Russia sanctions bill stalls in House: What's the holdup?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," July 15, 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.

Senate Republicans released a revised version of their health care bill this week, hoping to jump-start their stalled effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. President Trump urging members of his party to get it done, saying the time to act is now.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am sitting in the Oval Office, with a pen in hand, waiting for our Senators to give it to me. For years, they have been talking about repeal, replace, repeal replace. Now we have a president that's waiting to sign it. I have pen in hand.


GIGOT: So will changes to the bill be enough to get moderate Republican holdouts on board? Let's ask "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

Joe, the bill has changed for the better or worse, and how?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, I would say both. This is a bill that's moved to the political center. It's moved leftward. It's worse in the sense that it gets rid of a lot of the tax -- it keeps a lot of the tax increases on investment income, 3.8 percentage --

GIGOT: That were part of Obamacare.

RAGO: -- that were part of it.

GIGOT: That Republicans promised to repeal?

RAGO: They did for years. And it spends that money on other stuff. It's got $45 billion for opioid treatment. It's got a lot more up-front Medicaid spending. It's good and better in the sense that it retains the fundamental Medicaid reform. That's really the most important part of this bill. Moving to a per capita block grant --


GIGOT: To the states from the federal government.

RAGO: Right. A lot of devolution to the states and putting the program on a budget for the first time since 1965. It's a structural reform, which is the only way to rationalize the entitlement state.

GIGOT: That still is the part, in your view, that is worth really worth passing this bill?

RAGO: It is worth passing for that reason. The new bill also adds something from Senator Ted Cruz. It's called the freedom option. It's a lot of deregulation that will start to potentially bring down premiums in the individual market. That's the type of progress that we need to stand up, a more liquid, richer insurance market with more options and more competition.

GIGOT: But this isn't the root-and-branch repeal of Obamacare they promised. It's a compromise. It is sort of, let's try to please all sides of the Republican coalition.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I guess so, Paul. I have a grimmer view of it. At the end of the day, what does the solution come down to? Something very familiar in Washington, throw more money at it, right? That's kind of what it came down to.

GIGOT: More money because the so-called moderate, centrist Senators, the Rob Portman of Ohio, Mr. Cassidy of Louisiana, these are the people who wanted more money --

HENNINGER: You know something, Paul?

GIGOT: -- for opioids and Medicaid.

HENNINGER: We thought people like Portman, and Senator Cassidy from Louisiana, could be called conservatives. I think this is a moment of reckoning for the Republican Party. What we're finding out is that a lot of these Republican Senators really are not conservative, as the way we thought the party had evolved. A lot of them are acting like big- government Republicans, back from the 1970s. And what we saw was that when they got pushed, by the left and by the media, they caved. And they were sort of running from the party of Reagan. So I think that conservatives, whether they actually represent Republican and conservative voters, is another question. But this behavior on this bill suggests to me that the Republican Party has to step back and think a little bit about what they stand for.

GIGOT: There's one Senator who's already said he's not even going to vote to a motion to proceed and that's Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's not a moderate. He's a Libertarian.

Why would he blow up this bill? If this fails, James, you get Obamacare.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Yes. And I think Republicans who vote against it also deserve primary challenges because the United States government has unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions or perhaps the hundreds of trillions. This is one little baby step towards reforming the fastest-growing entitlement program --


GIGOT: Which is Medicaid.

FREEMAN: Which is Medicaid. There's good evidence that you're no healthier with Medicaid than if you have no insurance at all. It's not working for anyone. And the idea that you can't begin to reform it, to have money spent better, it boggles the mind that Republicans can say no to this opportunity.

GIGOT: And, Joe, the Cruz option, which I happen to like, being part of the bill, is that going to help with some of the conservatives?

RAGO: Yes, you've already started to see Senator Cruz, who had been calling this Obamacare-lite, start to come on, Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, maybe Mike Lee from Utah. So it is starting to assuage them. They have sort of given up some of their reservations about this bill. As you said, it is not root-and-branch reform, but it is a net improvement and directional progress.


GIGOT: But you think it's actually a pretty important reform?

RAGO: I think it is pretty important reform. What James is talking about, with Medicaid, this bill saves $772 billion over 10 years. Now, look, that's not --

GIGOT: And even more as you go out.

RAGO: Right.


RAGO: It's a structural reform that makes changes over the long-term. That's the type of change we need in Washington.

GIGOT: All right. So here's -- step back and look at the politics. Republicans in the Senate in 2018 have one Senator in a tough race, Dean Heller of Nevada. One. Everyone else is generally pretty safe. They are 18 months from that election. One Senator, and if they can't make this pass right now, with that kind of a limited vulnerability, politically, 18 months from now, when will they ever pass any reform of entitlements?

HENNINGER: Yes, it is a really good question, because what the Republican voters and the American electorate did was give them control of the government, after allowing the Democrats to control it. They passed the Affordable Care Act. They passed Dodd-Frank. There was obviously disaffection with both of those big pieces of legislation. Now it was the Republicans' chance, as they promised when they got control of the government, to revise these -- fix these things, and they are not pulling it off.

GIGOT: Thank you. We will see. It's going to be a historic week.

When we come back, President Trump's oldest son being pulled into the Russia probe after taking a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign. But is it proof of collusion? Our panel weighs in, next.


GIGOT: The president's oldest son now being drawn into the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Donald Trump Jr released e-mails earlier this week from 2016, showing that he agreed to meet with someone he believed to be a Russian government attorney after receiving an e-mail from a publicist offering him information that would incriminate Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

President Trump defended his son Thursday during his trip to Paris.


TRUMP: I have a son who is a great young man. He is a fine person. He took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period and nothing came of the meeting. And I think it is a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.


GIGOT: All right. Dan, so people say this finally proves that there is collusion, there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. How do you see it?

HENNINGER: I don't think any serious Washington lawyer would agree with that, that there is collusion, an actionable act that could be taken to a prosecutor and prosecuted. But look, the media has had this narrative from the beginning, that there was collusion. They are going to chase it to the ends of the earth.

Let's talk a little bit about what happened here. He met with these people to talk about opposition research, oppo, as we call it. oppo research happens in every campaign. Do campaigns meet with individuals from foreign governments? Yes, they have done that. Are there dirty tricks in politics? Yes, there is that.


HENNINGER: But the difference here is that we know that the Russians did hack into the election, into servers.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: There's been congressional testimony that they hacked into, tried to hack into 20 state election systems as well. That is what is new here. And so the Trump -- Donald Trump Jr has walked up to the line with the Russians, where these two intersections meet. And that's why the prosecutors are now going to take a hard look at what this meeting was about.

GIGOT: But the e-mail, the come-on e-mails was, look, this is part of -- we have dirt on the Clinton campaign, and we have also think that this is representing the support from the Russian government --


GIGOT: -- for the Trump campaign, and Donald Trump Jr said, "I love it."


GIGOT: That suggests that he was happy -- he didn't object to help from the Russian government. This is a government that is not our friend.

HENNINGER: And in a normal -- right. And in a normal campaign, you've got the candidate, the people right below him. That would include Donald Trump Jr. If you get a request like that, you send somebody who is about five or six layers below that to go talk to them and see if they have anything. And then they talk to the lawyers in the campaign who say, "Get away from these people." But, no, the Trumps took it on themselves.

GIGOT: He even roped in Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, you know, the Beltway lobbyist, who represents a lot of unseemly foreign clients. So I mean, at a minimum, it's stupidity, incompetence in my humble opinion, but it's hard to defend.

FREEMAN: It is hard to defend. I think, certainly, a lot of people in Washington would like to get information. And you don't want to say it is illegal to gather information. But, yes, I think more seasoned political pros, maybe more classier, shall we say, politicians, might have at least wanted to keep more distance from this kind of meeting.

But this kind of brings up the choice that people had last year, two very flawed candidates. And you look at what's happened here. We're a year into the collusion investigation. So far, nothing showing the Trump campaign actually doing anything.

GIGOT: Well, wait a minute. This meeting isn't anything? It did something. They met.

FREEMAN: Well, OK, a meeting, but I mean in terms of colluding, in terms of working together to rig an election, which is the charge.

GIGOT: In terms of saying, OK, we have an idea, we're going to hack the Democratic National Committee, good idea.


GIGOT: That we don't have any evidence of.


GIGOT: On the other hand, if they say, we have some dirt on the Clintons, come and meet with us, they go, great. I mean, that's not -- that's not really very good politics.

FREEMAN: It's distasteful. And it is -- we're seeing, really, the initial stages of learning about what happened -- where did this whole collusion theme come from? It looks like it may have come from Democratic-funded opposition research, seeking from Russian sources --

GIGOT: This is the so-called dossier --


GIGOT: -- that created that -- that has been discredited

FREEMAN: Right. So the question is, we seem to have two campaigns last year or at least two parties that were willing to take dirt on their opponents from foreign sources.

GIGOT: But here's the thing. There's only one president right now.


GIGOT: Not Hillary Clinton. It is Donald Trump. He won. There's a special counsel looking into this regarding the Trump campaign.

How much legal jeopardy is there here, Joe?

RAGO: Well, I suppose it depends on the underlying merits of the case. Donald Trump Jr showed terrible judgment here in taking this meeting. But the question is, did it ever advance into anything that was not only unsavory and reflects poorly on the Trump family business, but into something that's potentially criminal? And --


GIGOT: We don't know that.

RAGO: We don't know this. The Russian lawyer he met with was apparently arguing against the Magnitsky Act, which was a law that sanctioned -- American law that sanctioned Russian human rights abusers. It looks like, potentially, a cutout to lobby to weaken this law. But still other than the e-mail, nothing of substance seems to have come out of it.

GIGOT: The other -- so far.

RAGO: So far.

GIGOT: And that's the question, Dan. They issued an incomplete account of this when it first came out.


GIGOT: And that's part of the problem. They released the e-mails two or three days later, which I'm glad they did it. Let's get it all out. It's the sort of thing, instead of just trying to say, oh, well, at first, this is just a meeting about adoption, the Magnitsky Act related to adoption, they didn't get the truth out.

HENNINGER: They didn't get the truth out. So now, what this ensures, as you were suggesting earlier, is that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the lawyers working for him, are going to overturn and look at everything related to this campaign and the Trump people who were involved with it, Jared Kushner, Manafort, the president himself. They are going to want to look at all the e-mails, all the documents, all the phone records. That's the way these investigations work. And all of them are going to be preoccupied with this. Jared Kushner has had to hire his own lawyer. It is inevitable that it is going to preoccupy them.

GIGOT: All right. When we come back, while the White House deals with its latest Russia headache, Congress seems to be creating one of their own, as a new Russia sanctions bill stalls in the House. What's the holdup all about?


GIGOT: While the White House is facing fresh questions about Russia's role in the 2016 campaign, Congress is bogged-down in a debate over just how much authority to give President Trump to potentially ease sanctions against Moscow. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill last month to impose new penalties on Russia and to make sure the administration can't change course without congressional approval. But that measure has stalled in the House. What's behind the holdup?

Let's ask Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

So, welcome Mr. Chairman. Glad to have you here.

So let me ask you first about the meeting that Donald Trump Jr had with the Russian -- during the campaign. Do you agree with President Trump that anybody would have taken this meeting?


Let me just say look, we have these daily drippings out of what had occurred during the campaign. We have a Senate Intel Committee that's going through this. They will be able to put all this in proper context. Personally, had I received a call from some -- about some Russian official wanting to give me information, I would have said no. But look, I think the Intel Committee can put all this in context. If I responded to these on a daily basis, Paul, I wouldn't be able to deal with the policy issues that we have to deal with. So I just think we ought to wait, let them go through all of this, and at the end, we will have everything in proper context.

GIGOT: All right. Let's talk about that policy, the Russia sanctions. Passed the Senate 98-2. That's -- some republicans in the Senate and Democrats don't agree on much these days. Why the overwhelming support for this bill? Why the bipartisan support for this legislation?

CORKER: I think that, you know, first of all, there had been concerns early on that maybe some cheap deal would be made with Russia over Syria that would eliminate the sanctions on eastern Ukraine or the sanctions relative to what Russia did there. In addition to that, the cyber issues, we want to make sure that we push back against all those who are involved in cyber issues. As Russia continues to privatize state-owned enterprises, we want to make sure that those who are, through corruption, unfairly benefitting from that we punished. We wanted to make sure those who were supplying arms to Assad were punished. We wanted to make sure those doing business with certain intel agencies and defense agencies within Russia were punished. I just think there's an overwhelming, on both sides of the aisle -- and I will say, candidly, among national security folks, within the Trump administration, a desire to push back against what Russia has done. And I strongly support this bill. Obviously, I think the House will take it up very soon.

GIGOT: Right. OK, so on the sanctions provision, you have the additional sanctions. And the White House says we support the sanctions, but what we want is more presidential flexibility. And they don't like the fact that your bill denies the president the ability to -- the flexibility -- flexibility to ease sanctions if he comes to some agreement with the Russians. In the past, Democrats have insisted that Barack Obama have that kind of flexibility. Why not give it to this president in this case?

CORKER: Well, if you remember, Paul, we had this same problem come up with Iran, where --

GIGOT: Right, I do remember.

CORKER: -- Obama was able -- he was able to go straight to the U.N. Security Counsel, lift all the sanctions that Congress had put in place for eight years, which was not Congress's intention. So I'm the one that's been leading the effort to ensure that we have congressional review. Had this provision been in place, the Iran deal, that I think was a terrible deal for our nation, would have never been put in place. So this is us asserting our rightful equal role in foreign policy. And I'm all supportive. I'm very supportive of congressional review. I feel like I've led the charge on that. And it will be a part of this bill.

GIGOT: So --


CORKER: When it comes out of the House.


CORKER: It will be part of the bill when it comes out of the House, no question.

GIGOT: What if the House doesn't include it? Because the White House is pressuring the House not to include it, and it goes back to you guys.

CORKER: It is going to come out with congressional review from the House. I get no sense whatsoever that they plan to change it. I have been on the phone just in the last 30 minutes with Ed Royce. I have talked to leaders on both sides of the aisle there. This bill will come back to us, I'm absolutely convinced, with congressional review. It's the right place for us to be. And it will stay.

GIGOT: All right. There's one other question, obviously, that we wrote about this week, which is the oil companies are objecting that the way the Senate bill is written, it could block American investments, not just in Russia, but anywhere around the world, if there was just a small bit of Russian participation in Brazil or Nigeria. Are you willing to get that fixed?

CORKER: Yes. You and I have talked about it. And Ben Cardin and I, my Democratic counterpart, did a colloquy on the Senate floor to resolve this issue. I have talked to Treasury about this issue. I think they could fix it with colloquy. But McCarthy's staff has been over to see us about it. And as you know, it is about betting on grids out in the ocean.

GIGOT: Right.

CORKER: And the United States and U.S. company could bid on a grid out there and win, and right beside it could be a Russian entity. A lot of time, government says, hey, we want you all to form a consortium so we have one pipeline that's bringing that oil back. And that is an issue. It's a legitimate issue. And the House can either solve it through legislative text change, which I've talked to Hoyer about it, and he's in agreement with that.


CORKER: Or they could do it through colloquy. But it is a legitimate issue.

GIGOT: But you are willing to fix that? It sounds like it will be fixable.

CORKER: Absolutely.


CORKER: Absolutely.


CORKER: And Senator Cardin, on the Democratic side in the Senate, is, too.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, Mitch McConnell cuts the Senate's summer vacation short as the GOP scrambles to get some legislative wins. A look at what this Republican Congress has achieved in its first seven months, and what it still needs to do to satisfy voters ahead of the 2018 midterms.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Due to this unprecedented level of obstruction that we have been experiencing, we will be in session the first two weeks of August.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: If I were them, I wouldn't want to go home and face the voters either.


GIGOT: Blaming it on obstruction by Democrats, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cancelled almost half of the Senate's August recess this week, saying he will keep lawmakers in Washington in order to give Congress more time to make progress on President Trump's agenda. In addition to repealing and replacing Obamacare, passing a budget, and beginning work on tax reform, are at the top of the to-do list. But Mr. McConnell also hopes to push through the backlog of more than 100 presidential nominees who have yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Joe Rago and James Freeman.

James, let's take a step back here, for a second. As they approach the August recess, seven months, almost eight, into this -- I guess, it's seven into the presidency, typically, a time when a new Congress, a new government with the same party running both sides of Pennsylvania avenue, gets a lot done. What do they have to show for it so far?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: By the traditional measures, maybe not much. We think of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid putting a huge $800 billion stimulus on Barack Obama's desk within a month, that hasn't really happened here. But if you are a Trump voter reflecting on your choice, you can say there's a great Supreme Court addition in Neil Gorsuch. You can talk about a burgeoning rollback of federal regulation, congressional review act bills, a lot of them have gone to the president's desk.

GIGOT: How many, 13, I think, is that it, something like that? How many of them?

FREEMAN: 13. These are basically rescinding rules from the Obama era. President Obama was the greatest regulator in history, measured by pages in the Federal Register. So there is a good start here. But the big the agenda items are still hanging out. And that's -- we talked about health care, and it is the big tax cut that I think a lot of workers, investors, really, everybody who wants a faster-growing economy is still waiting for.

GIGOT: But there's also, Joe, the sort of the smaller bills that some of these new governments, Congress has put together, they really haven't done too many of those one on the Veterans Affairs.

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: There's one on V.A. There's some FDA, on the Food and Drug Administration. But there's a lot of stuff that's passed the House and hasn't gotten through the Senate.

GIGOT: Right

RAGO: Typically, a bottleneck on Capitol Hill. But I think you kind of have to look at this and be disappointed in what they've done so far. Really not the kind of progress that traditionally happens.

GIGOT: There are two big reasons here, Dan. One is, I think, that health care choice that they made, to go with health care first, has just proven to be a lot harder than they thought. First, in the House, it took longer. Now it is approaching a moment of truth in the Senate.

But also, Democrats have really just done everything they can to slow the Senate down, particularly on nominations. How bad is it?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, it is very bad on nominations. I mean, there are many, many important seats in the government that have not been fulfilled. I came in with a little bit of a list. They are just about to start moving: the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Bill Haggerty, the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, many undersecretaries and deputy secretaries, Kevin Hassett, who is going to be chairman of the Council of the Economic Advisors, David Malpass, undersecretary for international finance. These are very important positions that have not been fulfilled for seven months.

GIGOT: But Chuck Schumer's response would be, well, they got so far behind, the Trump administration, in nominating them, what do you expect, it's their fault, not ours.

HENNINGER: Ambassador Haggerty was nominated back in February. Some of these people have been sitting for six months. These are nominations that are not controversial.

The thing here, though, Paul is, there's a new reality in Chuck Schumer's opposition. The Democrats are simply not participating in the government. Now, in fairness, the Republicans, in Obama's first term, did not participate in the passage of the Affordable Care Act or Dodd-Frank. So, that suggested, I was saying earlier, if you get control of the government, as these Republican Senators have now, you have to make a concerted effort to get some things done while you have those votes. That's what they are not doing.

GIGOT: What Schumer has done is he's used every tool, procedural tool in the Senate to stretch out these nominations. So they have a 30-hour rule of debate, I think, they are stretching that out. When Harry Reid had cut a deal with Republicans limiting it to eight hours on any nominee. They are stretching everything out. They're stretching -- they are denying hearings under an archaic Senate rule.

Republicans, what do they do about it, James?

FREEMAN: Well, I think they may go further to change the rules. We saw how Chuck Schumer, the Democrats, basically put up the goal-line stand against Neil Gorsuch. Bad move. He was a blue-chip nominee. Should not have been a big fight about that. That ended up killing the filibuster for judicial nominees going forward. So I think, normally, the Senate, a lot of it runs on unanimous consent.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: And that's how they waive all these complicated rules that basically prevent anything from happening. If the Democrats are saying, no, we're going to insist on the rules that prevent anything from happening, I think Republicans will naturally look at what other rules ought to be rewritten.

GIGOT: Let's assume health care passes this month, Joe, in the Senate, and they move on and it gets -- the House and Senate pass it before the end of the recess. Can they pass tax reform before the end of this year?

RAGO: It's going to be hard. I mean, tax reform, I think, in a lot of ways will be harder than health care reform. The thing that will help is a sense of urgency. This has been so difficult on health care. I think this is a Congress that knows that they and the Trump administration are going to be judged on economic results, on their performance, and that might speed things along sort of tamp down some of these divisive debates.

GIGOT: It is really do-or-die on tax reform, especially if they can't pass health care.

All right. Still ahead, Iraq's prime minister declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul. But is the war against the terror group really coming to an end? What the U.S. needs to do to avoid repeating past mistakes, next.


GIGOT: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared victory this week over the Islamic State in Mosul where the terror group declared its so- called caliphate in 2014. But after a bloody three-year struggle there, my next guest says the fight is far from over.

Seth Jones is the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation and author of "Waging Insurgent Warfare, Lessons from the Vietcong to the Islamic State."

Seth Jones, welcome. Good to have you here.


GIGOT: How significant, for American interests, we know it matters a lot to the Iraqis, but how significant for American strategic interests is this liberation of Mosul?

JONES: I do think it is important. I think it is important to note that the U.S. strategy changed quite a bit in the 2003, 2004, 2005 period. And all the way up through the surge, the U.S. did a chunk of this kind of clearing with U.S. Marine or Army forces. In this case, the U.S. supported Iraqi counterterrorism forces, Kurdish militia and, unfortunately, some Shia in the area. So we've done much better, I think, this time.

GIGOT: Why do you say, unfortunately, some Shia? Because that's really Iranian front groups and militias.

JONES: Yes. Well, the number of Iranian -- the amount of Iranian support here and the number of Shia militia in Iraq is staggering right now. Almost 150,000 mobilization --



JONES: That's pretty significant. It actually shows how much influence Iran has in Iraq right now.

GIGOT: All right. Now the campaign against Islamic State also making progress inside Syria, where the fall of Raqqa, their headquarters in Syria, could also be heading that way. Is that victory? That liberation imminent, too?

JONES: Probably not imminent. I think if the liberation of Mosul tells us anything, it's Raqqa and some of the villages and cities that sit south along the Euphrates River valley are going to be brutal fights. They're going to be filled with car bombs, suicide bombers. Children that are being used as shields in the fighting. I think it is likely going to be intense. But I think, in the end, the Americans are likely to prevail with their local allies and remove most of ISIS from these towns and villages, including Raqqa.

GIGOT: OK. Let's assume that liberation does take place, you've written for us this week that already the jihadists from Islamic State are spreading out and returning essentially to their insurgent strategy, blending into villages, smaller towns, waiting for another opportunity to regroup and, no doubt, committing terror along the way. What has to happen on the part of the Iraqi government and the U.S. to make sure that ISIS doesn't revive?

JONES: Well, I think, at the core, we have to remember that this is primarily a political struggle going on, not a military one. And if we look at some of the Anbar cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, Fallujah was cleared by the U.S. in 2003.

GIGOT: Right.

JONES: Then we had insurgents move back. It was re-cleared. The last decade and a half has been constantly re-clearing some of these cities. So I think what has to happen is, in particular, in Sunni areas, some of the key issues that have disenfranchised Sunnis have got to be better addressed. That is, in part, a heavy political effort by the U.S. and U.S. diplomats to push the Iraqi government -- this is going to put it really at loggerheads with Iran -- to settle some of these Sunni disenfranchisement issues. And that is a large number of Shia militia, more rapid reconstruction in cities like Fallujah, now, Mosul and Ramadi. And then to treat this as a political rather than just a military struggle.

GIGOT: So they can't seem to be -- the Baghdad government or with the Shiite forces that back Iran can't seem to be imposing a new kind of tyranny on those Sunni areas of Anbar Province in Iraq. Because that's the root, that's the base from which the insurgency grows.

JONES: That's an important base of support. If one looks at the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, certainly, its ability to gain sanctuary in Syria was helpful, but also ability to take advantage of grievances among the Sunni populations, who identified their government in Baghdad as essentially an Iranian stooge, was a key component of ISIS getting into that area.

GIGOT: All right. What would be your recommendation to the Trump administration about how to handle U.S. forces there? We've got several thousand that are on the ground there, mostly special forces, advisors, and targeters. But should we negotiate a more permanent presence there off troops, 10,000 or so, of the kind that President Obama refused to do in 2011?

JONES: Yes, I think there's no question right now the U.S. needs to recognize that Iraq does have a strategic importance for the United States. I don't think it requires a large number of U.S. conventional forces.

GIGOT: Right.

JONES: But I do think it does require for the U.S. to remain, to remain and have access to Iraqi bases. To continue to train Iraq's counterterrorism service, which was incredibly important in the retaking of Mosul, and will be in the retaking of other cities, including al Khayyam in Iraq. To continue to train Iraqi police forces, which will be the bedrock for law enforcement in Fallujah and Ramadi and other Sunni-heavy cities in the future. So those are some of the key issues. And to keep -- try to push out and then demobilize some of the Shia militia forces operating in the country right now, which is counterproductive for the U.S. forces.

GIGOT: So, in a way, it's a counterforce, would be a counterforce, at least politically, not militarily, politically, to Iranian influence in Iraq and, I assume, maybe a balancing role politically. You have the Kurds in the north. You have the Shiites in the south and the east. And then you have the Sunnis. So there's kind of a political balancing role here, too?

JONES: Yes, I think there is a clear political balancing role. The Kurds in the north have generally been pretty effective over the long run in taking care of their own security. I think the balance there is there is a growing interest in broader Kurdish independence --

GIGOT: Right.

JONES: -- linking up with Kurdish units in Syria and Turkey. Slightly different struggle than the Sunni fight down in Anbar. So there are multiple political issues the U.S. will have to balance.

GIGOT: Thank you very much, Seth Jones, for being here. Appreciate it.

JONES: Thanks, Paul.

GIGOT: When we come back, the so-called "Summer of Hell" has started for New York area commuters as long-needed repairs divert tens of thousands of riders from the nation's busiest rail hub. A look at what's behind the rising costs and mounting delays in infrastructure projects across the country, next.


GIGOT: It's being dubbed the "Summer of Hell" as tens of thousands of commuters in the New York area scramble to find alternative routes to work. Hundreds of trains that run through New York City are being delayed or diverted this summer as Amtrak makes long-overdue repairs to tracks at Penn Station, the busiest rail hub in north America. Derailments are now common. And New York City subway breakdowns almost a daily occurrence. But the mess is just a sign of things to come, as officials make plans to repair the 107-year-old tunnel under the Hudson River, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Wall Street Journal editorial page writer, Allysia Finley, joins us with more on this ongoing saga.

And condolences to Brother Freeman who commutes from New Jersey


So, Allysia, what is behind this mess?

ALLYSIA FINLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Look, as you mentioned, there are nearly daily breakdowns. That is because they have not invested the money into repairing the system over the past 20, 30 years.


GIGOT: Or 70 or 80.


FINLEY: Some of them date back to the '30s. They are analog signals and they haven't gotten around to computerizing them. And they are working on it but it will not be done for another half a century.

GIGOT: So I guess the politicians would say, well, we just need to spend more money on this and it would be fine. If the politicians in Washington weren't so -- such tightwads, we could just do this. But is that really -- is it really simple, more cash?

FINLEY: Most of the cash goes to the labor costs, including pensions. 60 percent of the MTA, New York City's subways, go to labor costs.

GIGOT: 60 percent?

FINLEY: 60 percent. Pension costs have doubled in the last decade. That is where the money is going, to the public unions, not to these improvements.

GIGOT: Even the money that's earmarked for transportation ends up going to labor costs or pension costs -- that's not even current workers -- rather than in the upkeep of the plant.

Let's take the MTA, for example, subway cars. If you invest in the unions, the workers, you skimp over the years on things like buying trains or upgrading signals.

FINLEY: That's right. The politicians have been paying off their public unions, who are big donors to their campaign, and just neglected these repairs. But they've also been investing to an extent in some, you know, the 2nd Avenue subway


GIGOT: Right. They finally built that after --

FINLEY: They could cut some ribbons. They can maybe win some more voters on the Upper East Side.

GIGOT: There's, I think, four stations there. Thank you very much. It's a lovely subway. But it is not -- if it keeps -- if all the other trains keep breaking down, it really doesn't help, James?

FREEMAN: Yes, lead us not into Penn Station, is the fervent prayer of all commuters.


So I think viewers around the country, don't live here, they just beyond our griping. I think they appreciate how this does have a larger meaning here.


FREEMAN: Because this really is the failure, you could say, of blue state governance, you could say of government period, in terms of costs have been driven up by labor laws, but also environmental impact statements, everything that goes into making an infrastructure project so difficult, time consuming, expensive. There's a Republican member of Congress who is trying to get $900 million in funding for a new tunnel under the Hudson River. It sounds like a lot of money. It is a drop in the bucket. It is projected to cost $20 billion. I think there's a real opportunity here and around the country for a politician who wants to say privatize, let's bid out the rights to these things, and let's take away the rules because we need more infrastructure here.

GIGOT: And just to elaborate on your point, this is not just about New York City at all. We're talking about the Amtrak corridor from Boston all the way down to Richmond, Virginia.


GIGOT: It needs new investment, if you want to maintain that train service.

FINLEY: We are talking the entire country. This are issues, the labor costs, project labor agreements for the west coast and east coast. It is breaking down. It's probably more visible where you have a lot of commuters. But the same problems are occurring everywhere.

GIGOT: And where some of the systems are the oldest here because some of the tracks were laid and the infrastructure laid in the 1930s, '20s, and earlier, Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, there's a big question of whether it's doable at all or whether these, as James was suggesting, blue state, blue cities, New York, Boston, are so dysfunctional, that they are not going to get the job done. I mean, they argue that the transportation systems are, you know, crucial to the economic integrity of those --


GIGOT: They love public transit.

HENNINGER: But if it doesn't work, it's going to be solved by out migration. By people moving out of the north, into areas of the south, where they do have viable transportation systems. And I think you will just see something like Detroit happening, where it's simply winds down because they can't get it done.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all.

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


GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week -- James?

FREEMAN: Paul, this is a hit to Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. His company collects terabytes of data about all of us. Apparently, it is not enough. So he is personally going out to middle America to meet people, find out what their concerns are, hockey moms, steelworkers, oil workers. I think there's some question of what his motives are here. Is it marketing? Is it about a political run? But I think we ought to give him some credit. He's one coastal elitist who is willing to go out and find out how the rest of the country lives.

GIGOT: All right, James.


FINLEY: I want to give a hit to modern medicine and the FDA for recommending this innovative new "T" cell treatment that harnesses the immune system to attack cancer cells in leukemia patients. This is a huge medicine breakthrough that opens up all kinds of possibilities.

GIGOT: And the Food and Drug Administration looks like it might even approve it.


HENNINGER: I'm going to give a miss to the idea of "boys meets girls." The "Wall Street Journal" recently reported that guys are no longer picking up tab on dates with women. They're actually asking them to split it, or even pay it for themselves. Now, you have to ask, what is going on here? Partly, I guess it's because dating has become very expensive. But as a professor in the article said, women can no longer be thought of as commodities. So, a lot of guys are saying, I don't want to insult you, you're on your own now.


GIGOT: Are you buying that, Allysia?


I don't know.

FINLEY: I welcome being treated as a commodity.


GIGOT: When it comes to paying for dinner, yes.


All right. Thank you all.

And remember, if you have your hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us, @JERonFNC.

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

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