Bergdahl trade quickly becomes White House's latest political fiasco

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," June 7, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report", outrage over the Bergdahl swap grows as a short-lived foreign policy celebration quickly becomes the Obama administration's latest political fiasco.

Plus, the EPA's new climate rule puts the energy state economies in jeopardy, not to mention the careers of vulnerable Democrats.

And Republican voters nominate a real contender in Iowa, but set up a bitter runoff in Mississippi. We'll tell you what Tuesday's primaries mean for a GOP Senate take-back in November.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it, and I make no apologies for that.


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

That was President Obama Thursday defending the swap of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban detainees. What started as a celebratory announcement in the Rose Garden last weekend has quickly turned into the administration's latest political fiasco, with lawmakers from both parties criticizing the decision, and the White House engaging in damage control once again.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and America's columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

So, Kim, it's pretty clear, even though the president isn't apologizing, that they miscalculated the reaction to this, at the very least. Why do you think they did that?

KIM STRASSEL, "POTOMAC WATCH" COLUMNIST: Well, it's remarkable. I think they thought that they were going to go out, they were going to sweep the headlines from the Veterans Administration scandal off the front page, they were going to claim a big foreign policy victory. And they didn't want anything to get in the way. And so even though senior administration officials had to know that there were a lot of questions about Sergeant Bergdahl's past and his service, they decided to roll the president out with his parents in a Rose Garden speech. They sent Susan Rice out to talk about how he would serve with honor and distinction. And soon as the story started to come out about his real background, they were in big trouble.

GIGOT: But it's interesting, because it seems that some of the backlash here is as much about this idea they were promoting this and celebrating this as if it was a tremendous victory, with saying, for example, Susan Rice saying he served with honor and distinction. The issue here seems to be that they miscalculated that political oversell.

STRASSEL: Right. I mean, you could absolutely make the case. And there's a case to be made that, you know, we don't leave American prisoners behind.

They could have made that case. They could have said that, nonetheless, this was a hard choice to make, having to hand back five Taliban bad guys.

They could have put out a press release. It was the celebratory nature of it that really came back to bite them.

GIGOT: Is there a larger, Mary, foreign policy calculation here by the president that you see in all this?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Yeah, I mean, I disagree with Kim that they thought, you know, that the world would -- or the U.S. would celebrate this. I think they felt like, we can do whatever we want, and what we want to do is get rid of the prisoners in Guantanamo, end the war on terror, and continue this American retreat, which has been part of the president's agenda since he took office.

GIGOT: So do you think they figured this may actually have been unpopular, but we're going to do it anyway?

O'GRADY: Well, I think they had to. The only other kinder way of thinking about it is that the staffers at the White House and the people who are running this out of the White House had no idea he had deserted. I don't think they ever believed that you could make a case that going and trading a deserter for -- essentially, what were five generals in the Taliban -- made sense.

GIGOT: But, Mary, how is this different, what the president did than what Israel often does? They have traded, for example, a thousand Palestinian prisoners, in one case, for one Israeli soldier. Isn't there -- how different is this than that?

O'GRADY: Well, you know, I think the big difference is that the U.S. still has a lot more civil liberties and freedoms than you have in Israel when it comes to fighting terror. I mean, they're much stricter when you're boarding an airplane, and certain parts in their society are much stricter.


GIGOT: So they can afford to free the terrorists, is that what you're saying? And -- and --

O'GRADY: They have other ways of fighting their war on terror. We don't have those ways. You saw what happened with the NSA. There is a big uproar. Nobody wants to fight the war this way. Nobody wants to fight the war that way. You know, the Israelis will fight it using more covert resources and so forth.

GIGOT: Better prepared to be able to defend against five Taliban people, who are the Palestinians.

O'GRADY: Certainly are.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Another big difference, the recent Israeli case you mentioned, this was an Israeli soldier who was doing his duty, was basically snatched while on duty. The difference here is Sergeant Bergdahl had left.

Now, this idea of leave no man behind, I never served in the military, but my understanding is, this is a two-way commitment. It's a commitment that troops make to each other, and our government makes to the troops. I'm not sure this commitment holds once someone abandons their post. And at that point, if it's not a commitment, then why Sergeant Bergdahl? Why are we not trading these guys for the girls in Africa? Why are we not trading more prisoners for other people in Afghanistan that I think are being mistreated by the Taliban? So I think there are a lot of reasons. But the calculus of this trade doesn't seem to make sense.

GIGOT: Kim, what about the political backlash here? It's coming from both parties, and including some Democrats who say we should have been consulted in Congress. But how long-lasting is this going to be, or is this one of these tempests that's going to subside?

STRASSEL: It depends on the political side, right? So the Democrats, the senior Democrats are already saying this is a tempest in the tea pot, and, oh, again, this is yet again another example of Republicans trying to go after this president --


GIGOT: Yeah, but there's a lot of Democrats who are also criticizing this administration.

STRASSEL: There are.

GIGOT: You can't just say this is just Republican criticism.

STRASSEL: No, no, no. No, the more serious Democrats, people like Dianne Feinstein, who runs the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been very critical about the notification aspect, so. But the bigger issue, Paul, this is going to turn into -- especially in the House, this is going to turn into a discussion about what sort of power Congress has going forward over Guantanamo, what sort of oversight they have in terms of prisoner transfers, because a lot of people view this as President Obama's -- a big shot across their bow saying I can empty that prison if I want to. So you're going to hear a lot of discussion about, are there ways to use appropriations money to stop the closure of Guantanamo or to transfer more prisoners.

GIGOT: All right. Thanks, Kim.

When we come back, amid the Bergdahl outrage, a new EPA climate rule gets lost in the news. But it could mean big trouble for energy state economies, not to mention vulnerable Democrats heading into the midterms.


GIGOT: Well, he vowed last year not to wait for Congress to enact his climate agenda. And this week, President Obama made good on that promise with the EPA announcing a new rule designed to cut carbon emissions in the United States by as much as 30 percent by 2030, a goal that could spell big trouble for the U.S. energy industry and maybe the larger economy, not to mention vulnerable Democrats this November.

We're back with Kim Strassel and James Freeman. And Wall Street Journal

editorial board member, Joe Rago also joins us.

So, Joe, just to give viewers a sense of the magnitude of this, this isn't a rule that just affects power plants or businesses. It's going to affect every American as it takes effect.

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Right. This is -- what they're doing, in the past, the EPA has always regulated power plants, heavy industry.

Here they're going outside the fence line, which is a technical term, but it means these apply to the entire state. It applies to consumers, small businesses, basically everybody. So they say not -- not only cut back on coal-fired power and natural gas, but have all kinds of efficiency and conservation programs, more renewables. So it's really affecting the entire economy of the state and not just the power sector.

GIGOT: So it's targeted -- the first goal is get rid of coal. Is it fair to say that the administration's political goal here, economic goal, is to eliminate coal power from the U.S. economy?

RAGO: Absolutely. Coal accounted for about 50 percent of the American power supplies, recently as 2007. Now it's down in six short years to 37 percent, and still trending down. I think coal is really on the way out, except in a very few small instances.

GIGOT: But what about natural gas? Because some people say natural gas is more efficient, it's cheaper, it doesn't have as many carbon emissions, so that's a good swap. But it's also a fossil fuel. It's also carbon- emitting. So is that the next target?

RAGO: I think so. The environmentalists said, beyond coal, now moving to beyond natural gas. And a lot of the literature refers to natural gas as a transitional fuel, something that will be out of the mix right around 2030.

So this is really the goal to push that out, as well.

GIGOT: And, James, this is not going to have an impact the same across the whole economy.


GIGOT: This is going to affect certain states much more than it is the east and west coasts.

FREEMAN: Yeah. The places that produce a lot of energy use a lot of energy, often places that make things. Washington, D.C., not a lot of carbon there --


-- because they don't create anything there. But states in the west and the south, using a lot of energy, are hit hard. And that's -- you get into the political impact.

But I want to emphasize, this is going to hit everybody because it raises the costs of all the products we buy. The EPA is saying only $9 billion a year is the cost, but that's because of these energy efficiency measures, they're predicting a decline in U.S. energy consumption.

GIGOT: What you're saying is unlikely if we the want to have a growing economy. So if we're predicts these reductions in energy, you're saying that may be rooted in a very poor economic forecast.

FREEMAN: It's a very -- it is a very bleak forecast. And you look at where the economy is now, you look at the crumby job report, another sort of mediocre report we just got on Friday, the economy bumping along. This is not a job creator to say now we're going to find ways to limit energy use.

GIGOT: Kim, I want to go to the politics of this, because you've got -- you still have a lot of Democrats from energy-producing states, some of whom are up for re-election this year. And I --


STRASSEL: Lucky them.


GIGOT: Yeah, I'm fascinated by the president's decision to risk this politically this year when the Senate control could be in jeopardy. Why is the president and the national Democratic Party willing to take this risk right now? With this plan? They could have waited until next year.

STRASSEL: I think there are two things. The president wants to start putting into place right now whatever will be his legacy for the final -- the end of his term. And it takes some time to make this rule work. And if he wanted to have it and take credit, he had to put it in now. Two, he is under a lot of pressure from some very wealthy green activists in his party, guys like billionaire, Tom Steyer, to make more progress on climate.

And he wants guys like Tom Steyer to help some of these Democrats out in elections in this coming midterm.

GIGOT: All right.

When we come back, an update on the GOP's fight to take back the Senate.

Tuesday's primaries bring new hope for a Republican pickup in Iowa. But could a divisive runoff in Mississippi put a once-safe seat in jeopardy?


GIGOT: A clearer picture emerging now for the battle for control of the United States Senate with Republican voters in Iowa Tuesday giving the GOP a real shot at winning the seat long held by retiring Democrat, Tom Harkin, nominating State Senator and Iraq war veteran, Joannie Ernst, in a landslide. But in Mississippi, the outcome wasn't so decisive, with Tea Party favorite, Chris McDaniel, forcing six-term incumbent, Thad Cochran, into a late-June runoff and stoking Democratic hopes for a pick-up in that state.

We're back with Kim Strassel and Joe Rago. And Wall Street Journal

editorial page writer, Allysia Finley, also joins us.

So, Kim, let's talk quickly about Iowa. Joannie Ernst puts that state in play. Is that now a toss-up for November?

STRASSEL: This is suddenly now a good prospect for Republicans. This woman, she won decisively. It was an amazing example of what happens when you have pretty much everyone, the Chamber of Commerce, a lot of these Tea Party groups, everyone from Sarah Palin to Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney all supporting this woman. She got a lot of recognition out of it. Her name I.D. went up in the state. And suddenly, she is now a real contender to the Democrat, Bruce Braley, who is a freshman, and isn't necessarily well- known in the state, not necessarily well-loved.

GIGOT: Freshman member of Congress.

So now we've got a broader playing field, something like, depending on who you talk to, you get anywhere from 11 to 14 Senate seats in play, which really does make this the possibility of retaking the Senate very real.

Except there may be a problem with Mississippi. And talk to us a little bit about why Republican primary voters didn't want -- didn't seem to want to re-nominate Thad Cochran, the incumbent who has been there for, I think,

40 years or so.

STRASSEL: Well, this reminds me a little bit of the Dick Lugar race a couple of cycles ago --


GIGOT: In Indiana?

STRASSEL: In Indiana. You know, Mr. Cochran has been around a long time.

He's built up quite a record as an appropriator. And that's not something



GIGOT: A spender.

STRASSEL: Yeah, big spender, a big-time spender. And that just doesn't sit well in this sort of new, more modern, conservative party. And so it was inevitable that he was going to be a target at some point. He might have retired and opened the way for the Republicans to have gotten a good recruit. Instead, he decided to stay and now this primary has really split Mississippi voters down the middle.

GIGOT: So usually, when you have a runoff like this, the challenger tends to win because the incumbent figure -- he gets all the votes that he's going to get. And yet, there is a paradox here. The Democrats really want McDaniel to win. Why?

RAGO: He's given over to these kinds of fire-and-brimstone conservative speeches.

GIGOT: Former radio talk show host.

RAGO: Right. He's kind of got a history of some questionable comments calling Hispanic women mamasitas and so forth. And so I think the real danger here is that he becomes a Todd Akin or Sharon Angle, who --


GIGOT: Candidates from 2010 and '12.

RAGO: Failed candidates. And Democrats use their media megaphone to turn them into Mr. Republican, and tarnish candidates in races nationwide.

GIGOT: But they also have a real shot, Allysia, at this particular election, they think, if McDaniel is nominated on the Republican side.

They have a candidate in Travis Childers, who is a former congressman, legitimate shot at election.

ALLYSIA FINLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: That's right, a former Congressman, former blue dog, very conservative.

GIGOT: A conservative Democrat.

FINLEY: The Democrat, that's right. And Mississippi is not as perhaps as conservative or as --

GIGOT: As Republican.

FINLEY: --- Republican as many believe. In fact, Mitt Romney only won the state by 12 points compared to over 20 points in West Virginia, which has a Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin.

GIGOT: And the African-American vote is how --

FINLEY: You have about 37 percent of the voter registration is black.

GIGOT: And that -- if that turnout is big, it will go for Childers.

FINLEY: That's right. No doubt they're going to try to drive up the turnout, and perhaps by using some of his comments.

GIGOT: So what is the -- what is the -- what is the Republican establishment, the party, such as it is, Kim -- and I know it doesn't really exist as much as people think. But what are the Republicans -- how are they going to handle this one?

STRASSEL: Look, they're going to go out -- they have been backing Cochran very strongly. They're going to redouble their efforts. They've got about three weeks now. They're going to put a lot of money into it. And they're going to make the argument to voters -- their argument at this point is going to be we have a really important moment here, where we could recap at your the Senate. Cochran has a far better chance of being elected than does McDaniel. And, you know, if you want to keep this seat and you want to take the Senate, this is your guy. That's going to be their argument.

We'll see if it works.


Let's change to California, Allysia. Some interesting results this week out there. A very Democratic state now. Super majority in the legislature. But some Republican in roads in the primary suggests maybe they could make some gains in November. What happened?

FINLEY: That's right. Neel Kashkari, the Republican, former treasury --

GIGOT: Official.

FINLEY: -- official, he won, or he beat the so-called Tea Party Republican, Tim Donnelly, by about a few points, 19 percent to around 15 percent.

GIGOT: So now he runs against Jerry Brown.

FINLEY: That's right. A lot of people are discounting him. But that's

not really the main point. He's basically rebranding the Republican Party as a party of opportunity, economic opportunity, which it desperately needs.

GIGOT: And that will help the ticket?

FINLEY: Of course. And you already saw the GOP is making inroads with minorities in the legislative and Congressional races.

GIGOT: DO they have a chance to take back the super -- to deny the super majority this time?

FINLEY: I think the Democrats are really worried that they will.

GIGOT: That they will do that.

OK. All right, Allysia, thanks.

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.

Mary, start us off.

O'GRADY: Paul, as you know, the New York Rangers are in the Stanley Cup finals against some team in Los Angeles.


And this week, I want to give a miss to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who bet the governor of California, Governor Jerry Brown, on the finals on who would win the trophy. And if New York loses, he will send to California New

York: apples, wine, seafood, maple syrup, Italian sausage. And if New York wins, Jerry Brown will send to New York: brown rice cakes, lightly salted.

So it makes me wonder who Governor Cuomo is actually rooting for.


GIGOT: All right.


FINLEY: OK. I want to give a miss to the California Fish and Game Commission, which this week gave gray wolves an Endangered Species protection. They do not exist in California. They haven't existed in California for 90 years, but --


GIGOT: There might be one wolf?

FINLEY: There is one wolf that occasionally migrates back and forth between Oregon and he has just had puppies. And so they're hoping to repopulate California with his puppies.

GIGOT: Oh-oh. All right.


FREEMAN: He sounds like quite a wolf.


This is a hit to Nina Telcholz, author of "The Big Fat Surprise." Finally, someone telling the truth, pushing back against this government campaign against fatty food. So the good news is that meat, butter, cheese, all of the things we love to eat, are now back in a healthy diet for people who study the science.

GIGOT: Are you planning on celebrating that fact this weekend?

FREEMAN: I really never stopped celebrating.


The good news it that everyone else can now enjoy the fatty meat and cheese, which is a staple of my diet.

GIGOT: Yeah, and I should add, mine, too.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at And be sure to follow us on Twitter, @jeronfcn.

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 right here next week.

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