.  That stock is now suffering an everyday low price.


And it shows you that there is a cost to this stuff.

GIGOT:  All right.


HENNINGER:  A big miss to the Obama administration's mental state.  So, look, last weekend, the big news was that Iran had tested a long-range ballistic missile.  Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, addressed this, and he says, we've got strong indications that those missile tests did violate the United Nations Security Council but this is separate from the nuclear agreement we just did.  This is schizophrenia and it's dangerous.

GIGOT:  All right.

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


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