Should Senate Democrats share in ObamaCare enthusiasm?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 5, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama takes a victory lap declaring the Affordable Care Act a success. But should Senate Democrats share his enthusiasm as the midterm elections approach?

Plus, a landmark Supreme Court ruling deals another blow to campaign finance limits. How it will affect big donors and political parties this November.

And with Middle East peace talks on the verge of collapse, we'll take a look at Secretary of State John Kerry's track record in the region.

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

President Obama took a victory lap Tuesday declaring his signature Affordable Care Act a success. That is, quote, "Here to stay." With more than seven million enrollees as of the March 31st deadline, Democrats were quick to jump on the White House announcement with New York's Chuck Schumer saying voters will reward ObamaCare supporters in the upcoming midterm elections.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Come November, we are confident that our push to give the middle class a fair shot at a better life will prevail over the tired false attacks against the Affordable Care Act.


GIGOT: Just how confident should Democrats be?

Here with a look at this year's battle of control of the Senate, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger, Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and editor, James Taranto.

So, Jason, Chuck Schumer says ObamaCare is now a net-plus. How do you see that?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: He sounds like a Senator from a blue state who is not up for election this year, Paul. I think he should talk to some of his colleagues. Obviously, he's overselling these numbers. We don't know. They could be very hollow numbers.

But Senators from red states are still running away from this law. Democrats from red states who are up for re-election are still running away from this law. It's polling poorly.

We also have last month the special House election in Florida.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: Where a Republican candidate ran on ObamaCare and pretty much only ObamaCare, and did quite well. So, no, I don't think the tables have been turned here.

GIGOT: Let's look at the Senate field. We've got two Republican seats up, competitive, Georgia and Kentucky. They could presumably lose either one of those. We've got 12 Democratic seats that are in some way competitive. We've got open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where the Republicans are now leading and are expected to be pick-ups. We've got two other open seats, Iowa and Michigan, where they seem to be competitive. We've got other states, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and Arkansas, where there are incumbents, Democrats running. That is a pretty open field for Republicans. What are their chances of picking up the six seats they need to get control?

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM EDITOR: I think their chances are very good because this is the most Republican Senate class in terms of which states are up. It's also a class in which a lot of Democrats won six years ago. I think the crucial figure here is, of those 12 Democrat states that are competitive, seven of them were carried by Mitt Romney in 2012.

GIGOT: Right.

TARANTO: So all that the Republicans have to do is win the states Mitt Romney carried in 2012. And that's enough to give them a majority.

GIGOT: But defeating, Dan, an incumbent Senator is hard.


GIGOT: It's very difficult. They've got the money, the name recognition. It really doesn't happen that often.

HENNINGER: Well, notwithstanding Chuck Schumer's ideas about ObamaCare. The downdraft on the Democratic Party is considerable. There is ObamaCare. There's the fact that the president's approval rating is about 42 percent. His rating on his handling of the economy and foreign policy is below 40 percent. And things like foreign policy, Ukraine, the Middle East, the economy -- we just had bad -- had normal unemployment figures, 6.7 percent this week -- and ObamaCare are all net negatives for the Democratic Party. I think if these Republicans play their cards right, they should be able to win the Senate back.

GIGOT: Are there Democrats run on ObamaCare really? Because that's not what I hear, Jason.


I hear them running on a minimum wage. They're running on unemployment benefits. They're running against Paul Ryan's budget.

RILEY: Pocketbook issues. But it's not really helping, I think. They can't get away from ObamaCare. That's their problem.

What is interesting about that map that you just laid out is that it's been expanding for Republicans. Those blue states, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, they weren't on anyone's radar screen a few months ago.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: Republicans have been fielding candidates in these blue states. They are doing a better job than they've done in previous cycles. There was a Tea Party candidate in Colorado, stepped aside for a more viable Republican candidate. That race is now in play. Republicans have been playing this smart. As a result, the map for them has been expanding.

GIGOT: That phrase, "Republicans have been playing this very smart," is not one that's occurred to me in recent election cycles.


They had -- people talked about it 2010 and 2012. They also should have picked up the Senate. Yet, they blew it in the end because they nominated candidates who had significant vulnerabilities and a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot.

What are the risks for Republicans this time?

TARANTO: I think those are exactly it. You have to have a decent candidate in order to have a good chance, especially --


GIGOT: And how is that going so far?

TARANTO: So far, it seems to be going pretty well. The Colorado example is a good one. There are a couple of states. One of the reasons Georgia is thought of as competitive is because they have a wide-open primary.

GIGOT: Right.

TARANTO: Some of the candidates are stronger than others.

GIGOT: And the Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of a former Senator, Sam Nunn, is actually quite a formidable candidate and raising a lot of money.

TARANTO: Yes. Although, Georgia was a much more Democratic state when Sam Nunn was Senator.

HENNINGER: One possible fly in the ointment to watch is Mississippi. Senator Thad Cochran has been in the Senate for 42 years. Should have been a slam-dunk winner down there. He's got a primary challenger, Chris McDaniel, state Senator down there, Tea Party candidate. If per chance, McDaniel could knock Cochran off, and he might -- it happens to Senators who serve that long --

GIGOT: They could even lose Mississippi?

HENNINGER: They could lose Mississippi, which could cause them to not win the Senate. It would be incredible if that were to happen.

GIGOT: Jason, is ObamaCare enough for Republicans to run against? Or do they need something else as a -- something positive?

RILEY: At this point, it looks that way. But we are still seven months out. I agree that I think they need to be -- they need to be for something, not just anti-ObamaCare, or think they can only run on that issue. I'd like to see them talking about tax reform, immigration reform, some of these other issues.

But it's hard for these politicians. They see something working, they see it working in the polls and they say, let's stay laser focused on this issue. But I think there is some risk in doing that.

GIGOT: James?

TARANTO: I guess I agree with that, to the extent you can't really run a political campaign on one issue. But you can be swept to victory on one issue. I think this is the issue this year, just as Iraq was in 2006.

GIGOT: But if you want to make it a wave, I think you have to build on just -- not just ObamaCare, but something more positive as well.

Still ahead, the Supreme Court strikes down a decades-long cap on campaign donations and the left crying foul. What it means for the midterms and influence of the political parties, when we come back.


GIGOT: In another major blow to campaign finance regulations, the Supreme Court this week struck down caps on political contributions, ruling that it is unconstitutional for the government to limit the total amount of money an individual can give to federal candidates, parties, and political action committees during an election cycle.

Wednesday's 5-4 decision was harshly criticized by Democrats, including House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is a very existential threat to who we are and how we do our campaigning and our government and it should be something that should be roundly rejected.


GIGOT: We are back with Dan Henninger and James Taranto. And Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy, also joins the panel.

So, Collin, how important was this ruling for the First Amendment and free speech?

COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Paul, this was an important ruling. And it was especially important because the justices laid down a clear line in this decision that quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it is the only justification for regulating political speech. It's not enough just to say we want to reduce the overall amount of money in politics or we want to level the playing field. So I think that's a very clear legal line and it could be the basis for future legal challenges.

GIGOT: And quid pro quo corruption is basically a political favor in return for cash, which is a pretty narrow definition.

LEVY: Right.

GIGOT: You've got to be able to prove that you gave the money, you got the government to do something on your behalf.

LEVY: Right. Exactly.

GIGOT: All right. So Clarence Thomas, the fifth vote -- he did provide the fifth vote for the majority, but he would have gone further than Chief Justice Roberts did with the majority. Why didn't the chief follow Clarence Thomas? He would have eliminated all campaign finance restrictions.

LEVY: Right. Chief Justice Roberts likes to take an incremental approach. But I think it was also notable that in his opinion, he didn't actually -- while he said that base limits, that is, the amount a single individual can donate to a single candidate, while this opinion doesn't affect that limit, he doesn't actually say -- he isn't particularly reassuring that those will survive in the future. He calls those prophylactics, so there may be room for the court to reconsider those limits in the future.

GIGOT: So Clarence Thomas may be leading the court here intellectually --

LEVY: Indeed.

GIGOT: -- might -- to a destination it might actually get to.

What about the descent, James? Justice Breyer wrote it for the four liberals. He wrote about something called collective speech, which he said, if you allow the rich to give too much, it will drown out that collective speech. What's he getting at?

TARANTO: Well, he has an instrumental view of the First Amendment.

GIGOT: Which means what?

TARANTO: Which means it doesn't protect free speech because free speech is a good in itself. It protects free speech as a means of achieving the will of the people, good government. So allows him to stand the First Amendment on its head because he then says, look, unless we have these regulations, free speech is going to thwart the will of the people, therefore, we have to restrict free speech in the name of free speech. It's quite Orwellian.

GIGOT: But what about the idea that if the rich are able to give unlimited -- and they still have limits to individual candidates, but they are able to give unlimited amounts of money to the parties, that this puts the average person at a disadvantage and does, in fact, give more power to the wealthy.

TARANTO: Well, the wealthy have more power by virtue of having more money. That's just the way it is. But Chief Justice Roberts had a wonderful footnote in his opinion in which he cited various news articles about celebrities who had gone to fundraisers for President Obama -- Jay- Z, Beyonce, Elton John -- and made the point that there are other forms of power that by -- where people can outstrip ordinary people. It's just the way it is. It's --

GIGOT: OK, what about the argument, Dan, that money isn't speech?

HENNINGER: Well, money produces information. They're not simply -- it's not the quid pro quo. Money is spent to create information to put out into the hands of the electorate. So it is a form of speech. If we, at the newspaper, would hope information is a form of protected speech.

GIGOT: Right. And that -- go ahead, James.

TARANTO: And the Supreme Court has always rejected that argument that money isn't speech. In Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 case that upheld contribution limits, they struck down expenditure limits on the grounds that the ability to spend as much money as you want delivering a message is fundamental.

GIGOT: Very precarious majority though.

LEVY: Right. And let me --

GIGOT: Go ahead, Collin. What do you have?

LEVY: Yeah. No, I was just going to point out, too, we've spent the past two year with the left griping about all this dark money that's going into these independent spending groups. In some ways, they should be celebrating because this is an opening for more of the money to be distributed more widely to candidates without affecting that base limit. And also to give more money to the political parties, which is more accountable, by the way, it's also disclosed, and it has potentially a moderating influence.

HENNINGER: Collin's last point is new. The political parties were somewhat disadvantaged by Citizens United, which --


HENNINGER: They are going to be able -- both the Democrats and the Republicans are going to get much more money into their party organizations than they had previously. I think that is going to be good for American politics if the parties are more engaged.

GIGOT: Well, and that may limit the influence of the very rich, who can now basically form a super PAC, as it's called, and just run the ads they want. Now the parties will be able to say, you know what, give the money to us because we can do better with it and we can spread it around. It might reduce the influence of the super rich.

HENNINGER: Yeah. I think it's going to be a positive thing for both sides.

GIGOT: All right.

Still ahead, can these talks be saved? Secretary of State John Kerry scrambles to salvage faltering Middle East peace talks. But are his efforts coming at the expense of other hot spots in need of American leadership?


GIGOT: A big setback this week for the Obama administration's Middle East peace push with Secretary of State John Kerry canceling a planned visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It's just the latest sign that the eight-month-old effort may be on the verge of collapse.

Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, joins us with more.

So, Bret, are these talks dead now?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, the Middle East peace process never actually dies, but it does sort of go away for a while. And I suspect that is precisely what's going to happen now. It was predictable, Paul, from the very beginning that these peace talks were going to fail. You have an Israel that is looking at a neighborhood that is very unstable. They don't know what the future will be in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, any of it neighbors. A Palestinian Authority that is hopelessly divided between Hamas, a terrorist organization in Gaza, sworn to Israel's destruction, and Fatah, under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who is internally weak and so is taking a harder and harder diplomatic line.

GIGOT: What does it mean the Palestinians have now gone to the U.N.? Are we looking at an opening here for more violence between the Palestinians and Israel?

STEPHENS: It's one curious fact in these last two years of incredible violence in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, and the Palestinian areas, except for Gaza, have been relatively peaceful. What Abbas is trying to do is he's trying to bypass direct negotiations with Israel that have always been the basis for a talk. He's trying to create a kind of symbolic state and harass Israel in legal ways.

GIGOT: Put global diplomatic pressure on Israel to concede?

STEPHENS: Right. I don't think it's going to work. I don't think it's going to work at all. It's simply going to convince Israelis that there's never going to be a real peace with Palestine.

GIGOT: Dan, the defendants of Secretary Kerry would say, look, OK, this hasn't worked out, but what was wrong with giving it a try? That's rooted in old-fashioned American optimism. He's worked hard. There's no question, this guy is indefatigable. He is on a plane all the time. So why not give it a try? Even if it isn't going to work, at least you made an effort.

HENNINGER: Well, a try is an understatement. Usually, in foreign policy, you try to set some priorities. He dedicated the better part of a year to this subject. Meanwhile, you have Syria --

GIGOT: He tried on Syria, too.

HENNINGER: Well, he tried on Syria, too. Then we're doing a nuclear weapons negotiation with Iran. And now there's Ukraine, which is a fairly big issue on its own. Syria, they tried. There are now a million refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon is being destabilized by the Syrian war. Jordan itself already has upwards of a million refugees. So I think -- John Kerry said it's time for a reality check. That is an understatement.

GIGOT: But given all that Dan talks about, isn't that -- and I agree with all of it -- but isn't that all the more reason to see if you can pocket one victory?

STEPHENS: Well, you see, I think the victory was making sure that you had between Israelis and Palestinians a stable and manageable situation as possible. This has been a conflict that's been going on 100 years. And you know what, Paul? It's probably going to go on 100 years more. So you have to think --


GIGOT: That is a comforting note.


STEPHENS: No. You have to think -- you have to think of it in terms of the right metaphor. Is this a disease that can be cured or is this a problem that is simply going to have to be managed? And if you think about it as a chronic but manageable disease, then what you do, you encourage the Israelis to provide more economic openings for the Palestinians. You encourage the Palestinians to change their political culture, to cultivate liberal practices. You don't try to sprint in one nine-month go, towards a final solution with a conflict that is more intractable now than it was 20 years ago.

GIGOT: What are the consequences of the failure on Syria and on Palestine, if it does turn out to be a failure at least for the short term here, for the other agenda items that the administration is pushing? Principally, Iran, for example.


GIGOT: Are they going to now put additional emphasis on trying to get that one done to salvage a foreign policy victory?

HENNINGER: Reportedly, they are. But I think the problem is that now our so-called allies in these things keep pushing away from us. Barack Obama flew into Saudi Arabia, spent two hours with King Abdullah. And what he told King Abdullah was I will not make a bad deal with the Iranians and I will support the moderate forces in Syria. Why should King Abdullah believe that at this point? That is the U.S.'s main problem at the moment. Their credibility has eroded. They need the support of a Saudi Arabia.

GIGOT: Bret, briefly, do you think Iran becomes the real focus of the administration?

STEPHENS: It's the only focus they have left. And we'll see in the next few months whether they are going to reach a deal or try to extend a deal. If they try to extend a deal, the Israelis are going to take steps of their own.

GIGOT: You mean extend the interim deal?

STEPHENS: Extend the interim deal another six months, another year and so on.

GIGOT: Yes or no, they will get a deal or not?

STEPHENS: They will not.

GIGOT: They will not.

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


GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Jason Riley?

RILEY: Paul, this is a miss for the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which put out a study criticizing charter schools for being too racially segregated. The left is obsessed with the racial make-up of our schools. I wish they were just as obsessed with whether kids are learning. Charter schools tend to outperform the neighborhood schools. They are among the best public schools in the country, Paul. And finally, they show that black kids don't need to be sitting next to white kids in order to learn, which I think is a good thing.

GIGOT: All right.


TARANTO: Paul, a double miss to OK Cupid, the dating website, and Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser. OK Cupid led a boycott of Mozilla, of Firefox because Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, six years ago, donated $1000 to an anti-same-sex marriage initiative. Mozilla caved in. Eich resigned. The same-sex marriage proponents are winning the argument anyway. It's vicious and ugly to try to deprive their opponents of their livelihoods.

GIGOT: Collin?

LEVY: Paul, this is a hit to carnivores, because a study this week showed that even though vegetarians smoke less, drink less, weigh less, and earn more money than meat eaters, they were also in significantly poorer health. The study showed not eating meat had an increased incidence of allergies, cancer and mental illness. So if you thought that steak was improving your quality of life, it turns out actually it is.

GIGOT: I'm going to have to get on that meat train I guess to extend my --


-- my life.

We had a victory on charter schools though in New York City, Jason.

RILEY: We did. We did. The governor prevailed over the mayor. I never I say it, thought I would say it, I would be happy about that. It's the case here.

GIGOT: All right, thank you.

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. Thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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