Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Iowa Press | Episode
Dec 17, 2021 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa), U.S. congresswoman for Iowa's 2nd District, discusses her work in the House and her plans to run for reelection in Iowa's new 1st District in 2022. 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for Lee Enterprises, and Clay Masters, Morning Edition host and lead political reporter for Iowa Public Radio.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.



(music) Congress is heading into a holiday break with key legislation still uncertain. As the calendar turns to an election year, we sit down with Second District Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks on this edition of Iowa Press. (music)                              Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at (music)                       For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, December 17th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.  (music) Henderson: Our guest today is a veteran, an eye doctor, the former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, she was a State Senator until she was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2020. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, welcome back to Iowa Press. Miller-Meeks: Good afternoon, or morning, it's nice to be here with you. Henderson: Good day. Miller-Meeks: Good day. Henderson: Also joining us for the conversation are Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio and Erin Murphy of the Lee Enterprises newspapers. Murphy: Congresswoman Miller-Meeks, you have in the past been labeled a republican from Ottumwa. How much longer will that be the case? You were drawn under redistricting, the districts changed, you have said you are going to run in the new First District, which does not contain your current home in Ottumwa. So do you plan to move or do you plan to try and represent the first from your home in Ottumwa? Miller-Meeks: Well, there is an extremely difficult decision. So you want to represent your hometown and my hometown, as you mentioned, Wapello County was put into district three. But 80% of the district I currently represent, and which I know very well having been both residency at the University of Iowa, on faculty at the University of Iowa and then I had a private practice in Burlington or practiced in Burlington, so it is a district that I know very well. And so it was an extraordinarily difficult decision to make and finally came to the decision that I would run in the district which 80% of I currently represent. And so I think the most important thing was to make the decision where to run and that is because there are other individuals who are deciding are they going to run in three? Are they not going to run in three? Are they going to run in one? And so to make a decision to let other people know where they in particular wanted to run. And then I have a variety of options. So I have numerous housing options in the new enlarged district two, now district one. I still haven't figured out why we're calling it district one, it's confusing enough to me. But I have a variety of housing options that I'll be able to be in the district and live within the district. Murphy: Okay, so you do plan to move eventually at some point -- Miller-Meeks: I won't sell my house in Ottumwa, but yes. Murphy: Okay. Masters: Why not stay in the third district? Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne is planning on running for re-election, it's going to be a competitive seat. Why not just stay? Miller-Meeks: Well, there is certainly the enticement of running against an incumbent and winning an election in a new district. I have about 18%, 20% of my current counties, which my southwest counties are in the new district, but I'm known in the first district, it is where I currently represent and so you're representing in one district while you're in Congress at the same time as you're running for re-election in another district and you have an affiliation with people. So I have run in that district for a very long time, I am well-known in the district. And I don't know if this is laudatory or if it just shows insanity of having run before and people supported you through primary after primary and then you finally get elected and you feel an allegiance and a responsibility to be able to represent them given their support of you time and time again. So, I think it is where I feel comfortable, I feel very much at home and I feel a responsibility and allegiance to those individuals in the current district too, which is now in the larger district one. Henderson: Just for the benefit of viewers who are just joining the story, you ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives three times and then won on your fourth try. Erin? Murphy: Congresswoman, as we talk about these new districts, your new first district that you're going to run in will be similar to the current district that you represent in that it looks to be very competitive, very balanced politically. Two years ago, as Kay mentioned, when you won that race it was a very close one. You won by six votes when all was said and done. Do you expect a similarly close race in 2022? Miller-Meeks: I hope not. So, I had no idea that my claim to fame would be winning I think the third closest race in history. It has its own level of stress and it delays you from being able to do all the things that you want to do when you start off in Congress. So no, I think that this election cycle will be different. Both pros and cons, you have a congressional record, a voting record now that can be brought up. But you also have those things which you have achieved. So we have passed actually quite a number of bills in the minority, many of which I'm very proud of. I have two immigration bills that are coming up on legal immigration, things I'd like to see passed. We're still working on prescription, lowering prescription drug prices. So I think given the things that I have done, I expect to be re-elected and by a much larger margin than six votes, at least triple my margin. Murphy: All the way to almost 20. But it will be a high profile and contested race, will it not? I mean, it is a very politically balanced district and the majority in the House is such a slim margin right now that I would assume that you expect both parties will be heavily involved in the first district race. Miller-Meeks: Absolutely. I in no way think that this is going to be an easy re-elect, it is going to be very challenging, as challenging as the election in 2020. I will work very hard. I am known to be a very strong campaigner, I am known to be out and visiting and with people and I will continue to do that. With the exception of the month of November, I typically am home very weekend back in district and even today I'm going tout to district visits. We have had to reschedule our county visits throughout this process because we get called back to Washington, D.C., but I will actually be on my, I've got two more counties to do and I will have visited officially, this isn't unofficial, but official visits to all 24 counties, this will be my fourth time. Henderson: You were the only republican in Iowa's congressional delegation to vote for creation of a commission to examine what happened on January 6th. Why? And what is your view of how the commission has progressed? Miller-Meeks: I voted for the commission in many ways to prevent what is now occurring. But I voted for it because I thought there was information we needed to know. We had asked for a commission and it has been stopped by Speaker Pelosi. So that was earlier in the year. We had asked for an investigation into January 6th and what had occurred. I felt that we needed, having a commission that was bipartisan but not sitting legislators, had equal members. We would have the ability to subpoena witnesses. Sitting legislators could not be subpoenaed or brought to testify without the approval of both the vice chair and the chair. And then it had a finite end date, so it would be ending by December, so it wouldn't be something that would be carried on throughout next year and into the election cycle. And so I thought it is important to get answers to questions that we needed, but to do it in a way that was truly an investigatory, not a partisan political process, which this has evolved into a partisan political process. Masters: We've seen the former chief of staff Mark Meadows' text messages that he received on January 6th. TV personalities and even his own son, former President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., calling on the President to do something more on January 6th. You were at the United States Capitol when that was going on. Did the former President do enough? Miller-Meeks: You know, I had just left the chamber because it was so cold in the chamber and I had mentioned to Representative Ken Buck, who was sitting beside me, that I was going to go back to my office to get my coat. And I let my staff know and then they send me back, stay where you are, which whenever they tell me to stay then I typically do the opposite. No. But, I had just left the Capitol. So I was unaware of what was going on outside of the Capitol. And even when I was asked to remark at that time I said, I would like the President to come out and very forcefully ask people to leave and to go home and to stop. So, certainly the text messages are disconcerting, but Mark Meadows has released a plethora of information, given a lot of information to the committee. And whether or not the President has done enough, we still don't know where Speaker Pelosi was with the National Guard. So there's still a lot of questions that need to be answered. Murphy: A recent Iowa Poll showed that 32% of Iowans and almost half of Iowans who voted for Donald Trump say they are not confident that the next election results will be, that they can trust the next election results. So there is obviously an attitude out there about a lack of confidence in our elections that has been building off of this. What will it take to lower those numbers, especially given that every review, legal challenge, etcetera, non-partisan reviews has showed that the election was conducted fairly and legally? What will it take to convince those Americans that these elections can be trusted? Miller-Meeks: Well, I think one thing that is not helpful is to have a bill going through Congress that is put forward by the majority party to get rid of voter ID. So the election bill that now is, they're looking at perhaps changing that in the Senate and concentrating on the election bill rather than on Build Back Better because at this point in time they don't have the votes to pass that through the Senate. That getting rid of voter ID, which is highly supported by the public, so you have over 70% of the public supports voter ID, we have voter ID here within the state of Iowa and if you look at our elections within the state of Iowa I think Iowans can have great confidence and trust in their election system. So we have put through election law changes in order to secure elections and precisely for that reason, so that people have the confidence that their vote counts. And if anything can tell you your vote counts it would be my election. So I am probably the poster child. But I think what we did with election law changes, the fact that our voter ID was upheld by our Supreme Court and then we were told for absentee ballot requests that we needed to codify those changes, those changes were codified. I think in Iowa people can have trust and faith in their elections. And if you're concerned about election fraud, the best thing to do is get more people out to vote. So get out to vote in bigger and greater numbers. Murphy: So much of when those complaints or concerns are raised a lot of it is often around mail-in voting absentee, early voting. Can we still have that system in place and be able to convince people that that is a safe and fair way to conduct elections? Or do you think mail-in voting needs to be constrained if not eliminated? Miller-Meeks: I don't think it needs to be eliminated. I think the process that we have in Iowa where you request a mail-in ballot or you have an absentee ballot request and you request it and then you have your signature and you have either your driver’s license number or your voter identification number, that process I think works extremely well in Iowa and it is well accepted by the public. And then being able to mail in the ballots, and because we have codified what is expected people know what is expected in Iowa. So we know that your ballot has to be postmarked or barcoded and we had to adapt to that, we had to adapt to changes in postal service delivery. But it has to be barcoded or it has to be postmarked by the day before the election -- Henderson: Actually the new law is it has to be in the county auditor's office on Election Day. Miller-Meeks: So I think those, because this just came in our most recent iteration of election law changes and there are other states that have that as well. But knowing that I think helps people to know what they have to do, campaigns can reach out to individuals and they can follow up on that and make sure people understand the law. But I don't think mail-in ballots or absentee ballot requests with a mail-in ballot should be eliminated. Murphy: So just before we move on, what would be your message to those, that 32% of Iowans, half of the Iowans who voted for Donald Trump who don't have faith in the current system, what would your message be to them? Miller-Meeks: My message would be that they can have confidence and trust in the election system within Iowa. We have put safeguards in place to both prevent fraud, even though it is usually extremely low and it is very difficult to prove, and that if they are concerned about fraud get more people out to vote. Masters: I think we're going to move on now to talk about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen the two hospitals in Cedar Rapids recently post that they are not doing elective surgeries through Christmas. What is the message, or what is the role of the federal government at this point in the pandemic? Miller-Meeks: Well, one of its most basic roles is to inform people. And throughout this process and the pandemic through both administrations I think that we did not have the level of transparency that we needed. So whether that was on communication about masks where first you don't need to wear a mask, then you need to wear a mask, then it's what kind of masks. So throughout this process I think the level of transparency has not been lacking and I have even communicated that to both Dr. Wolinsky and Dr. Fauci when we've had hearings. I'm on the select subcommittee task force on the coronavirus. So I think the amount of transparency could be greater and should be greater. Individuals need to know what the risks are, they need to know what the benefits are, what various protocols or policies are being put in place and then how to protect themselves and protect their family members. How do they go about doing that? What things actually work and are proven through randomized control trials. We still don't have some of that data. People need information on therapeutics, what works as well as they need information on vaccines. So I think all of those things, I'm fully vaccinated, I gave vaccines in all 24 of my counties, but I am not for a vaccine mandate. I was concerned that a vaccine mandate would lead to more resistance and more resistance among people who felt that there is information that is not being given to them and I think that that has been borne out. Henderson: You, as I mentioned at the onset of this program, are a former member of the military. What do you say about this prospect of members of the military refusing an order to get the COVID vaccine? Miller-Meeks: That is what is challenging in the military that many people don't understand is that when you are given a direct order, you're supposed to follow a direct order, and there are repercussions if you don't follow a direct order through the uniform code of military justice. When it comes to a vaccine, so for instance in the military I'm not aware that we mandate the flu vaccine within the military. I am not in any way comparing COVID-19 to the flu. So first let me state that, COVID-19 among vulnerable populations is much more fatal and you have much more serious illness than you do with the flu, although the flu also can be fatal to those in the young age group and the older. But within the military we don't mandate the flu vaccine. We do mandate other vaccines, especially if you are deployed to certain regions. If you are deployed to certain regions you are required to get vaccinations. When it comes to COVID-19, given that we still don't have transparency on the numbers of young people who get mild carditis or cardiac infections, which can be both life threatening and can be permanent and given the low propensity for young people to get ill with the vaccine, I think when it comes to the COVID-19 mandate within the military, I think that we should have exemptions, we should be honest about the number of people that are getting exemptions. I have been instrumental in trying to pass through legislation where people would not be, they could be disciplined but would not be discharged from the military or given a dishonorable discharge. We were able to get that into the NDAA that they would not get a dishonorable discharge if they left because they declined to be vaccinated. So I think, again, this is one of those areas where what are we trying to achieve? And what we're trying to achieve is immunity. You can have immunity through having contracted the disease, you can have immunity through a vaccine. And then how many people do we want to leave the military because they are concerned about getting a vaccine? My approach has been to talk to individuals about the risk, their concerns, the benefits and then try to work them through that process. Murphy: But can we -- more broadly, not just for the military -- can we achieve immunity with a voluntary -- don't the results kind of speak for themselves that we can't get to that point with voluntary participation, that a mandate may be needed to get us to that threshold? Miller-Meeks: I think what you have to look at is that we have a global pandemic. And so we're going to continue to see variants and COVID-19 until we have a large percentage of the population globally vaccinated. So if you have young people who have no risk factors, so they don't have a risk factor for disease, and we know what those are, so they have a low propensity to either get ill or to be hospitalized. Are there other ways that those individuals can be isolated or kept from other individuals, kept from large groups, just like we did before we had the vaccine so they don't put any other individual at risk and allow them to make that decision and then let those vaccines be utilized in other countries where we know we need to increase levels of vaccination. Masters: The heads of these hospitals, at the beginning of this question, were saying that the staff at these hospitals are emotionally and physically exhausted with the fourth wave of this pandemic, the Omicron variant rising, still looking at what this variant does for populations. And at the end of this message they were talking about you need to get vaccinated, continue to wear your mask and the third one was -- Henderson: Avoid large gatherings. Masters: Avoid large gatherings. We're going into the holidays and people are gathering. What is your message as a medical doctor and a member of Congress to people as they are preparing? Miller-Meeks: Well, I continue to encourage people to get vaccinated and I think one of the challenges we've had with COVID-19 is that even if you’re vaccinated 47% of people that are fully vaccinated will in fact get COVID-19 and they can still transmit virus. So we're still learning a lot of things about this virus, which doesn't act like other viruses. So for instance, if you're vaccinated for measles, you don't typically get measles. If you're vaccinated for smallpox or for polio, you don't acquire or get polio. And so in reference to COVID-19, it is a little bit different than what we have seen. We know that there are countries that have extremely high vaccination rates and are seeing COVID-19 cases or positivity doesn't necessarily mean hospitalizations. Henderson: You mentioned the National Defense Authorization Act, the NDAA, and Erin has a question about it. Murphy: Yeah, so that had an element of it that was designed to address the issue of sexual assault in the military, it had bipartisan support. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you supported that original language as well that was watered down a little bit before it got into final passage. Senator Gillibrand from New York, a democrat, proposed it. Senators Ernst and Grassley here from Iowa, republicans, supported it. How disappointed were you that that, I assume pleased that it got in, but how disappointed were you that that was watered down a little bit and didn't have as much teeth in it maybe as originally proposed. Miller-Meeks: I was one of the original co-sponsors of that bill. Senator Ernst and I talked about the bill itself. And so I was very early on in the bill. It got changed somewhat as we navigated it through the House and became the Vanessa Guillen bill and did get watered down in the NDAA. But I am pleased to see that something is happening on that front. And I think where people had concern goes back to what you were talking about in having a military order and following through on military orders and repercussions. So there are individuals, both who have been in the military and who have not but have a lot of experience with the military, that were concerned about circumventing the chain of command or going through an individual legal process, prosecutorial process without it going through the chain of command. And I think for sexual harassment that was I think an important part of the bill and we'll continue to work on that issue. Murphy: Yeah, and maybe to kind of fill in our viewers, that was the main piece in what Senator Gillibrand was looking for, it would take cases involving accused sexual assault and move them from the chain of command, have an independent prosecutor look at those, the idea behind that being that you avoid maybe internal conflicts of interest or whatever it may be. But you're saying that folks had concerns with that for that very reason. Miller-Meeks: Yeah, even in the House there were concerns about that. I talked with other military members, so I am part of a bipartisan group of military veterans, the For Country Caucus, and so even among those individuals there was concern. But we did have very good support within the House for the bill. And I acknowledged the concerns that individuals have and having independent legal look at it didn't mean that you did not communicate or also follow through with the chain of command. So it was removed from the investigatory process, but you still had to respect the chain of command. Masters: Let's stick with some policy issues in the remaining time that we have. I want to bring up the bipartisan infrastructure bill that you did not vote for. Your congressional colleague in the same party, Chuck Grassley, did vote for that. What did you see that he didn't? Miller-Meeks: Actually what I saw, if you recall in an unusual process the bill started in the Senate rather than in the House. Typically it starts in the House and then goes to the Senate. So it was a bipartisan process within the Senate and it was not tied to any other legislation. When it came to the House, Speaker Pelosi tied the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the reconciliation bill, or to the Build Back Better bill, so those two were tied. Then after several months of haggling within the Democratic Party, with the moderate democrats and the progressive democrats and they were fighting among themselves, then Speaker Pelosi said they were not connected. But then President Biden came to talk to the democrats and said they were absolutely connected and he would not sign one without the other. So, on the House side we had two bills that were connected to one another. I've talked at length about infrastructure. I was very late coming to the decision whether or not I would support the bipartisan infrastructure bill because I am very supportive of infrastructure, I had talked at length about it, both roads, bridges, locks, dams, broadband and electric grid. And even though there was spending within the bill and there was still about $400 billion that wasn't paid for, had it not been linked to a different bill I could have supported it. Additionally, in the House side, it wasn't bipartisan. The republicans were completely left out of negotiations. We weren't allowed amendment, all of the amendments were voted down no matter how common sense they were, and some of them had no cost to them. There were not changes made to the permitting process. So when you talk to your road builders, the amount of time that it will take to do a road there are some that are 17 years in the making still trying to get permitting. And then the other part is having crews to be able to build roads. Henderson: Well, talking about the amount of time, we are out of it. Thank you for joining us for this conversation today. Miller-Meeks: Thank you so much for having me. Henderson: Thank you for watching. Join us at our regular broadcast times, Fridays at 7:30 and at noon on Sundays. You can watch any of the programs anytime at On behalf of everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching. (music) Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at