Elizabeth Warren emerging as face of the left

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 22, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," the president bypasses Congress on immigration, setting him on a collision course with the GOP. Can the Republicans respond before it's too late?

Plus, Democrats move to the left after the midterm drubbing with Elizabeth Warren emerging as the party's new darling. What it means for 2016.

And a gruesome attack on a Jerusalem synagogue elicits a tepid U.S. response. Bret Stephens on America's global retreat and the coming world disorder.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are actions I have the legal authority to take as president, the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me that will help make the immigration system more fair and more just. Tonight, I'm announcing those actions.


VARNEY: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Stuart Varney, in this week for Paul Gigot.

Well, he did it. Despite warnings from Republicans, and even some Democrats, President Obama announced Thursday that he'll sidestep Congress and go it alone on immigration, using executive action to shield millions of people in the U.S. illegally from deportation. Republicans on Capitol Hill are promising to fight the move. And some GOP governors are also even eyeing lawsuits. But are the president's actions really reversible?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; "Political Diary" editor, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

Dan, to you first. Is this reversible?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think it may well be reversible, Stuart, and I think it probably should be challenged in court. This is a president who has had an extremely unprecedented expansive view of his own authority. That authority was overruled 9-0 by the Supreme Court earlier this year. His interpretation of his appointment powers, his recess appointment powers. That didn't fly in the Supreme Court. This legal authority that he's citing rests solely on his interpretation of the phrase "prosecutorial discretion," which we're going to hear a lot about. If you read the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel memorandum defending this, which they put out an hour before the speech, this document is very ambivalent about whether he has the authority. Ultimately, it says he does have the authority but there are parts of it that suggest maybe it's not as expansive as he is conveying in this speech.

VARNEY: Quickly, time frame, if you try to reverse it through the courts, time frame?

HENNINGER: Well, it would probably take at least a year. You have states going to have to file -- it would be like Obamacare and getting the challenges to his interpretation of his authority to rewrite the Obamacare laws. Those two have been, in part, overturned by the courts. I think he's very vulnerable on this.

VARNEY: Kim Strassel, does this fundamentally change the way America is governed?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think Dan is right about maybe this is reversible through the courts. What is more complicated is politically. Because, look, what the president has done here is dictate terms. The White House keeps claiming all it's doing is encouraging Republicans to do a bill, asking them to send them something. But in fact, they have already said these are the people we're allowing to stay, five million of them. How do Republicans come back with any bill they give him if they don't specifically hue to the contours of the policy that he's already laid out? Would he sign that? So he is, in fact, telling them what to do. I think, too, the White House is not considered what this president means. If you were, for instance, to have a Republican president -- the Republicans are looking at this. They looked at the way they suspended laws and not enforced them. You're setting a precedent by which other future presidents could do a lot of things that Democrats wouldn't like. And I think it's a very concerning turn for the country.

VARNEY: Jason?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: He's done something he said repeatedly he could not do.


So he's made a reversal there. But he's not only defying Congress, Stuart, but he's defying the American people. Most people in the country want immigration reform, even of the type President Obama does, meaning comprehensive reform, but most Americans also don't want it done this way. The polls have repeatedly shown that. And the American people said that on Election Day in November when they gave President Obama a Republican Congress to work with. They want this done the right way.

VARNEY: But, if the Republicans oppose it and try to repeal it or reverse it, do they become the party of deportation? I mean I can see that --


RILEY: You're going to get the fund attempts. You're going to get attempts to override this. You're going to get governors suing. You may get nominees held up that the president wants to pass through. They will try this. And they have to be very careful as to not be painted that way or to avoid having the Democrats push that. Because I think that's what the president has shown here. He wants the issue. He does not want a solution. This is not a solution to the problems. It does not address the economic incentives driving illegal immigration. He wants this issue.

VARNEY: Kim, what are the dangers for the Democrats?

STRASSEL: I think the dangers for the Democrats are what you see Republicans really pushing on right now. This president has already had a reputation. It was an issue in the midterm elections about people feeling that he is unlawful in many of his actions, that he's overstepped his authorities as president, and that is going to be magnified now, and there's a lot of attention.

I think, too, look, interesting how much the White House and the president stressed in its briefings, in the president's speech, the fact that they are securing the border, that they are doing much more to sort of stop illegal immigration. They know that, especially given the controversy earlier this year with the children crossing border, there are a lot of people, even moderates and Independents, that are very worried that the president doesn't have a handle on the immigration system. And so this also risks sort of worrying that community of Americans even more that he is doing this for political reasons and not doing it with, as Jason said, a sound lasting solution in mind.

VARNEY: Doing it for political reasons, Dan. The tone of the remarks on Thursday night really did appear to be quite sarcastic, almost campaign style actually. What do you think?

HENNINGER: Well, yeah. And I think there's a lot to the fact that he's waving his hand and expecting the immigration service to now undertake the registration and background checks for five million people. So you've got, say, 1,000 immigration officers are going to take on and decide who among five million people can work. It sounds like Ebola all over again.

VARNEY: It is a mess and stays a mess.

HENNINGER: But it is an opportunity. I think the House Democrats have to understand they are now obliged, as Jason was suggesting, to produce a bill. And I think the American people will be watching to seal whether a bill comes out of Congress that is as comprehensive as the subject needs.


RILEY: I hope it's not one big bill. I don't think that's going to fly. It's going to have to be piecemeal. And it's probably going to start with border security, then high-skill immigrants, then agricultural workers, and so forth. But they should. The Republican Congress should pass bills and put them on the president's desk and dare him to veto them.

VARNEY: And bring it back through Congress. Got it.

When we come back, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren emerges as the Democrats' new darling. So will she pull the party left and derail Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016?


VARNEY: She has been elevated to the ranks of the Democratic leadership, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is wasting no time making her mark, targeting Walmart this week ahead of the holiday shopping season, and calling on Congress to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage, regulate part-time work and schedules, and ensure equal pay for women, issues the freshman Senator calls deeply personal.

We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Mary Kissel; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also joining the panel.

Mary, to you first.

Senator Warren says it's deeply personal. What did she mean by that?

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, Senator Warren is moving to the left of everyone else in the Democratic Party, including President Obama. She fancies herself a populist. She wants to connect with the average person. To do that, she uses her own history, the mythology that she had a hard time coming up through the ranks of the academic elite, until, of course, she landed at Harvard and became a millionaire. But, you know, set that a side --

VARNEY: Is that mythology?

KISSEL: Yes, she didn't grow up dirt poor. She had a very good career. Yeah, she worked hard. But to say that Elizabeth Warren was oppressed by the system is a fiction, Stuart.

VARNEY: James, she's jumped on the anti-Walmart bandwagon, where the left traditionally goes to bat.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Right. Yeah, first, they pick McDonald's to blame for all of the problems in the Obama economy. I don't know where anyone got the idea that a fast-food joint is responsible for giving everyone in the country a high-paying job.


But now they've moved on to Walmart. And this is, again, a union effort to organize Walmart, to pressure them, to force higher wages. A lot of regulatory costs that are coming here. It's an amazing thing where Democratic party has come to, where they basically spend most of their week harassing businesses, preventing pipelines from being built, preventing new jobs from being created, and then they turn to employers and say, where are the high-paying jobs?

VARNEY: Dan, is this a serious challenge for Hillary Clinton in '16?

HENNINGER: Yeah, I think so.

Do you mind if I get really cynical on this program, Stuart?


VARNEY: Well, go, if you like, son.

HENNINGER: Look, this is all -- this Elizabeth Warren thing is all about campaign fundraising. All right? The one thing we found out about Elizabeth Warren in the last election cycle is that she's really popular out there and she can raise large amounts of money. That's kind of what is at the core of a lot of political activity. It's now a business. You need millions. That's why she's been elevated.

Now, she's doing it by appealing to the left, the left that has money. Hillary Clinton, if she's going to run for president, cannot get elected solely on the left wing vote. She's got to run down the center. So how she squares herself, because she's a good fundraiser, too, with this Elizabeth Warren on the left, raising these issues for the purpose of raising money while defining the Democratic Party as the party of the left, is a circle that's going to be really tough for Hillary to square.

VARNEY: It's also tough in the primaries because that's the committed voter in the primaries, and Hillary will have to shift to the left to bind in those committed voters.


VARNEY: It's the primaries where you'll see it. A real tough time, I think.

KISSEL: That's right. We have to appreciate the irony of this rally against Walmart this week. Who needs every day low prices? The poor? We don't want that, do we, Stuart?


VARNEY: That's cynical. Just like Dan.

KISSEL: Sorry. It must be rubbing off on me.

VARNEY: Where do the Democrats stand in this? I mean, President Obama is to the left. Elizabeth Warren is further to the left. Hillary Clinton will be dragged to the left in the primaries. What about -- there is a group within the Democrat party that is centrist, James?

FREEMAN: Well, a disappearing part. I think Barack Obama is really remade the Democratic Party. This is not the party that Bill Clinton led in the '90s. So for that reason, I think Elizabeth Warren would beat Hillary Clinton if they were to face off in Democratic primaries. It is a much more left wing party. It's almost, as Dan has written so well about, they basically pushed the private economy out of the room. And so you're left with hard-core activists, as you say. And I think Warren probably gives them a much more compelling message.

VARNEY: But how strong is that political appeal? Elizabeth Warren says the system is stacked against you. The deck is stacked against you. That rings with a certain proportion of American voters, doesn't it, Dan?

HENNINGER: If it did, they wouldn't have done as badly, as poorly as they did in the election two weeks ago.

VARNEY: In a presidential election, they would perform a lot better?

FREEMAN: Well, look --


KISSEL: It's class warfare, Stuart.


KISSEL: Elizabeth Warren's policies' are left of President Obama's. They are more damaging and more dangerous. She doesn't just want to raise minimum wage. She wants more spending to forgive student debt. She's let the regulatory state run wide.

VARNEY: Yes, but --


KISSEL: Who does it appeal to? Who does it appeal to? It will appeal to some part of the population that wants --


VARNEY: Yes, but has eight years of President Obama dragged the country sufficiently to the left where a leftist appeal is a winning appeal?

KISSEL: No. If it --


FREEMAN: The answer to your question, the most recent Wall Street Journal poll, yes, most Americans do believe the deck is stacked against them, our political, our economic system. This has surged. It was only about a third of Americans 12 years ago. Now most people are saying it's stacked against them. But then, when you dig into why, I think the hard left message has a tougher go of it. Because a lot of people feel the government, favoring certain industries, green energy, for example, discouraging other industries, legitimate energy, for example, has created an environment where a lot of people are dissatisfied. So it's kind of a fight over who's the cause of your troubles.

VARNEY: I think the last word is going to Mary.

KISSEL: The Republicans have to stake ground as against crony capitalism. They have to fight crony capitalism. They have to distance themselves from their connections with government, say this is bad, it doesn't give you all a chance, we're for freedom, entrepreneurship, opportunity. They have two years to give that message. And let's hope that they --


VARNEY: Just give me a year of 4 percent growth and you'll turn the mood of the country all around.


But that's just a personal opinion.

All right, when we come back, this week's brutal attack on a Jerusalem synagogue raises fears of a new Intifadah. But it's President Obama's response to the massacre and other global threats that has my next guest losing sleep.



OBAMA: Too many Israelis have died and too many Palestinians have died. And at this difficult time, I think it's important for both Palestinians and Israelis to try to work together to lower tensions and to reject violence.


VARNEY: That was President Obama after two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday morning during prayer, wielding guns and knives and axes, in a gruesome attack that left five people dead, including three Americans.

It is a response, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, says is all too typical of this administration. He's the author of the new book, "America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder."

Bret, you say America is in retreat. But is that the same thing as saying America is in decline?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST & AUTHOR: No, totally different things. Look, Russia is in decline. They have massive demographic problems. And Japan is in decline as well. Europe is arguably in decline. The United States -- if the historian 30 years from now looks back on great innovations of the 21st century, they'll talk about social media and fracking. The U.S. is not in decline. We are in retreat. The difference is decline is something that happens almost beyond the ability of ordinary politicians to reverse. Retreat is a set of policy options. And over the last six years, we've had a presidency that has very deliberately wanted to shrink America's footprint in every respect -- military, strategic, economic, political, diplomatic. This is the lead- from-behind presidency and that's -- that is -- that's the reason why we're now seeing Russia and Ukraine, the expansion of ISIS, and Iran on cusp of a nuclear weapon.

VARNEY: We just heard President Obama's response to the Jerusalem outrage. Are you saying that is part of the retreat, which essentially President Obama is leading?

STEPHENS: It's so characteristic of his style of leadership. Machiavelli once said that a great prince has to be a firm friend and a thorough foe. What you just heard from the president, this classic moral equivalency, is the very opposite of that advice. He's not giving the Israelis, our ally, that firm friendship that they need in that moment of grief. He is equivocating between allies and enemies. Again, this is Obama, this is the guy who scolds our friends and he coddles our enemies. And that's part of his retreat doctrine.

VARNEY: In your book, are you saying that America should be the world's policeman?

STEPHENS: Yes. America ought to be because, ask yourself, who are the alternatives. The United Nations could be the world's policeman. Would you really want to trust global security to them? I suspect not. How about Vladimir Putin and the leadership in China, and the Iranians or some condominium between those three? That begins to look like a world very much -- like the world that was on the eve of the First World War. That doesn't work. The reality is that only the United States has the will and the wherewithal to police a decent global order.

VARNEY: Do you think we have the will? At this moment, do Americans want to be the world's policemen and pay for it?

STEPHENS: When I started writing this book, one of my greatest fears was that Americans had lost that will. And it was a call to Americans to remind them of what we call Pax Americana, what a good world that had been.

I think in the last two or three months, particularly since the beheading of Americans in eastern Syria, the American people are waking up and they understand that Obama's foreign policy of retreat and inaction isn't working. It's making the world more dangerous. And they're looking for a foreign policy recipe that doesn't go quite as far as the Bush administration's Freedom Doctrine, trying to heal crippled societies, but is serious, sober and politically sellable. I hope this book is read by the next crop of presidential contenders who want a foreign policy that's worthy of a great power.

VARNEY: Is it simply a matter of leadership?

STEPHENS: It's almost entirely a matter of leadership. Remember, we were kind of in the same place in the late 1970s. We had a weak leader. There was a sense that our enemies were on the march, as they were in Iran, as they were in Afghanistan. And lo and behold, we got the right set of policies and the right charismatic leader in Ronald Reagan to reverse that.

VARNEY: And America responded to that trend in the late 1970s, wholeheartedly responded to it. They were ready for it.

STEPHENS: Right. Right. Americans don't like seeing fellow citizens killed. We don't like being humiliated. We don't like being diss'ed by dictators like Assad. And I think Americans are new ready for foreign leadership.

VARNEY: The book is called, "America in Retreat." Bret Stephens is the author.

All right, thank you, Bret.

We have to take one more break. And when we come back, of course, our "Hits & Misses" of the week.


VARNEY: It is time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.

And, Dan, first one to you.

HENNINGER: Well, Stuart, a big hit to the United States Senate, incredible as that may sound --


-- for defeating Patrick Leahy's awful bill to regulate the National Security Agency. This bill would have gone way too far in limiting the United States' ability to detect electronic communications by terrorists. Next year, when we have a new Senate, I think we'll get a much more serious consideration of NSA surveillance.

VARNEY: A plus for the U.S. Senate. I was not expecting that.

HENNINGER: One a year. Why not?


VARNEY: This is it.

Mary, you're next?

KISSEL: I want to give a big miss to the tech company Uber, which found itself in trouble this week after one of the executives suggested digging up dirt on a journalist who was critical of the company. But luckily, Uber has Dave Plouffe, the best possible spin doctor for this problem. Because if anybody can deal with painfully bad leaks of truly bad policies, it's somebody who used to work in the Obama White House.

VARNEY: Got it.


FREEMAN: On a more positive note, Stuart, this is a hit for the people of Buffalo amid the tragedy of this storm. We see really the best of America happening up there right now: Neighbors helping each other, reaching out to strangers, feeding people, whole neighborhoods working to get a pregnant woman to the hospital so she can have her baby. It's an inspiration and our thoughts are with them.

VARNEY: Well said. It's nice to have a positive item on the program as opposed to Dan and Mary.


That was a very positive thing. Well done, young man.

FREEMAN: Thank you.

VARNEY: I agree with you, actually.


VARNEY: All right. And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us at JER on FOXnews.com.

All right, that's it for this week's show. I am Stuart Varney. Paul will be back next week. You can catch me weekdays on "Varney & Company," on the FOX Business Network. That's sharp, at 11 Eastern on the FOX Business Network, "Varney & Company." As I said, Paul is back next week, and we do hope that you can join us then.

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