Can America still influence events abroad?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 3, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the tide of war rises around the world, and the U.S. struggles to respond. Can America still influence events abroad?

Plus, the House votes to sue President Obama over executive actions. But is the White House really hoping for an impeachment vote instead?

And the battle over teacher tenure comes to New York State. We'll talk to one of the forces behind the latest reform challenge.

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

Well, the tide of war continued to rise this week along with doubt about whether the U.S. can still influence events abroad. In the Middle East, Israel roundly rejected Secretary of State John Kerry's botched attempt at brokering a cease-fire last weekend, calling up 16,000 reserve troops and promising to finish its mission in Gaza. And as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, growing evidence of Russia's direct involvement in the conflict led to the announcement of a new round of sanctions. A reminder, President Obama said Tuesday, that the United States means what it says when it comes to standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.

"Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, join me with more.

Matt, the president and White House hailed the sanctions, the E.U.'s tougher sanctions this week against Russia, saying the world is united against Russia, but Putin isn't backing down. Why not?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Because Putin has too much on the line already. I think this actually was a breakthrough in sanctions. Unfortunately, it came five months into this crisis.

Another important thing is that the U.S. is still playing we're going to lead from behind. We want the E.U. to act first, and we're always going to act second. I think Putin has not seen the full resolution of the U.S. either with the full extent of the sanctions, but nor with the commitment to help he Ukrainians defend themselves by arming them or giving them --


GIGOT: OK, but let's talk about Putin, first. You said he's got too much at stake. What is it at stake for him -- because it's not his country. It's Ukraine. He's helping these separatists. Why can't he just back down from that?

KAMINSKI: I think Putin believes that his own survival depends on him not losing in Ukraine.

GIGOT: How so?

KAMINSKI: That if he were to give up, to cut loose these Russian-backed rebels, that he has spent months now saying that, in Ukraine, you have a fascist regime which is going after ethnic Russians, we are defending our interests, we are recreating the Great Russia that you all once knew. For him to step back from that, he makes himself vulnerable at home to a backlash. There's very little to go on in Russia. There's no growth. There's no more modernization. So Putin is not the Great Russian tsar, then what is he?

GIGOT: And nationalism is his real source of legitimacy. It has been economic growth, particularly oil-based growth. But as that falls, if it does, that nationalism is the only legitimacy he has.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, that's right, Paul. But I think he also understands that the sanctions -- sure, we're together this week, but how long will we be together? When the United States sanctioned Iran, it was really hard to hold the Western countries together to comply with those sanctions. And so far, you do not see the United States organizing the Western powers to maintain -- there's going to be pain. There's going to be costs. And --


GIGOT: Economic costs.

HENNINGER: Economic costs. And the United States has given no evidence that it is willing to lead in that sense and say we will take some of these costs as well. For instance, that French warship, the Minstrel-Class warship that France insists on selling to the Russians, the United States should be finding a way to absorb those costs for France, but they're doing nothing like that. So sanctions are easily broken. And I think Putin understands that if he waits them out, it will start to erode around the edges.

GIGOT: Let's turn to Gaza, Matt. John Kerry's cease-fire attempt really blew up this week.


GIGOT: Yeah. His struggled to triumph. Why does the U.S. Have too little leverage. it seems, even over Israel?

KAMINSKI: Because we've actually have been so negligent for the last five years in the Middle East. The Israeli's have very little to -- don't rely on us. They don't see us as a reliable ally.

GIGOT: Why is it? You're saying they don't trust us?

KAMINSKI: They don't trust this administration. Because we've been trying to play equal, sort of honors brokers, saying that Hamas has the same rights as Israel does. We have not been backing our allies. And not just Israel. This holds true for the Arab allies that actually don't want Hamas to --


GIGOT: But here's what the White House would say. They would say, you're crazy, we're as solid behind this Israel as in administration has ever been. We've backed them at every crucial interval. We're continuing to say they have the right to defend themselves. Where is this lack of support and revolve?

KAMINSKI: It comes in -- last weekend, when John Kerry went to the region and proposed a cease-fire plan that was widely rejected by Israel as basically handing Hamas a victory. They came back later in the week with a 72-hour plan that fell apart within hours because that was not a plan that Israel needs to change the status quo in Gaza. We are trying to maintain the status quo in Gaza. And I think that's where the fundamental conflict is.


GIGOT: Go ahead, Dan.

HENNINGER: Well, the United States, the goal is, and whether it's in Ukraine or here or in the Middle East, is to stop the bloodshed. That's what the president himself keeps saying. This government, the White House and State Department, have stopped thinking strategically. Of course, you want to stop bloodshed, but you want to arrange things in the region, whether in Eastern Europe or in the Middle East, so that you can sustain a peace going forward. Those countries all have self-interests and they're going to act on those self interests, which is what Hamas and Israel are doing. But the United States is proposing nothing that would suggest that they understand there's a larger -- a group of forces taking place in this region.

GIGOT: And in this context briefly, Dan, that would mean an Israeli military victory, achieving its strategic goals, destroying the tunnels, destroying the rockets, and reducing Hamas as a military force so that it emerges weaker, not stronger.

HENNINGER: Right. Especially because, strangely enough, it now appears that's what the other Arab nations in the region, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, would like to achieve.

GIGOT: All right. Thanks, Dan.

When we come back, the House votes to sue President Obama over executive action abuses. But would the White House and fellow Democrats rather see an impeachment vote instead?




PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Look, we've got --




OBAMA: They have announced they're going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So, you know, I -- they're mad because I'm doing my job.

I told them, I said, I'd -- I'd be happy to do it with you.


So the only reason I'm doing it on my own is because you don't do anything.


GIGOT: President Obama in Kansas City this week mocking congressional Republicans for their plans to sue him over what they say is an abuse of executive authority. The House voted Wednesday along party lines to move ahead with that lawsuit. But is the White House and its Democratic allies really hoping for an impeachment vote instead?

We're back with Dan Henninger. And Wall Street Journal Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel, also joins us.

So, Kim, on the left, they say this suit is a political stunt, and some on the right say it's just inadequate, so why is John Boehner doing this?

STRASSEL: Look, the Republicans got together, they thought about what actions could they take to go after a president who has been exceeding his authority, and they decided that one option was impeachment. But I think they all decided unanimously that both on the substance -- I mean, Paul Ryan came out this week and pointed out that the president's actions don't necessarily rise to high crimes, and impeachment should be held out for that situation.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: So on the substance, they did feel it was the right way. And on the politics, they didn't decide it was the right way. So the decision was made to put together a very narrowly crafted lawsuit that would go after one specific action of the president and sue him on behalf of the entire House of Representatives, so this is a thoughtful approach.


HENNINGER: Well, they're not just, as the president says, "mad at him." They are upset because the president's interpretation of the Constitution and the separation of powers. Article I comes is the second sentence in the Constitution of the United States. It says the power to make laws is invested in the Congress of the United States. Article 2, next sentence, says the president shall faithfully execute those laws. Fast forward to the Obama administration, and they have been rewriting laws, suspending them, or refusing to enforce some of the laws, for the Affordable Care Act, in the area of the Environmental Protection Agency. And so the Congress has decided we will be rendered meaningless if we don't protect our interests under the Constitution.

GIGOT: They're not suing him for doing his job. They're suing him for doing their job --


GIGOT: -- under the Constitution, usurping essentially their power and unilaterally rewriting the laws.

HENNINGER: I mean, most seriously, the president is trying to define Article I of the Constitution. And if there is not pushback, as the House is about to do, I think, conceivably, the president would get away with it. Successive presidents would then grab this power and use it in this way.

GIGOT: A lot of individual members of Congress over the years, mostly Democrats against Republican presidents, have sued on specific policy actions, and they've lost. The courts have said, look, you don't have standing because this is a political dispute. Why is this different, this one different than those failures?

HENNINGER: Because this is going to be an act taken by the institution of the House. They voted to do this, and so it is not a group of House members. It is the House of Representatives as an institution. And I think that probably is going to make the courts look seriously at the standing issue.

GIGOT: What is your response to those who say, you know what -- and there are some conservative jurors who believe this, judges that I respect, who say, look, the court should stay out of what is fundamentally a political dispute between the branches. There's always going to be tension between the branches. If the courts get in, then every time there's a dispute, the courts are going to be called upon to get in there and mix it up. And we don't want that.

HENNINGER: Yeah. I think the answer is that this goes beyond tension. This is a serious institutional dispute. What is going on is that the Democrats are trying to carry forward on what I call a post-modern, progressive legal theory that the Constitution can be tweaked and adjusted as circumstances allow, rather than letting it sit -- as true words of Article I suggest. So I think there is a real constitutional issue that's been joined here. I'm glad to see Boehner bringing this.

GIGOT: And it may end up going to the Supreme Court.


GIGOT: All right.

Kim, let's take up the follies, the impeachment follies. Why is there so much discussion of impeachment if, in fact, John Boehner has said it's not going happen, and you and I both know that it is not going to happen? So, what all this discussion about?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: So, here's the thing. About 5 percent of the conversation about impeachment, almost all the conversation about impeachment, coming from the right, is coming from about 5 percent of Republicans, radio talk show hosts, former politicians, who view this as a good personal business model to talk about this. They get more attention, a lot more viewers and listeners to their show. The other, the entire rest of the impeachment talk is coming from Democrats, because they view this as a good party fundraising tool. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was recently bragging that they had raised millions of dollars off of their warnings that Republicans were thinking of impeaching the president. They want the conversation to be here because, the more they can make this political fight about suggesting that Republicans have a personal issue against President Obama, the less attention there is on his actual substantive policy failures.

GIGOT: So, it's just not going anywhere. It's just more Washington atmospherics.

All right. When we come back, the battle over education reform comes to the Empire State, where a new lawsuit claims that New York's tenure rules violated students' right to a sound education. Campbell Brown is one of the forces behind that suit, and she joins us next.


GIGOT: After a landmark victory in California last month, the battle over teacher tenure has moved to the Empire State, where, this week, a lawsuit was filed claiming New York's tenure and seniority rules violate children's constitutional right to a sound, basic education by keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom. Seven families from across the state are the official plaintiffs in the suit filed in Albany Monday by the Partnership for Educational Justice.

Campbell Brown is a founder of that group and she joins me now.



GIGOT: So what are you hope to accomplish with this suit, which has already won at a lower-level court in California? Now you're taking it to New York. What do you want to accomplish?

BROWN: It was inspired by what happened in California, when we saw there was success there. And I think parents are feeling very frustrated by inaction in Albany at the legislative level to address these laws. They are so anachronistic. Tenure laws, and the protection that goes with them, it makes it almost impossible to remove an incompetent and, in some cases, an abusive teacher from the classroom. On average, it takes about 830 days to remove a teacher who has been found to be incompetent. And this is about shifting our priorities overall to the idea that when we make laws and we make policies around education, it's supposed to be about children. And that should be the driving focus.

GIGOT: But these inequality suits are usually brought because of unequal funding levels. That's what they been brought on in the past. What's the evidence that tenure and seniority creates unequal outcomes in education?

BROWN: So in California, what the judge found was is was having -- these laws were having a disproportionate negative impact on disadvantaged, poor neighborhoods, minority children --


GIGOT: Because the bad teachers end up in those schools?

BROWN: Right.


BROWN: So if you're a good teacher and you're highly effective and you're getting great ratings, the principals are recruiting you to other schools. They want them to work in schools where, you know, they're having less challenges to deal with, obviously. So, this is -- clearly, that's the case in New York. There's not, on the legal grounds, an equity claim that you can make in New York because New York's constitution, unlike California, doesn't guarantee equal access.

GIGOT: And this is not a national Constitution issue.


GIGOT: This is dealing with a state constitution?

BROWN: A state constitution issue. And I believe they will be, and we are hoping to support parents in many other states who try this, but it will be slightly different in every other state because every state constitution is different. Some don't even guarantee a sound, basic education or even a floor for what we should --


GIGOT: But New York does?

BROWN: Yes. And that's the language we use.

GIGOT: In California, I think the figure was over 10 year, 91 teachers, only 91 teachers were actually dismissed out of something like 3,000 who were considered to be performing unsatisfactorily. What's the comparable number --

BROWN: It's similar in New York. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of teachers who were removed were in the double digits. Over the course of a decade, each year in the double digits. And what happens is, it's so hard, there's such a burden on a principal who knows he has a teacher he has to try to get out of the classroom --

GIGOT: Right.

BROWN: -- that's not being effective that they don't even try. And it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And so they, you know, feel like they're powerless to do anything about it.

GIGOT: And the evidence the clear, if you are a kid, who has a bad year in school with a bad teacher, you are really far behind already, just one year.

BROWN: Yeah. And let me say something. This is not, you know, a silver bullet that's going to solve all of our problems, obviously. But it is part of the problem. All of the research shows that the single most important school-based factor in determining a child's success is the effectiveness of the teacher. Now, that doesn't account for poverty or what may be going on at home, but the school-based factor that can have an impact on that child is the teacher. And we have to try to get as many effective teachers out there as we can.

GIGOT: OK, say you win, all right, what is the remedy? What do you want to happen?

BROWN: So, the remedy is in the legislature. The legislature, as you know, is very influenced by the teacher's union, here in New York and in other places. And that's what's brought us to this moment, because people have been trying to change these laws and state legislatures for decades.

GIGOT: That's why you're going to court.

BROWN: So, the hope is even more than just winning this case. And that's why I think it's important to do it in other states. We have to begin a national conversation. We have to change public opinion around these issues, educate people around these issues. And that has happened in California. If you look at the recent polling on the general public, they absolutely think that tenure needs to go, that these "last in-last out" seniority rules, where seniority is the sole factor in determining whether or not a teacher gets laid off, if layoffs have to happen, people understand these laws are from a different era, and they need to go. And we need to educate people on the national level in order to put pressure on these legislatures to do the right thing.

GIGOT: But if you win in court and get a court order, then it's going to force the legislature to act and do something, presumably, with the governor and the political actors --

BROWN: Right.

GIGOT: -- to re-do the teacher's contacts, so tenure is a lot less restrictive than it is now.

BROWN: Exactly. Tenure -- not only tenure, but also the dismissal protections that the judge in California found to be not just due process, because everyone obviously is entitled to due process, but this sort of uber due process that makes it so hard where you actually have cases in New York, where teachers who have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with kids and kept their jobs after being found guilty, because the bar is so high. There's almost this criminal justice standard that you have to overcome.

GIGOT: Briefly, what's the political reaction so far? Getting help from the mayor and the government?

BROWN: Not a lot of support from the mayor.


The governor's staying out of it because he's in a re-election campaign, I'm assuming. But this is not going to be easy in New York, obviously. The union is extremely powerful here in New York. But we're going to make our case. And parents have been sort of left out of this process for a long time and they are going to have a voice now.

GIGOT: All right, thank you so much for being here. And we're going to follow this case closely. 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.

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: A hit to Eric Cantor for his graceful exit from the majority leader's office this week. When Mr. Cantor unexpectedly lost his primary, it would have been very easy for him to try to hang on until the bitter end. Instead, he announced the very next day he was stepping down as leader, allowing his party to swiftly hold elections and get on with things. He's also announced he's retiring from his seat early to try to get his successor to Congress more quickly. Washington would be a better place if there were more politicians who understood how to leave the stage with a little bit more style.

GIGOT: Here, here.


KAMINSKI: Paul, the biggest miss of the week clearly goes to Minnesota governor, former governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who, this week, won a $1.85 million defamation suit against a deceased Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle, the author of "The American Sniper," who was killed last year. It's a suit that alleges that Kyle lied about an incident that he punched Ventura. But Ventura, after Kyle's death went ahead with the suit to salvage his reputation, he said. This will do him no good.

GIGOT: All right.


HENNINGER: Well, Paul, I've got a hit for Mitt Romney. Actually, it's more like an infield single. There was an opinion poll this past week that said, if the election were held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama 53-44. He would even win among women. The bad news for Mitt, if he's thinking of saddling up again, is that Hillary Clinton beats him handily. I think the real loser here though is Barack Obama, who's fallen so far behind. If that approval rating for the president drops below 40 percent, I think the Democrats are toast in November.

GIGOT: All right, Dan.

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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