Sen. Charles Grassley

The August congressional
recess offers legislators a chance to visit with
their supervisors, the voting public back home. We’ll sit down with Iowa’s
senior congressional leader, Senator Charles
Grassley, on this edition of Iowa Press. Funding for Iowa Press was
provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television
Foundation. The Associated General
Contractors of Iowa, the public’s partner in
building Iowa’s highway, bridge and municipal
utility infrastructure. I’m a dad. I am a mom. I’m a kid. I’m a kid at heart. I’m a banker. I’m an Iowa banker. No matter who you are,
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Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers
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Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, August
16 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. ♪♪ Yepsen: For Iowa’s
elected officials in Washington, coming
home during an August congressional recess is
more complicated than a simple visit to
the State Fair. From an ongoing trade war
to mass shootings spurring another round of gun
control conversations, multiple issues continue
to seize national headlines and those issues
lead constituents to bring their concerns directly
to elected officials like today’s guest, Senator
Charles Grassley, no stranger to the
Iowa Press table. Senator, welcome back. Grassley: I’m glad to be
back, particularly after I just finished my 92
counties out of 99 that I visit every year. So I had 8 town meetings
in the last two days. I’m glad to be with you. Yepsen: Thank you. Across the table,
political journalists asking the questions are
Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee
Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News
Director for Radio Iowa. Henderson: Senator,
David mentioned the mass shootings. There have been two this
month in El Paso and in Dayton. What in your view
will pass the U.S. Senate in terms of
background checks, perhaps red flag laws? Grassley: I assume that
those are two issues that Lindsey Graham and
democratic Senator Blumenthal are working
with the White House on now. Those are the only two
things that have been up front as specific
identifications, but also the general mental health
issue so people that have mental health issues can’t
get guns to do what a lot of people that are
deranged do because there has been a mental health
issue with all these. And Senator McConnell said
that he expected this to be an issue for debate
after we get back after Labor Day. Henderson: Do you expect
the President to be the lead on this or do
you expect the U.S. Senate to be independent
of whatever the President believes on this issue? Grassley: I think
there’s a close working relationship between the
leadership of the Senate and the White House on
this considering that that’s where the
negotiations are going on now, not just between
republicans and democrats, but also between the
Senate and the White House. And I think that there’s
a feeling that if you’re going to do anything in
the Second Amendment area that you want to make sure
the President is going to sign it. Henderson: Do you think
republicans are too allied with the National
Rifle Association? Grassley: No, I think that
what you find is you don’t hear the National Rifle
Association talk very much about — at my town
meetings you talk about the Second Amendment, it
was a discussion at most of my town meetings and
both people that want legislation passed as well
as people that want to make sure in the process
of considering that legislation that it
protects the Second Amendment. Murphy: Senator, you
mentioned the mental health issue and the
President has as well and others. We’ve also heard from
mental health care advocates who have started
to push back on that line of thinking and express
concern that tying these shooting events to mental
health issues may unfairly demonize people with
mental illness who are not violent at all. Do you share that concern? Grassley: I think it’s
wrong to demonize people just because of the
issue of mental health. As I was growing up it
was kind of considered a blight on the family and
we were putting people in asylums. We’re 50 years
past that now. We still need to be
sensitive about that issue. And I think they’re right
in regard to El Paso and Dayton but I don’t think
they’re right in regard to a lot of the shootings
that have happened, other mass shootings that have
happened, particularly in schools with young people. And now I think that I
don’t follow the Iowa legislature very closely
but I think the Iowa legislature has made a
good movement in that direction by having
emphasis upon analyzing children before they go
to school if there’s any mental issues there that
we can intervene and prevent some of
these things. And I’m also looking at
a bill, I’ve already got this bill introduced, but
a bill where the Secret Service has had a program
for law enforcement people over a long period of
time to teach them how to identify people that may
be disturbed and could do those mass shootings. And I want to extend that
Secret Service program to educators. Murphy: You mentioned
the asylums and the Iowa legislature. In Iowa the reform has
been to move more towards community based care for
folks with mental illness. The President within the
last day or so has talked about needing to go back
to the institution style of treating mental health
care, mental illness. Do you agree with that? Grassley: I don’t think
that the President would take into consideration
the great advances that have been made in
pharmaceuticals and other sorts of treatment as well
as anything in psychiatry that has us had the
possibility of having community based treatment
and I would want to continue that community
based treatment. But I do think that there
is something that ought to be a little easier for
people to have treatment rather than just having a
lot of people that don’t have access to that
treatment because maybe of their own independence. I think that if you want
to be a humanitarian towards people that have
mental illness that sometimes there ought to
be some real effort to get people to treatment. And some people in mental
health would say, or maybe lawyers would say, that
could be a violation of their constitutional
rights. But it’s different than
your institutionalizing people for decades like we
used to do for 100 years before 1960. Henderson: Let’s shift
to the farm economy. There are waivers
being granted by the Environmental Protection
Agency, which is reducing the amount of ethanol that
is blended in gasoline in this country, some
say by as much as 10%. The ethanol industry,
particularly the ethanol producers in Iowa,
are up in arms. Why isn’t President
Trump’s EPA following through on what the
President has promised? Grassley: They screwed us
when we didn’t, when they issued 31 waivers compared
to less than 10 waivers during all the Obama
years, and we thought that was bad. What’s really bad isn’t a
waiver, it’s that it is being granted to people
that really aren’t hardship and that is where
it ought to be identified. Like I have told the
President on one occasion, I said 18 months ago we
started out this division between ethanol and the
small refineries and these waivers and I said RIN
certificates were 80 cents. Now they’re down
to 20 cents. So if the problem was 80
cents RIN why is it a problem today? And that is the
way I still see it. Now, I didn’t get an
answer from him when I said that because we were
there to talk about other things, but he always
brings up ethanol so that I know that he knows about
the ethanol issues and he wants to be considered
very pro-ethanol and he wants to be considered
very pro-farmer. But EPA, as I told Ivanka
Trump one time when she came to my office to talk
about family leave issues, I said, can I talk to you
about something to tell your dad? And I said, he’s got
somebody in the EPA, in the air quality divisions,
that isn’t carrying out his policies and you tell
him he ought to, he needs to be aware of that. So that is where we are. Henderson: So where
does the buck stop? Grassley: Well, since
Truman, the buck stopped at the Oval Office. But here’s what it is, I
don’t think that we would have even had these six or
seven less waivers that were applied for if the
President hadn’t been in Council Bluffs to talk
about E15 12 months out of the year, which was
something he had worked on for two years to deliver
for the ethanol industry and the corn farmers and
then farmers talked to him about these waivers
situations, he went back to Washington and told EPA
you’ve got to do something about the waivers. So they do something that
has six less waivers out of 38 or 39 and it’s a big
accomplishment and it’s no accomplishment whatsoever. So we’ve got to go back to
the President the same way that we have in the past. Henderson: The
President-elect of the Iowa Pork Producers
Association expressed concern that Iowa pork
producers are forever losing the China market
at a time when China is losing a significant
number of its hogs due to African swine fever. As a free trader for
your whole life are you concerned about the
turn that the Trump administration has taken
in regards to trade policy worldwide? Grassley: As I told the
President maybe three months ago when we were
down there to talk about trade it was something
like this, I said two years ago on tariff issues
with China I’d say you were crazy, but now I know
we would not have had China at the table
negotiating if you hadn’t put the tariffs on. And I think that is the
way farmers feel because they don’t want China
stealing our intellectual property and we know
intellectual property to the genetic engineering of
corn is very important for increased productivity
and profitability. So consequently they
understand that China has been in the World Trade
Organization for 20 years and they’re cheating and
cheating and not living by the rules of trade. And farmers are going to
be better off if we get China living within
the rules of trade. Yepsen: Senator, I want
to switch gears to the deficit. I’ve covered you a long
time and I remember when you first got elected to
the Senate one of the big issues was
deficit spending. What has happened to the
Republican Party’s concern about federal
deficit spending? It’s going
through the roof. Grassley: The concern is
that we made a decision two years ago that we were
not going to accept the new normal that we were
preached to by the Obama administration that this
economy was never going to grow more than 2%
well into the future. Looking at the history
of America and the seven decades since World War II
the economy averaged 3 and 1/10th percent growth. The worst decade of that
seven decades we still grew 2.6%. So to have an
administration tell us it’s the new normal you’re
losing faith in America and we decided we’re not
going to lose faith in America, we’re going to do
whatever it takes to get us back on track of 3.5%
economic growth so that we can grow this economy,
create jobs and get more money coming into the
federal treasury from growth. What this country needs is
more taxpayers and we have more taxpayers now than
we’ve ever had in the history of the country,
we have less unemployment than any times in the last
51 years and we got it back on track and it will
be economic growth that brings the deficit down,
more taxpayers paying into the treasury, not
higher tax rates. Murphy: Senator, despite
all those positive things that you just highlighted
there is a growing amount of economic data and a
number of economists who are warning that there is
a recession on the horizon here for the U.S., do
you share that concern? Grassley: You know what,
reading business pages for the last six or seven
days I have come to the conclusion we’re trying
to talk ourselves into a recession. Now, I do think that the
uncertainty of trade with China is a big factor
in the slowdown of the economy, but I don’t think
there’s a recession, particularly in America,
around the corner. And what I don’t
understand now with the economy of China slowing
down more than ours and probably more than the
rest of the world I don’t understand they’re 15% of
the world economy, we’re 22% of the world economy,
just think two countries, 37% of the world economy,
and if we could get this trade issue taken care of,
getting China not cheating on the World Trade
Organization rules, and it would benefit China
greatly, it would benefit America greatly, but it
would do what trade has done for the whole world,
it would benefit the whole world. From this standpoint that
as I told the President one time, free trade has
done this since World War II by lowering tariffs,
50% of the world was in poverty at the end of
World War II, today it is 8%. That is because of
capitalism and free trade. Murphy: Speaking of trade,
one more note on that before we move on, the new
trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, you’ve been
advocating for that to be signed by
Congress into law. Will that, assuming it
does eventually get signed, will that be
enough of an improvement on NAFTA to have made
it worth these past few months of negotiations and
the kind of market upset that has happened
because of this? Will this new agreement
be good enough? Grassley: By the way,
USMCA will be my major goal to get through the
Senate just as soon as it gets through the House
this fall and I think that’s going to happen
this fall along with getting lower drug prices
would be my two goals for the rest of this year. So in regard to the
question, yes, there’s almost every new thing
that wasn’t even around 25 years ago when we
negotiated NAFTA like protection for
intellectual property, the digital environment we’re
in and free trade in that area and so many other
areas that weren’t around, they’re included in it. Almost everything, for
instance, that was negotiated in the
Transpacific Partnership that the President pulled
us out of, those things are transferred as we
agreed to them into the USMCA. So that is very important. In fact, when this started
I was surprised to have the commerce secretary of
Mexico and the foreign minister of Canada tell me
in my office that it was okay to renegotiate, it
needs to be modernized. So the President wasn’t
out of step with those other two countries. So where it’s going to
benefit agriculture is in the areas of poultry,
dairy and wheat with Canada and with the United
States it’s going to benefit us in domestic
content for automobile manufacturing and driving
up the price of labor going into manufacturing
these domestic partners. Henderson: Senator,
quick policy question. Will the pharmacy industry
kill your prescription drug bill? Grassley: They just about
did in committee because I, in fact normally I
don’t get a bill out of my committee unless I
have a majority of the republicans on my
committee for it. This is probably the first
time I’ve been chairman of any committee that I
had nine out of fifteen republicans
vote against it. Thank God I had the White
House on my side because the White House wants
my bill and I think the President is talking of
standing up against big pharma. I think that we got a
bipartisan agreement that saves the taxpayers a
little over $100 billion and puts a cap on the
amount of money that one person can pay in
pharmaceuticals a year and it does away with the
donut hole and all these things that are pretty
good that I think we can take on big pharma. Now, the question is will
McConnell bring it up? So we have set up a
pattern at the staff level during August to start
negotiating with democrats in the House of
Representatives to see if we can pre-negotiate
something that the House can pass to put pressure
on the Senate and McConnell to bring it up. Henderson: Let’s
shift to the election. What is your view of
President Trump’s chance of carrying Iowa again? Grassley: Very, very good. And I think when you think
about the growth in the economy, the lowest
unemployment in 51 years, getting NATO to pay more
of their fair share of defending Europe and
the stands he has taken against Russia, putting
sanctions on, what he has done to pull us out of
a bad deal that Obama negotiated with Iran, what
he’s doing to get North Korea to quit doing
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Henderson: But aren’t they
firing things into the ocean? And isn’t there a danger
that if the economy goes south his re-election
will go as well? The polls seem to indicate
that he has a steady core of support but is not
growing beyond that. Grassley: He is different,
that’s pretty simple, he’s different. Yepsen: Senator, before we
get too deep into politics I want to go back to
one issue that you were concerned about and that
is floods, flooding, and the Army Corps of
Engineers’ standards for when it lowers the Gavins
Point Dam, you were very critical of the Army Corps
a few months ago, where does that stand? Grassley: It would
probably be the other four dams up the river above
Gavins Point that are more of an issue than
Gavins Point. Gavins Point is not really
a place where they’re going to control the water
coming down the river as much as the other four. As far as I know we have
not made any progress yet in getting the Army Corps
of Engineers committed to making the flood control
the number one priority of the engineers on
the Missouri River. What’s wrong, every time
you have a flood they say it is their number one
priority, but then when you go back between 2011
when we last dealt with this tragedy, now again 8
years later it proves that in those seven years it
wasn’t their major concern and we’re going to have to
keep fighting with them to get the job done. And there’s a great deal
of resentment on the part of people in that area
that they had no problems before the 2004 manual was
re-written, none of this disaster. So it’s quite obvious
let’s go back to the manual the way it was the
four years before then. Murphy: Senator,
Congressman Steve King this week found himself
in the national headlines again when he was talking
about his defense of abortion policy and his
opposition to abortion laws that allow for
exceptions in the case of incest and rape and what
particularly garnered people’s attention was
when Congressman King sort of wondered aloud whether
humanity would still exist if that had always
been the case. I was just wondering if
you had any reaction to the Congressman’s
comments? Grassley: What little bit
I think my staff told me the discussion was about
it kind of boils down to what do I think about
abortion and rape and incest. I’m pro-life and rape and
incest is a crime and can’t be tolerated. Henderson: Do you support
exceptions in federal policy for rape
and incest? Grassley: My general rule
has been what can I do when the abortion issue
comes up to save the most life? And if those things are
included and you can’t get a bill without including
those I would include them. I’d like to be a purist in
this area but you’ve also got to be practical about
what can you get 60 votes in the United States
Senate to get done and so if I want to be pro-life
then we work to get those compromises where you make
steps a little bit at a time. Yepsen: But what
about Steve King? You’re a good republican,
he’s in hot water with a lot of other republicans. How do you feel about
the way Steve King has conducted himself
as a Congressman? He’s got a primary now
of three other people challenging him. Steve King? Grassley: No different
than when you see the outrageous comments by
the squad in the House of Representatives or
anti-Semitic comments about, from members of the
House of Representatives. I’m a policy guy. Like I told Erin, when I
go back there I’m going to be worried about getting
the U.S, Mexico, Canadian agreement passed, I’m
going to try to get drug prices down, I’m going
to worry about policy. I’m not going to comment
on everything that is ridiculously said by 435
members of the House of Representatives. Murphy: Just one last
thing, you’re an Iowa republican, the fourth
district has been consistently represented
by a republican in Congress for a long time. The last time around
Congressman King nearly lost that election, only
won by about 3 percentage points in a heavily
republican district. Do you have concern that
if this pattern continues that democrats could
actually win in the fourth district? Grassley: No, I don’t
have any concern. That’s the most
conservative district in the state and
there’s a primary. I announced maybe six
months ago I wasn’t going to get involved in the
primary because at least three of the candidates I
know well and are friends with. Go ahead. Henderson: You campaigned
on Kim Reynolds’ behalf in 2018 and toward the end
of that campaign you told audiences that one reason
that Iowans needed to vote for her was because she
might have to appoint a U.S. Senator if something
happened to you. Do you have something to
tell us about your health, Senator? Grassley: I’m healthy. You want to come and run
three miles with me in the morning? Henderson: Not
in the morning. Are you going to
run for re-election? Grassley: Why don’t you
ask me that in about two and one half years. Yepsen: We’ve got just
less than a minute left. Grassley: Don’t forget I’m
going to be serving the people of Iowa. Do you think I sit around
and just think about re-election? Go ahead. Yepsen: Only 30
seconds left. Your duties as president
pro tem of the Senate, how do they affect the
people of Iowa? Does it make any
difference in your job? Grassley: Well, I think
historically the last time that there was a president
pro tem from Iowa was exactly 100
years ago, A.B. Cummins. I think that it doesn’t
affect my representing the people of Iowa and I may
be president pro tem, third in line to be
President of the United States, but my work is all
about representing the people of Iowa. I open the Senate, lead
them, introduce the chaplain, lead them in the
pledge of allegiance and then do a lot of
ministerial functions. Yepsen: Senator, my job is
to close the show on time. Thanks for being with us. Grassley: I’m glad, I’ve
enjoyed it very much, thank you. Yepsen: Before we go, an
event reminder for next week. IPTV’s special
presidential town hall series continues when I’ll
sit down with former Vice President Joe Biden for
an hour-long discussion. IPTV presents
Conversations with the Presidential Candidates
hosted by Des Moines Area Community College at
their Ankeny campus on Wednesday, August 21st. The program will
livestream at 7:00 p.m. that evening and broadcast
on IPTV Friday, August 23rd at 8:30. And we’ll be back next
week for Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday
night and Noon on Sunday. So for all of us here at
Iowa Public Television, I’m David Yepsen, thanks
for joining us today. ♪♪ Funding for Iowa
Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public
Television Foundation. The Associated General
Contractors of Iowa, the public’s partner in
building Iowa’s highway, bridge and municipal
utility infrastructure. I’m a dad. I am a mom. I’m a kid. I’m a kid at heart. I’m a banker. I’m an Iowa banker. No matter who you are,
there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you
get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you
to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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