Should Republicans risk a government shutdown over ObamaCare?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 3, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," conservative lawmakers issue a warning to fellow Republicans on ObamaCare, "If you fund it, you're for it." But should the party risk a government shutdown?

Plus, Chris Christie takes on Rand Paul over national security as another GOP rift is revealed.

And Wiki Leaker Bradley Manning gets convicted, NSA Leaker Edward Snowden gets asylum. Both are being celebrated in some circles, but are they really heroes?

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

Well, "if you fund it, you're for it," that was the message this week from a group of conservative lawmakers to fellow Republicans as they continue their push to make defunding ObamaCare part of a deal to keep the government running past September. The plan, which could result in a government shutdown, is being met with resistance by some in the GOP, with critics calling it political suicide. But Florida Senator Rubio had this message for the skeptical Senators.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.: If we pass a budget in September that funds ObamaCare, you did not do everything you could. You paid for this. You doubled down on it in ways that will have irreparable harm to our economy and to our country. This is our last best chance.


GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Dan, this Rubio strategy, what do you think of it?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think it's probably -- other than the fund-raising possibilities for all the principals involved, that aside, I think as a strategy, the way we're describing it now, or we will describe it, it will have a lot of detail in it. And the problem is this is about the budget, OK? And --

GIGOT: Right, funding the whole government.

HENNINGER: Funding the whole government, which is invariably a complex subject. If they pursue this strategy about funding ObamaCare, yeah, I think they're going to get some support for it. They're going to get the support of about 43 percent of the country. The rest of the country watching this, it will roll forward towards the shutdown, and then all -- I'm convinced, all of the media coverage will immediately start, every TV station out there talking about the effects of a government shutdown. And I think this tsunami of negative coverage is simply going to wash the Republicans out to sea one more time. People are not going to be able to focus on the complex details of this strategy.

GIGOT: It will be kind of like the budget and funding the government and not about ObamaCare.

James, what do you think?

JAMES FREEMAN, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, I think it's going to be about ObamaCare. This is why it's different in some ways from some earlier fights where Republicans are not trying to reform all of government at the deadline to do the annual spending bill. They're just saying specifically not ObamaCare. Very unpopular law.

GIGOT: And do you think -- OK, no question all of that, but do you think that they can basically make that case and make it about that, when Obama's going to be saying the opposite? He's going to be saying, Republicans want to shut down the government in order to deny health care to poor people. That will be the debate.

FREEMAN: But that's --


GIGOT: I'm not saying he's right, but that's what he'll say.

FREEMAN: You can clearly state this is not about poor people. They already get Medicaid. ObamaCare is about hooking the rest of us --


GIGOT: You're already explaining, sir.


FREEMAN: I don't see a lot of downside here. Because if either they force some reform, maybe even -- if it's too much to hope that they get the president to kill ObamaCare, maybe they enforce some delays in the implementation of it. On the other hand, what do you have? You have -- the government shuts down for a few days. Maybe some EPA employees will be considered nonessential and people will be able to drill for more oil. I mean, I don't really see --


-- what the downside is.

GIGOT: Kim, can the Republicans really hold out in a shutdown showdown? If, for example, the national parks start getting shut down, the air traffic controllers don't show up for work. I've been through this rodeo before. I don't think I've seen --


-- the Republicans maintain a united front here, which is what you have to do to succeed.

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Look, one of the reasons this has been pushed off until now is because Republicans lost this battle a couple of times and they decided to wait till this fall to try to tackle something like this again. The problem here, Paul, is they cannot delineate an end game. OK, even if the House were to pass a bill defunding ObamaCare, even if it got a Senate vote over the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Reid, even if it made it miraculously to the president's desk, he will veto it. At which point, you need 22 Senate Democrats to overcome that veto. It's never going to happen. Yet, there's no more noble goal than defunding ObamaCare but you have to do it smartly, you have to do it in a way you can win, which is why some Republicans are advocating pushing this off, seeing if you can't get -- use better leverage, for instance, in the debt ceiling debate, something in the future, to extract some concessions, or simply continue to let this bill crack up and then see what you can get.

GIGOT: I've talked to some of the Senators and other activists who are behind this. They basically say, look, Republicans have to be shown to be fighting for something. Because if they don't, if they don't really at least make the effort here, then it's going to demoralize the base. It's actually going to hurt the Republican Party going in 2014.

HENNINGER: Paul, I'm sympathetic to that point of view. I understand their desire to fight back. There should be more of that. I'd like to propose the possibility they're not considering, which is that ObamaCare is in bigger trouble than they think structurally.

GIGOT: Right. This isn't the last chance.

HENNINGER: I don't think it's the last -- I think we could be looking at an historic self-collapse of the liberal idea. This is a big entitlement. They've pushed it forward. If this thing implodes on its own, I think that the significance of that will truly be historic. If your opposition is destroying itself, I think your job is to stand back and let it.


GIGOT: You think the danger, James -- Kim, OK, we'll go to you -- the danger with that is the subsidies once they kick in will create a constituency for the bill. More support. And then you'll never be able to repeal it. That's the alternative argument.

STRASSEL: That is true, and that is the alternative argument. It's the fear.

Can I just point out, too, I think you make a bigger mistake. How much more is the Republican base going to be demoralized if these people claim that they can accomplish this when, in fact, they can't, and it all collapses and fails and Republicans are blamed for it?

FREEMAN: A couple things. 2011 debt ceiling fight, the Republicans got the sequester out of it. President Obama's popularity was dented among Independents. That worked out OK for the Republicans. There is a downside, you turn his failure into your failure and you become responsible.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: But there's also the problem -- I agree it's going to fail but it may not fail as quickly next year as some people will enjoy getting new subsidies.

GIGOT: I agree with so much of what you said but, boy, it's a high- risk political strategy.


GIGOT: When we come back, two potential 2016 competitors face off, with Chris Christie taking on Rand Paul over national security. Have Libertarians forgotten the lessons of September 11th?


GIGOT: Never one to shrink from a fight, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is back in the headlines for comments he made last week at a forum in Colorado where he called out libertarians, like potential 2016 rival Rand Paul, over what he says is a dangerous drift away from national security.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: This strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought. And as the governor now of a state that lost the second most people on 9/11 behind the state of New York, and still seeing those families, John, I'd love all these esoteric debates people are getting in --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rand Paul, for example?

CHRISTIE: Listen, you can name any number of people who have engaged it and he's one of them. These esoteric intellectual debates -- I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.


GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal editorial board members, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Matt Kaminski, also join us.

Dorothy, esoteric intellectual debates, that's our specialty.



GIGOT: What do you think of it?

RABINOWITZ: Right to the gut.


Right to the gut. I want to tell you, you see in this performance here the reason Christie is so popular. He knows what resonates. This is not to suggest at all that he doesn't actually deeply believe what he is saying. Now --

GIGOT: You think his critique is accurate?

RABINOWITZ: Absolutely. Certainly, I do. And yet, if you compare him with Rand Paul, that is the exact description that one would apply. He knows very well that these are fanciful or fancy prescriptions. He knows that when you come right down to it, the United States of America's population is not going to buy into these stories that he spins out about the violation of the Constitution. Christie is there to tell you buildings were burning in New York. People were jumping out of windows. We have to protect ourselves.

GIGOT: And yet, Dan, there is growing opposition --


GIGOT: -- to the surveillance of the NSA. Rand Paul is tapping some public sentiment. Not just on the left. We had a vote in Congress. Justin Amash, a Republican Congress from Michigan, sponsoring an amendment that almost gutted the NSA collection of metadata. It failed 217-205. Very close.


GIGOT: So is Dorothy right about the politics?

HENNINGER: I really would like to think that Dorothy's right about this and I'd like to think Chris Christie is right. I worry a little bit that 9/11, all of that is becoming a New York/New Jersey/Connecticut thing, those of us who experienced it that day. And it is essentially receding out perhaps in parts of the country and becoming something of a distraction, because the United States has been lucky, unlike capitals in Europe, not to experience another terrorist event. I think unfortunately there may be a reservoir of political support that could get behind what Rand Paul is saying.

GIGOT: Matt, how serious a rift is this within the Republican Party?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, I mean, it's a clear risk. We can say this is really a win-win for Rand Paul and Chris Christie. They get to define themselves as spokesman for these two sides of the party. You know, why is the governor of New Jersey engaging with the junior Senator from Kentucky? It's all about 2016. I think Christie is smart to come out. I think there's more of a reservoir of feeling that America is a responsible global power. We do face security threats. Next time something like Boston happens again that will immediately undercut the isolationist and dangerous push by people like Rand Paul to completely gut what we're doing in national security.

RABINOWITZ: Just to say this, I hope that Dan is not right. We've had a long history of isolationists like Rand Paul. The country has --


GIGOT: You think he's an isolationist?

RABINOWITZ: Oh, surely. The country has never fully -- there's always been a fringe element, a very loud one. Now, of course, there's this big boom from right wing media commentary, which is supporting Rand Paul in all of this. Nonetheless, at the core of the American psyche, they are not --


GIGOT: But there's a lot of people in the Republican Party at the grassroots who think, look, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan war were not good for the country. Did not help the Republican Party. Hurt in 2006 and 2008. They want to go back to domestic issues because they think that if you're for active government overseas that means bigger government at home. I disagree with that because I think Reagan showed you could be for free markets at home and smaller government and a muscular foreign policy and national interests. But there's an element in the party that doesn't agree with that.

HENNINGER: Well, that's right. And the key phase there is "Republican Party." Just to quality my point, I think what Senator Paul is pushing is a loser nationally, but it could divide the Republican Party, I believe, where some of these ideas are getting resonance to the point where it could cut them in two pieces.

RABINOWITZ: Here's the problem. The face of this position, Rand Paul, is a man who can say, wisely, that active people like leakers like Snowden are equivalent to that of Martin Luther King, civil libertarian, jailed, and is Snowden equal to Martin Luther King? The idea that this could come trippingly from the tongue is going to resonate with the sanest portions of our population.

GIGOT: All right, Dorothy.

When we come back, NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, gets asylum in Russia while Wiki leaker, Bradley Manning, faces possible life in prison. Both are being hailed as heroes in some circles, but are they?


GIGOT: NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, left Moscow's airport Thursday after the Russian government granted him temporary asylum. The news comes just days after Army Private Bradley Manning was convicted on 19 charges, including espionage for passing classified information to WikiLeaks, something that could land him in jail for the rest of his life. Both men are being hailed by some on the left and the right as heroes, whistleblowers who deserve not prison sentences but America's thanks.

Before we get to that, what do you make of the Russian decision to grant Snowden asylum, despite entreaties by President Obama and threats of consequences from John Kerry?

KAMINSKI: It's a real slap to the face but it's also very much par for the course for the way Russians have behaved throughout the Obama years. As President Obama has tried to get along with Vladimir Putin, launching this reset, Russia does not -- Russia is a hostile -- this is a hostile against the U.S. and should be treated as such.

GIGOT: What does this say about U.S. influence not just with Russia but more broadly?

KAMINSKI: Well, President Obama's very famous said that he's restored America's standing in the world. These incidents speak for themselves. He could not on press Hong Kong and China to detain someone who is indicted on three very serious counts. He could not influence Russia to do what most countries would do, which is hand someone over, back to the U.S. who faces such serious charges.

GIGOT: Dorothy, moving on to Bradley Manning, do you think the verdict -- he was not convicted of aiding and abetting the enemy but he was convicted on other counts. Fair verdict?

RABINOWITZ: No, it's not a fair verdict, but I didn't expect a fair verdict with all of the --


GIGOT: You would have thrown the book at him, the whole thing?

RABINOWITZ: Yes. Of course, it was aiding the enemy. The fact that all this is transformed by our sympathetic media, which went whole hog creating Bradley Manning into a kind of hero. Do you know the word "whistleblower" has been forever tainted by these two dunces?


And you will never hear them in the same way again. The idea of listening to endless --


GIGOT: But what damage, Dorothy, did Manning really do with these things? What would you point to, the real harm to national security?

RABINOWITZ: To national security, he -- well, he unloaded documents without the slightest regard for distinction. The newspapers simply deleted the names.

GIGOT: The newspapers redacted the names --


GIGOT: But he laid it out there and they had names, for example, of people who cooperated with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.


GIGOT: They could have become targets. May have been targets of terrorists.

RABINOWITZ: There's a deeper assault though. It's the assault on the values that the nation has. If you can now so betray the notion of national security, if you can give new meaning to the term of just an honest citizen doing his work, this is a terrible moral confusion. Here's somebody who clearly traitorously and with intent to malign the United States -- there can be no question about that -- threw this out and then managed to pretend this is all about the Constitution, and having that, picked up and believed and thrown back, this is really serious damage.

GIGOT: Dan, did the administration have any choice but to prosecute him? Of course, they charged Snowden.

HENNINGER: No, I don't think they had any choice at all on prosecuting. But the one thing they do have a choice is on telling the American people more about the systems that they're using.

You know, General Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, said in testimony before Congress that they had prevented dozens of terrorist plots and that he was going to work on it and bring some to the public's attention. They have not done that. There's always the question of methods and means. If we do that, the terrorists will find things out. I think they have to release more information about foiled plots to gain public support for these very necessary programs, because otherwise it remains an abstraction and opponents are exploiting that.

GIGOT: This debate is getting away from the administration, Matt, it seems to me, and they're doing a really inept job of defending what they say are essential programs.


GIGOT: What's behind it?

KAMINSKI: I think President Obama might secretly agree with -- even though he's used these powers throughout the last four years to keep this country safe, he's not willing to go out there and say we need to do this. I mean, it's very telling with that vote last week on Amash's amendment to defund the NSA that the White House didn't say anything until the night before, after bedtime for us, when the press secretary of the White House in a statement said, please don't vote to defund NSA because we need this. President Obama hasn't said anything about this.

GIGOT: So the case has really been a debacle from top to bottom and it's jeopardizing these surveillance programs, these anti-terror programs. We need more from the president of the United States on this and other things.

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


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


RABINOWITZ: Here is a miss to all of the sympathizers wringing their hands over the troubles of Mrs. Anthony Weiner, who came to the cameras once it was learned her husband had once again engaged in his interesting practices on the Internet, to tell how good he was, how much she loved him and how much she believed in him, a campaign speech, as it were. This sympathy for her is wildly misplaced because this is the word not of a wildly -- badly treated wife but that of a hard-lime political ambitious woman. And you have to admit this is a couple well matched.

GIGOT: All right, Dorothy.


KAMINSKI: Paul, the Israelis and Palestinians this week restarted the peace talks after three years of sitting aside. Everyone thinks, peace talks, why not, it's a good idea. I think it's a clear miss. We've one again gone to Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, a dictator who is five years past the end of his last Democratic mandate. The PLO has turned this down. They do not want peace. Have we not learned anything over the last 65 years about trying to negotiate peace with dictators who are not willing to engage?

GIGOT: All right.


STRASSEL: A miss for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for dismissing IRS targeting as nothing more than a phony scandal. This was inevitable, Paul, because it's in keeping with this White House. It continues to grow intrusive government. Yet, when that government fails or when turns its terrifying powers on citizens, this White House's response is to blame it on the other side and move on. When the caretakers of government are as irresponsible as government itself, we've got a problem.

GIGOT: All right, Kim, thank you.

Thank you, all.

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

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

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