Reporters' Roundtable (2015-11-20)

Nov 20, 2015  | 29 min  | Ep 4312 | Podcast | Transcript


Borg: Terrorist actions this past week have a good share of the world on edge, that's safe to say. And it is also safe to say that includes the Obama administration and the men and women campaigning now to move into the White House a little bit more than a year from now. Depending on their past voting records and what they have been saying before the Paris terrorism, there is a lot of reassessing, pivoting and I-told-you-so's going on. We're seeing a lot of that in Iowa as the candidates are now preparing for the first-in-the-nation caucuses, now just a bit more than a couple of months away. And we're asking Iowa journalists what they're seeing. James Lynch writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids. Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich. Lee Enterprises Des Moines Bureau Chief Erin Murphy. And Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson. I'm going to ask you, first of all, Kathie, Paris terrorism just a week ago, events throughout the week, the world has been on edge. What changed in the political race?

Obradovich: I think that what happened is that it has refocused the debate again on terrorism. We started off thinking this was going to be a race where terrorism shared the stage with domestic issues. But the last couple of presidential debates on the republican side, I think the issues this fall had really started drifting more toward economic and domestic issues. Terrorism is smack dab right back in the middle of the discussion again in a way that really I think has grabbed the attention of voters and not just policy makers.

Borg: What do you see, Jim?

Lynch: Well, I think things like flat taxes and defunding Planned Parenthood, those sorts of things have taken a back seat this week to refugee resettlement, to getting tough on ISIS and uniting our allies around trying to do something in the Middle East to curb the growth and the spread of ISIS.

Borg: And Erin, is isn't only terrorism and the safety of Americans, it also has morphed into resettlement of Syrian refugees and that involves even our local Governor.

Murphy: Absolutely. So the debate has become how do you handle the thousands and thousands of refugees fleeing the violence there in the Middle East, particularly from Syria. Governor Branstad joined a number, I think the final number was 25 governors who said that they don't want Syrian refugees settled in their states. You have people who counter that saying we need to be open, have open arms and accept these people, give them shelter from the violence they're fleeing.

Borg: And Kay, that has divided democrats largely and republicans, republicans saying let's pause. Joni Ernst, our Senator, Chuck Grassley saying the same thing.

Henderson: Right, both of Iowa's U.S. Senators have said that. Of course there is still one democrat in Iowa's congressional delegation, Dave Loebsack, a democrat from Iowa City and this past week he voted with the republican majority to force the Obama administration to in some way certify that the refugees from Iraq and Syria are not risks, that the background checks have been effective and that they can guarantee, if you will, that terrorists are not going to enter the country. So that was an interesting moment because the House may be required to overturn a veto of that legislation because President Obama has said he will veto it. If that bill passes the Senate and it lands on President Obama's desk it will be a real test for Dave Loebsack in a year when he is seeking re-election.

Lynch: And I think the contortions he has kind of put himself through here, on the one hand he's saying I reject the hateful, fear mongering of the republicans but at the same time I want to make sure that the administration assures me that this process works and we're going to be safe if we accept these refugees. I think it's a tough -- he's trying to walk a fine line there in a state where I think it's pretty clear, from polls not only in Iowa but across the nation, people are not real excited about accepting refugees.

Obradovich: And how realistically can you certify 100% with people who may have had to flee home. They don't have their passports, a lot of the documentation that they might have had is gone and a lot of these people might be children. So some of it just doesn't seem practical and then some of it is just perhaps holding the administration to a standard that they can't possibly meet.

Borg: We should point out that Dave Loebsack is the lone democrat in Iowa's congressional delegation and he voted with the other republicans in the delegation.

Murphy: And about 40 other democrats as well --

Henderson: 47.

Murphy: Yeah, yeah. It was enough that if every democrat voted the same way again they would have enough to override President Obama's veto but that's not a given. Some of those democrats could change their vote.

Lynch: There probably wouldn't be enough votes in the Senate to override the veto either.

Borg: Kay, which candidates among the presidential candidates now that you've been covering as the have been in Iowa, as you have been listening throughout the campaign and what they have been saying about foreign policy and the military, whether or not they want to cut military, cut the Pentagon, some have been saying that. How has what happened this past week affected those presidential candidates? Who is most vulnerable?

Henderson: Well, on the republican side there is unanimity save one in that Rand Paul has advocated for a different kind of approach to foreign policy, a different kind of decision making if you send U.S. troops on the ground and even Joni Ernst this past week in a conversation with Iowa reporters was talking abbot the fact that you cannot win a war, and the President of France has called this a war, you can't win a war with an air campaign alone, you do need troops on the ground. And so Rand Paul is alone among republicans. On the democratic side, you had Hillary Clinton trying to stress her background as a Secretary of State, actually coming out a little bit more hawkish than the President this past week. The one that has been really interesting on the democratic side is during the debate last Saturday night of last weekend. Bernie Sanders made this interesting comparison of how terrorism is somehow related to climate change. He was given an opportunity in the opening statement of that debate to speak about the Paris attacks. He spent two sentences addressing that and then quickly veered to domestic policy. And so he among the democrats is going to find out pretty quickly whether the democrats are going to hue to the national mood, which I think the latest survey I saw 56% of Americans are ready to send ground troops in to fight ISIS.

Obradovich: One of the interesting things you see parallel sometimes between democrats and republicans, Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are both trying to make the case that getting involved in the Iraq War, as Hillary Clinton voted to do, and all of the things that transpired since, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, cleared the way for ISIS to have this path to do what they are doing now. Bernie Sanders of course making almost the same argument as Rand Paul. They're both trying to reach I think a younger audience, people who are not interested in getting into another war. And that argument may be effective with part of the electorate.

Borg: So you're saying they would fall into the I-told-you-so's.

Obradovich: Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the main points that Bernie Sanders tried to make in the debate is saying to Hillary Clinton, I voted against the Iraq War, I saw this coming to a certain extent, I used good judgment, Hillary Clinton you voted for this war and your judgment and your policy in the Middle East has helped lead us to this point.

Borg: Erin, I cut you off.

Murphy: What I was going to say is I think it will be interesting to see on the republican side how this discussion impacts Donald Trump and Ben Carson's campaign because of their backgrounds, national security, foreign policy isn't necessarily a strength of theirs and you had the New York Times piece this week that had a Ben Carson advisor talking about how much he has struggled to grasp the foreign policy. And meanwhile the field that is trying to catch them you've got senators who are in on these intelligence briefings, you've got governors who have had to make executive decisions in their states. So it will be interesting for me to see, one, whether Trump and Carson will struggle in this debate. And two, if the do does that impact any of their supporters or maybe some of those undecideds who had them but also a Marco Rubio or a Ted Cruz on their short list, do they stray towards them?

Henderson: The other part is you have Donald Trump who is bellicose on this, bomb the expletive out of them. And it strikes a chord with people. I covered him in Newton this past week and there were people in the crowd who said, this situation with what happened with the terrorists and what Trump has heretofore been saying in the campaign has made him more appealing rather than less appealing.

Borg: Is Hillary Clinton, excuse me, go ahead.

Henderson: So I think the outsiders do have a moment to prove to people that they are commander in chief material. For the Trump supporters, I'm not sure he's going to lose that core of support, like a quarter of likely caucus goers in Iowa. I'm not sure he'll lose those because they think it fits with his persona.

Borg: Jim, what I was set to ask here is does Hillary Clinton have baggage on this in a past voting record and also being Secretary of State in the Obama administration, which is taking a lot of criticism right now in the policy leading up to maybe making the way for ISIS to become strong? Is she able to cut loose from that baggage?

Lynch: Well, she's trying to and that was one of the most interesting developments of the week to me is her speech on foreign policy, how she was pivoting away from Obama's policies. She used some very strong language that it's not enough to contain ISIS, we have to destroy ISIS, which has been one of the chief complaints from republicans is that Obama has taken this position that we can contain and degrade and she said no, we have to destroy it. The other interesting development I think was Bernie Sanders going ahead with his speech on democratic socialism in a week when I don't think anybody really cared about democratic socialism. They want to know what are you going to do about ISIS, about terrorism? How are you going to keep me safe, not how are you going to keep me economically viable.

Obradovich: The other part of this debate, Dean, that has been sort of simmering I think on the back burner between republicans and democrats and I think will flare up again and that is, what do you call this brand of terrorism? Republicans have been very, very adamant, we're calling this Islamic Jihadist, we're emphasizing the religion aspect. All of the democrats at the debate said, no, no, this is terrorism, you don't put the focus on the religion. And now with Donald Trump and others talking about do you ramp up surveillance now on American Muslims the way they did in New York City at one time surveilling mosques, are you going to get back into that situation? And so I think that the democrats and the republicans are not saying very much different among themselves but this is going to be probably pushing into the general election and have that be an issue.

Borg: Let me just, can you make Iowa a microcosm of the nation in the way that they will caucus. We've got western Iowa, especially northwest Iowa, Steve King's district being strongly republican and maybe the eastern side, particularly Johnson County in that area being heavily democratic. Will candidates find it difficult in Iowa to appeal to voters and caucus goers in those various sections being a microcosm of the nation? Do you see what I'm asking, Kay? Do you have any idea and will there be a consistent message? Or will democrats tend, those who are maybe on refugee settlement, campaign more strongly in the eastern side of the state and the more hawkish ones maybe Ted Cruz and others in the fourth district?

Henderson: Well, I think we have to remember that democrats and republicans have a different calculation on caucus night. Republicans can run up the score in northwest Iowa and it's a statewide tally. It is essentially a straw poll vote. So they could lose handily in Johnson County and it really wouldn't hurt them if they won overwhelmingly in places like Sioux County and the Spencer area. So there is that element of it. For democrats it really is a statewide race. It's about delegate math and you cannot ignore rural Iowa. You have to go, you have to organize, you have to have people at the precinct level because as Bill Bradley found out in 2000 and Howard Dean found out in 2004, you can do really well in the urban areas of Iowa with the liberal enclaves in places like Iowa City and Grinnell but you're going to lose if you don't have a statewide approach to the electorate.

Obradovich: Another way to answer that question, Dean, I think we see played out in Iowa on the republican side the same argument that you're going to see nationally, which is do you want someone who is very pure on republican ideology, regardless of whether there might be a deal to be made or a compromise to be made in Congress? Or are you going to hire somebody, elect somebody who is going to be essentially a governor who is going to work with Congress and compromise if necessary to get things done? That is the difference between a Ted Cruz, for example, who really does not want to compromise at all and somebody like Jeb Bush who says I want to get the trains running on time, I want to govern and I want to make Washington work.

Borg: One candidate I haven't mentioned here who I would say may be king among the I-told-you-so's, Lindsey Graham. How does this affect his campaign, Jim?

Lynch: Well, it probably doesn't affect it very much at all because it doesn't seem to be going anywhere and he's not really spending any time in Iowa to speak of. He hasn't been back here, I don't know when the last time he was in Iowa, but not recently.

Henderson: He's spending all his time in New Hampshire.

Lynch: Right, he's spending all his time in New Hampshire and he will continue to say I told you so and stress his military background, his 33 years in the Air Force and that sort of thing. But his campaign doesn't seem to be going anywhere. He makes it fun though.

Henderson: I think the person to watch on the republican side right now is Marco Rubio. He is currently on a campaign swing through the state of Iowa. It has more stops in more places than I've seen him visit before. So this may be a new phase of the campaign for him. People who are in the know don't think he has as robust a ground game here as other campaigns do that are in his position to capitalize on some pretty good debate performances. So we'll see what happens this weekend as he does around the state and tries to coalesce people, start organizing in a meaningful way.

Murphy: And this should fall in his wheelhouse, this debate that we're talking about. He has talked since day one of his campaign that he feels national security should be one of the biggest issues, he's been talking about it and as I mentioned before he is one of those Senators in on those meetings. He has more info than a lot of the other candidates.

Borg: Speaking of a campaign that didn't seem to be going anywhere, Bobby Jindal. That's an event this past week, he dropped out. Where might his supporters go in Iowa?

Murphy: Well, all dozen of them or so will probably, I don't mean to be glib, but Governor Jindal had a hard time. He did well, he got to about 5% or 6% in one Iowa poll and that was his peak. I know Rick Santorum is working hard to pick his up. I don't know that there's a big scramble to pick up his supporters just because he never seemed to get traction. He was one of those candidates that when you would talk to people at his events they liked him but there was always someone else that they liked better.

Borg: But he spent a ton of money in Iowa.

Murphy: I was going to say, he's a case that the full Grassley is not a perfect way to campaign. I think he did it twice this campaign, for sure once.

Obradovich: He was well-liked among conservatives and he would show up in our polls a lot of times as a popular second choice, but he just couldn't push that over the hump. And I think his people, like we've seen with other candidates that have dropped out, his people tend to scatter. I would think if I had to pick one candidate who was sort of his twin in a lot of the rhetoric that we hear it would be Ted Cruz because a lot of what Bobby Jindal was talking about was being mad at Washington and mad at Washington republicans who are not doing what they said they were going to do.

Borg: Go ahead, Jim.

Lynch: Santorum this week was saying that he's picking up some of Jindal's supporters but I think Kathie is right that if your favorite candidate was Bobby Jindal and his campaign has fallen apart now I think you might look at Ted Cruz as someone who is rising as opposed to Santorum who is kind of in the same position as Bobby Jindal. He's got some support but he's pretty low in the polls. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is rising, he might look like a sure bet.

Borg: Okay, Kay, let's talk about Ted Cruz then. An event this week benefited, I'm asking you, I just about tipped my hand here and said benefited, but Steve King, Congressman of the fourth district, ultra conservative, endorsed Ted Cruz. Helpful? Of course there would be some help there. But enormously helpful?

Henderson: King is very popular with a big segment of the Iowa Republican Party who are active at the grassroots level. This is an endorsement that we had all sort of smelled for a while. King's son had been working for the super PAC allied with Senator Cruz. And King had appeared at a couple of events at which Cruz was the main draw and had given glowing remarks about Ted Cruz. I think this may in some respects throw some light back on Congressman King because among all the candidates, Cruz has been the clearest and most forceful about opposing the ethanol mandate. And that is something that King supports, it is also a huge industry in the fourth congressional district. That district makes more ethanol than any other congressional district in the country. And so I think King's going to get some questions about that.

Borg: Let's go then to something that is right here in this state and that is the Medicaid debate. Kathie, it's very complex but just to put it simply, Governor Branstad in an executive order is seeking to transfer Medicaid, which has been administered by the state of Iowa, into private companies, into a managed care --

Obradovich: And that has been very controversial and --

Borg: And it has evolved into a republican-democrat, or at least the Governor versus democrats.

Obradovich: Well, democrats have not been in favor of privatization from the very beginning. They want to keep these things within the government. But also there have been questions raised about the various companies that won contracts for this. So we have all of that going on in I think the context of a larger battle about health care and a larger battle about who is going to manage health care and in the era of Obamacare republican governors being resistant to that. We had in the debate Hillary Clinton, one of her biggest applause lines, saying who do you want to manage your health care, Terry Branstad? And people were just erupting, it's a big, big partisan issue.

Borg: Erin, what is at stake here? Who stands to lose? Now, where we are right now is it's going to happen, the companies have been chosen to privately manage the Medicaid program. Democrats traveled, three democrats, legislative leaders traveled to Iowa, Amanda Reagan, Liz Mathis and Pam Jochum.

Murphy: To Washington, D.C.

Borg: Went to Washington to ask those who make the decision in Washington to approve Governor Branstad's plan, not to do it at least not so soon.

Murphy: Or to at least delay it.

Borg: Now, is it a big loss for Governor Branstad if there is a delay or a rejection?

Murphy: It would be. This is a pretty big deal. We're talking about a multi-billion dollar operation of the state's Medicaid program, impacts more than half a million Iowans if I remember the numbers right. So this is something that if it gets delayed or ultimately halted all together that would certainly be a black mark on his resume. But I think the bigger issue here is as you noted it has become a political football and meanwhile you have people who are on Medicaid or have family members who are on Medicaid and they have a ton of questions about this. They feel it's happening too fast. They're not sure how this is going to go, what it's going to look like on January 1st.

Borg: And, Kay, but Governor Branstad has built that into the coming budget, has he not, the anticipated savings?

Henderson: Right. As I look at this I think it's rather fascinating. We have someone who we all may think that this may be the last term that he serves as Governor, I'm not quite sure. He is aggressive now as he ever has been in pushing things, shutting down mental health hospitals, really remaking the executive branch of state government, hiring a new leader for the University of Iowa. He's doing things that I think in the waning days of your governorship I think they're fascinating to watch in that he is as aggressive on these issues and he's facing push back from some pretty powerful interests. The Iowa Hospital Association and the 116 hospitals they represent --

Borg: Which are the providers of Medicaid.

Henderson: Right, they filed a lawsuit. They say they don't have enough information yet to strike contracts with these four managed care companies. So it is becoming a fight not just between democrats and republicans but it is becoming a fight not just between patients and the Branstad administration, this is becoming a fight between health care providers and the Branstad administration.

Obradovich: You know, you look at the history of Branstad's term, many terms as Governor, he has pushed the envelope on gubernatorial authority and in a lot of cases has just been like sue me, you don’t' like it, sue me. And he wins some of those lawsuits and he loses some. But it doesn't really stop him from trying to go with executive authority where other governors have not gone.

Lynch: And I would expect that if he loses on this, if the Obama administration delays implementation, he'll say they're playing politics, he'll throw it back at them that they're playing politics with him and you'll have the argument who do you want managing your health care, Terry Branstad or the federal government?

Borg: Time is tight, we're coming to the end of the program but I also want to make an analogy, the state budget, Kay, is very tight as well. In fact, is this going to be -- does this portend to you covering the state legislature, problems ahead in this session?

Henderson: There are problems ahead. There will be new people in leadership positions in the House so they'll just be getting their legs under them to try to figure out how to write a budget so that's going to complicate matters.

Murphy: And the Governor's staff as well.

Henderson: And the Governor's staff as well. And then added onto all that is they have made a bunch of promises, they have promised schools more money, they promised cities and counties more money to cover lost commercial property tax revenue, and so they're not going to have any money to spread around.

Murphy: And it's an election year.

Henderson: But other than that I think everything will be fine.

Borg: And there are those who are eyeing the Governor's chair already but we don't have time to name them right now. We'll save that conversation for another time around this table. Thanks so much for your insights today. And we'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. I'll see you then. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Iowa Bankers Association
Associated General Contractors of Iowa