What does Iran nuclear deal mean for Middle East?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," July 18, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," a deal has finally been reached to put limits on Iran's nuclear programs, but how much good will it actually do? And what does it mean for the Middle East?

Plus, Hillary Clinton rolled out her new economic plan this week all while throwing major punches at Republican candidates just as newly announced candidate, Scott Walker, enters the race for the Republican nomination.

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

This week, diplomats from six countries, including the United States, completed an historic deal with a goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In exchange, Iran will receive billions of dollars in assets that have been previously frozen by other countries and be allowed to resume selling oil to the world's market.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns this landmark pact is nothing more than smoke and mirrors and will eventually prove detrimental to the Middle East.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: By not dismantling Iran's nuclear program, in a decade, this deal will give an unreformed, unrepentant, and far richer terrorist regime the capacity to produce many nuclear bombs, in fact, an entire nuclear arsenal with the means to deliver it. What a stunning historic mistake.


GIGOT: Joining the panel today, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and Wall Street and Main Street columnist, Bill McGurn.

OK, Bret, you didn't think this would go ahead because you thought the Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, would not, in the end, agree to a deal on these inspections. Why do you think he did it in the end?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: They made him an offer he couldn't refuse, but in a good way, or at least as far as he is not in the Don Corleone way. Look, what I thought was --


GIGOT: Good for Iran, you mean?

STEPHENS: It's a superb deal for Iran. What I thought was going to be the sticking point was the ballistic missile issue because the ayatollah said clearly there was no way they would accept limits on the missile program.  By the way, on the American side, you have people like General Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying there was no way the United States could ever allow them to import ballistic missiles.

GIGOT: In the he wanted they --


STEPHENS: And in the end --


GIGOT: -- they agreed to eight years of restrictions on the imports of the technology for ballistic missiles.


GIGOT: But only eight were.

STEPHENS: So in eight years, Iran can import state-of-the-art ballistic missiles beyond simply what they are doing in terms of their own domestic production. Ballistic missiles are a key component to any nuclear program because that's the way you most effectively can deliver a bomb.

GIGOT: What about the actual terms on the nuclear side of this bill? Was there anything you like in here? Because the president says, look, we didn't care about anything else, we didn't care about Iran's other activity, terrorism, all we were focused on was this nuclear deal. Did he put enough restrictions on?

BILL MCGURN, WALL STREET & MAIN STREET COLUMNIST: Yes. I think actually it's the wrong question to ask, what restrictions Iran has because if you look at this deal, the restrictions are all on us. Who can inspect the plants, what the timetable is. The sanction that were removed, they were put in place over years, and the idea that they're going to snap back if Iran violates, it's just crazy. You can't -- you just simply can't do it that fast. I think the real way to look at this deal, all the restrictions that it puts on us.

GIGOT: Wait a minute. They would say -- the president would say, and it is saying this does put restrictions on Iran. All of their current nuclear facilities must be -- are going to be inspected. They're going to have to shrink their stockpile of uranium. They're going to have to put -- turn the Fordo facility into something that is just a research facility.  Although, when we originally said it should be shut down, now it's a research facility. There are real restrictions on Iran.

STEPHENS: Yes, there are. That's true, but they go away after certain periods of time.


STEPHENS: Yeah, after certain periods of time. In the meantime, Iran maintains all the, or almost all of its nuclear infrastructure, it's allowed to do research and development on more advanced centrifuges that it would then be able to quickly build and field after the restrictions apply.  And then you have the president's claim that this deal puts Iran under this unprecedented verification and monitoring.

GIGOT: Right.


STEPHENS: First of all, that's not true. We had a much tougher monitoring regime with Iraq before the Iraq war. Also, there are all kinds of restriction on what U.N. nuclear watchdogs can look for in terms of the undeclared facilities. We know what this place is like Esfahan (ph), Fordo, Iran and so on. The reason you have inspections is because you have to find out if they're doing something on the side that they shouldn't be doing.

GIGOT: All right.

MCGURN: The restrictions themselves don't mean anything unless you can verify them. I mean, the operating philosophy have been distrust and verify. The question with all these details is can we really verify. It's very unclear, it's a very -- we'll probably all disagree what they actually mean. The terms are very murky, and that is to Iran's benefit.

GIGOT: What impact will this have on the rest of the Middle East, Bill?  Is this going to influence how -- what about the Saudis, for example? You heard Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Israelis, unless they decide, and I doubt they will, they can only influence American politics. They can't do much against Iran. What about the Saudis?

MCGURN: Look, this is doing more for Israeli-Arab unity than any other measure --


-- that's come out of this administration. The Saudis and the Israelis are on the same page. They worry about Iran.

GIGOT: Can they do anything --


MCGURN: And that's not new. They've been worried for a long --


GIGOT: But can they do anything about it?

MCGURN: Well, they can get their own weapons, right?

STEPHENS: And this exactly -- I mean you heard Prince Turki (ph) in March, the former Saudi intelligence minister, say whatever this deal this gives Iranians, we will seek to have the same. We've other senior Saudi princes tell us about an arrangement they have with Pakistan, presumably meaning that Pakistan will provide them with nuclear weapons.

GIGOT: Off the shelf weaponry.

STEPHENS: So the president is making the claim that this deal stops proliferation in the Middle East. This deal guarantees proliferation.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you, gentlemen.

When we come back, the political effect of this nuclear deal and how Congress is reacting to it.




SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is catastrophic.  If it goes through, it will result in funding terrorism. It will endanger the lives of Americans. It will endanger Israel.

REP. MIKE MCCAUL, R-CALIF.: This will result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I predicted, in desperation, that the president and John Kerry would make a bad deal. It looks very much they made a worse deal than we had even fears.


GIGOT: Reaction from several lawmakers about the highly controversial nuclear deal with Iran. A congressional vote on the accord is not expected until September but Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker says they will begin reviewing the agreement next week. Will this nuclear deal actually see the light of day?

Joining the panel to discuss is Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, do you think the president is going to get a majority of the U.S. Congress and the House and Senate to support his deal?

KIM STRASSEL, POTOMAC WATCH COLUMNIST: I do, in the end. There's a big fight going on right now. The Republicans are likely to introduce a resolution of disapproval. They hate this deal. But --


GIGOT: But, Kim, will he get a majority of the members in both houses?  Not to approve this. Will he get more than 50 percent to agree with him to approve the deal?

STRASSEL: Oh, absolutely not, no.


STRASSEL: No, no, no. Let's be clear, all of the Republicans will oppose this in the end. The only question is, can he hold back enough Democrats from joining with Republicans to put forward a filibuster or an override of his veto. So the majority of Congress is not going to approve of this and he's going to be out there on his own.

GIGOT: The way this is structured, all he needs is 34 Senate votes to pull the veto in order to let this go forward.

Bill, what do you think?

MCGURN: Yeah. I think --

GIGOT: Do you think he can afford it?

MCGURN: I think he is going to get enough. He needs one-third of the Senate to do it. The interesting thing is, if you look at the polls, the polls show most Americans pretty consistently have favored a deal, but they also show most Americans don't trust Iran.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: And I think the president is playing that. But so far, we've heard a very one-sided picture form the president. Now that we have a deal and people are talking about the terms, it's going to drop those numbers.  And it's telling that the Republicans are pretty united. It's not like same-sex marriage or some other issue where a lot of people are wavering.  The Republicans don't seem to be fearing public opinion.

STEPHENS: And there are Democrats who are going to vote against this deal.

GIGOT: How many in the Senate do you think, Bret?

STEPHENS: I think probably seven or eight will have to -- we will have to see. Some of them are going to vote against the deal because they have constituents who expect them to vote against the deal. They know that it won't cost the president in the end because he'll be able to override --


STEPHENS: -- a veto. The point is not whether Congress, this Congress can stop this deal.

GIGOT: That's unlikely.

STEPHENS: I think that's highly unlikely. The question is, do you weigh the political predicate to making this deal toxic for the presidential candidates and for the next president?

GIGOT: Kim, on that point, what about Hillary Clinton? She's saying, look, I support this deal, it's a good deal, but I don't trust Iran. She's exactly right where Bill said the polls are. Imagine that.


But Republicans in the presidential race, on the other hand, are all uniformly, so far as I've seen, against it.

STRASSEL: Yeah. You hear a lot of Democrats out there making the argument that Hillary is playing the smart card here, that this is setting up Republicans to look like the war party, for instance. If you go back to Bill's point about the polls, I don't really buy that. I think there are a lot of Americans who are anxious about this deal. You put it in the context of their mistrust of the president's handing of foreign policy in general, and also the fact that -- a lot of Americans understand we have hostages being held by Iran at the moment. They're not happy about that either. The president is getting tough questions on that. So I'm not sure this is a slam dunk for Hillary Clinton to simply jump on board with this and suggest this is a political winner.

GIGOT: The only -- the split I've seen with the Republican presidential candidates, Bret, is those that say I'm repudiate it on day one if I'm inaugurated, and those that are not saying that. They're saying we oppose the deal, but they're not making that demand.

STEPHENS: Well, the truth is that the next president is going to have a hard time walking away simply because --


STEPHENS: -- this deal binds us and ties you us down.

GIGOT: And it's the U.N. commitments that we're making which are -- that you can't just do it if you are --


STEPHENS: The president is going to have to make a major foreign policy break, the next president, if he's going to walk away from this deal. And that's going to take some intestinal fortitude. It will help if he has the polls and the American people on his side.

GIGOT: And Chuck Schumer, the Senator from New York, he's always on the fence on these things because he has real constituents that will oppose this. On the other hand, he needs the left wing of his party to be the next Democratic --


MCGURN: Yeah, and guess which one I think is he going to choose?


Look, in Israel, both parties are against this deal, right?

GIGOT: Left and right.

MCGURN: And you can bet that Chuck Schumer will come out for it.

GIGOT: All right.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton debuts her economic policy plan. Plus, Scott Walker joins the ever growing list of GOP candidates in the race for president.


GIGOT: Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, unveiled her economic agenda this week saying it would boost the American incomes and push companies to share profits with employees. During her speech, Clinton also took aim at her Republican opponents, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who jumped into the race this week claiming he made his name by stomping on public worker rights.

Here to discuss is editorial board member, Joe Rago; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman. And back with us, "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Joe, is Mrs. Clinton's plan more Bill Clinton, more Barack Obama, or something different?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, I think she's running for a third term and it's not her husband's. Mrs. Clinton is running as Obama plus.

GIGOT: Plus. What do you mean by that?

RAGO: She's saying I'm going to defend and consolidate all the economic policies that the president has achieved over the last eight years and then I'm going to add other things. I'm going to add a right to child care, potentially a higher minimum wage, profit sharing and so forth. The contradiction is that she says wages aren't rising fast enough --


GIGOT: And she concedes that?

RAGO: She concedes that. She says the economy isn't growing fast enough and investment is too slow. So she's basically saying the soup is terrible and the portions are too small. She's saying we need more of the same policies that have failed --


GIGOT: Obamanomics haven't delivered for middle class incomes so we need more of it?

RAGO: Exactly.


All right, James, is that going to fly?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: She may have been feeling the burn --


-- The threat for Bernie Sanders on her left flank, feeling she needs to address that. We were talking on the show last week, wondering which way she was going to go. She's obviously decided to turn left. Now it's going to be a question for Democratic primary voters, does she mean it? And would the Clintons, do they mean it is always the question. I think in terms of what she staked out on policy, she is going to have a very strong case to hold on to the left wing of the Democratic party --


FREEMAN: -- because it is Obama plus, as we were mentioning, a lot more regulation of the work place, higher taxes.

GIGOT: So here is the question, Kim. James suggested this is feeling pressure from Bernie Sanders on the left. I assume also from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. But is this also the real Hillary Clinton, the Hillary Clinton who used to be before Hillary-care blew up in 1994, went into hibernation while Bill Clinton was president, now can express herself and say this is the big government, activist, liberal Hillary Clinton we knew and loved back in the '70s and '80s?

STRASSEL: I think that's absolutely right. There were always questions.  Look, Hillary Clinton is very politically savvy and her husband's politics helped him get re-elected in the White House and she sat quietly by as that happened. Everyone knows she was the more liberal side of that team.

I think here's what she's doing. Hillary Clinton knows her path to the White House or she believes her path to the White House is through the old Obama coalition of younger voters, minorities, single women voters. But her problem is she's not Barack Obama. She does not have the ability to inspire and enthuse people in any way. She is a doer speaker. She is just not him. She feels she has to do this through her ideas instead.

GIGOT: Politics.

STRASSEL: And she is doubling down on his policies trying to get the ascendant liberal wing of the party to put their trust in her.

GIGOT: All right. Let's turn to Scott Walker, James. He's out, a top- tier candidate among the Republicans, for sure. What are his strengths?

FREEMAN: Well, he has guts and he's gotten a lot done in Wisconsin.  There's obviously a very talented field out there, but a lot of them are talented politicians without a whole lot on the resume in terms of tangible achievements, SO.

GIGOT: What are his big achievements?

FREEMAN: The big achievement is known as Act 10 and, despite great opposition, he managed to reform the state's public-sector union laws or the laws affecting them and that meant big savings for taxpayers, billions, in fact.

GIGOT: And you could decide, if you're a union member, whether to join or not and pay dues. A big falloff in union, public-union membership.

FREEMAN: Exactly. The biggest teachers union in the state, membership has fallen more than 50 percent. So what he has is a big victory under his belt in a normally Democratic state. And he's shown he has guts. I think that's going to be very appealing to a lot of Republican primary voters.

GIGOT: Joe, let's talk about weaknesses. And one challenge is to show he can step from that state level on to the national stage and deal with all the issues of presidential candidate has to do, foreign affairs and, of course, national tax economic policy.

MCGURN: Right. Can he break out from being merely a regional candidate to a truly national figure?

GIGOT: What will he be looking for on that front?

MCGURN: I think he needs to release some new material to begin with. His announcement was kind of a disappointment. If you followed him, we've heard it before invoking the --


GIGOT: Nothing new?

MCGURN: -- the sale at Kohl's on the sweater.

GIGOT: The sweater.

MCGURN: It's kind of his story. Can he break out from that, and can he learn from other people? He has a reputation as kind of insular, his own speechwriter, his own political strategist. Can he kind of elevate himself beyond what he knows on to the national stage?

GIGOT: All right. Very good.

Thank you all.

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


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

Joe, start us off.

RAGO: Paul, this is a hit to the New Horizon's mission to Pluto, which beamed back the first photos of the last planet in the solar system, so far unexplored. It traveled three billion miles over nine years and it's an extraordinary testimony to human curiosity, to science and engineering, and to the spirit of discovery.

GIGOT: All right.


STRASSEL: A hit to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which this week called a unilateral halt to the witch-hunt the prosecutors were conducting against conservative groups in the state. Prosecutors claimed this was about campaign finance violations. In fact, this was just an attempt to harass and intimidate groups supporting Governor Scott Walker during his recall election. The court, to its credit, blew the whistle, said the case was unsupported in reason or law, and this was a big victory for free speech.

GIGOT: All right, hear-hear, Kim.

All right, James?

FREEMAN: This is a miss to the IRS. We know they target conservatives, too.


We also know they grab pieces of our paycheck. But what they've also been doing is seizing whole bank accounts belonging to people who have been never convicted of a crime.

GIGOT: It's civil forfeiture.

FREEMAN: Civil forfeiture. A total outrage. And even after they said they're going to stop doing it, they're still sitting on the money in several cases. So, fortunately, the Institute for Justice is fighting back on behalf of some clients. But a big miss to the IRS.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

A compliment to our own Collin Levy, who did so much good work in the Wisconsin battle.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us on 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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