Rep. Cindy Axne

Iowa Press | Episode
Nov 12, 2021 | 28 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-West Des Moines), congresswoman for Iowa’s 3rd District, discusses the infrastructure bill and other work in Washington, D.C., as well as redistricting in Iowa. 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Clay Masters, Morning Edition host and lead political reporter for Iowa Public Radio, and Stephen Gruber-Miller, political reporter for The Des Moines Register.

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


(music) Where will democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne's name be on the 2022 ballot? We'll ask her 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, November 12th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.  (music) Henderson: Our guest today was on this program shortly after the 2108 election when she won her first term in Congress. Her winning margin was 2.2%. She was re-elected in 2020 by a margin of 1.5%. And she is joining us today to talk about the 2022 election. Welcome back to the program, Congresswoman Cindy Axne. Axne: Thank you, Kay. It's great to be here. And congratulations on your history-making role here. It's good to see you here at the helm. Henderson: Thanks for those words. The folks joining us at the Iowa Press table today are Stephen Gruber-Miller of The Des Moines Register and Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio. Masters: Congresswoman Axne, just first of all, we've got the new redistricted Third District, all redistricts are redrawn, you have been mulling for a while whether or not you're going to run for re-election for the newly-drawn Third District or maybe run for Governor. Have you made a decision? Axne: Well, I'll tell you what, one of my strong advocates this morning said, can I put your Cindy Axne for Congress sign out? And I said, are you trying to get the scoop before today? I'm saving that for right now. Folks, I'm going to be running for the United States Congress here in Iowa's Third District. Masters: What made you rule out governor? Axne: Well, I've said all along that my goal when I started in my first primary was to make sure that I represented Iowans in the best way I thought I could to make sure that we do three things, put money in their pockets, give our families opportunity and ensure that states like Iowa got to operate on a level playing field with other states so we got as much support for the issues that we face here. And I still feel that the best way to address those issues is within the United States Congress. And so I took the, really it's the issues that Iowans are facing and how can I best address those and that is what made my decision. I would also say that really quite honestly our country's democracy is at risk and I am the number one targeted race by the National Republican Campaign Committee. They want to take me out so that they can have the House. And I've already heard what the intentions are, things like false accusations to our President, things like trying to overturn the election. This job for me is about standing up for Iowans. That means making sure that we have what they need but it also means protecting our democracy and I play a pivotal role in both of those areas and I intend to make sure that Iowans have the best voice out there, the one that will be making sure that we bring opportunity back home to them and the one that also protects their rights in this country and protects our democracy. Gruber-Miller: You took a little bit longer than usual to make up your mind here. What went into that decision? Why did it take until November to decide? Axne: Well, a few factors. Certainly making sure that I knew what this district would look like and who I would be able to be out there representing. I wanted to make sure that we had the best opportunity for our state and so I wanted to look at that, I wanted to look at the pieces that we're putting together as I'm in Congress now and how we're moving those agendas forward. And I'm really pleased to see how far we've gotten in this last year with the infrastructure bill that will be signed into law this coming, this week, as well as moving forward with Build Back Better Act, of course all the Rescue Plan support that we put out there and part of my thinking about this role is really like how are we functioning in Congress right now to deliver for Iowans? And I'm proud to say that we're functioning very well from that perspective. So I took that into consideration. Where can I make the most impact? What does the redistricting look like? And how are we going to make sure that Iowa has the best support for what we need? And it took a minute to really look at all these things in conjunction to make sure I made the right decision. Gruber-Miller: Sure. You mentioned a minute ago that you might be one of the top targeted races in the country. The new district, the Third District that you're going to be running in is a swing district, just like your old district was but you're losing some of the counties where voters have gotten to know you over some years and you have to introduce yourself to new folks. How are you going to do that? And what is the winning message for a swing district like yours in 2022? Axne: Well, I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing which is going out and meeting with the people in this new district just like I did and have been doing over the last several years whether it was the 100 meet-and-greets I had in my initial race before even getting into the general election or the Connect with Your Congresswoman that I've had close to 75 of those since I made it into office. It's about taking my voice out to the people that I would be representing, hearing from them, listening to their concerns and talking with them about how I've already been putting policy in place to benefit their lives and address those concerns, but also the policy that I'm currently working on that is helping them whether it is lowering the cost of prescription drugs, which is in the Build Back Better Act or my Sergeant Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act to help our veterans no matter where they live in Iowa get the support that they need to reintegrate into our communities again. My job is to go out there and tell all those folks that I'm there for them and I've got their back. And so it will be incumbent upon me to bring that message out to them just like I do every week in Iowa here when I'm on radio every week across our district letting folks know what I'm working on and that is how I hope to win is to go out there and let folks know how I'm benefiting them because that is what I think Iowans really care about. What are you doing for us that makes our lives better? Henderson: Before the 2020 Iowa Caucuses, you endorsed Joe Biden's candidacy for the White House and you campaigned with him. Are you going to invite him to campaign with you in 2022? Or would that be a hindrance to be associated with a President who is not very popular in Iowa judging by the results of public opinion polls? Axne: Well, I think Joe Biden is a great President. I would absolutely always welcome our President to come and visit with me and Iowans. I think it would be a great opportunity for Iowans to get to spend more time with the President. Unfortunately what we've seen since he came into office is really a lot of false narratives about the work that is being done. And so I believe that once we get the infrastructure bill signed into law, the Build Back Better Act signed into law, next year folks are seeing expansion of those child care centers, they're seeing more money in their pocket because of the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit or the savings of, I think about the folks here who are in insulin, we're going to cap it at $35 a month. My goodness, I have people who tell me they can't, they have to make a decision between taking their insulin or keeping their lights on. So I believe, Kay, that when those pieces are put in place and we start moving those agendas forward, we're going to overcome some of the false narratives that people are hearing right now and really they'll see the facts that we're working for Iowans and I would be happy to have the President there with me. Masters: You brought up the infrastructure bill. Why do you think it took so long for that to pass in the House when it had bipartisan support in the Senate so early on, back in August I think, and even Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a republican, voted for it? Why did it take so long in the House? Axne: Well, a couple of reasons. First, as we tried to work on this in tandem with the Senate, the Senate came forward with a bill and we really had to go from that framework. So immediately when you're presented with here is your first framework it's going to take a little bit longer. So we got together with those folks and I think we had a lot of agreement in the House on the democratic side. But here's the deal, democrats were a big tent party. We want to make sure that we represent needs for people across this country. So there isn't always going to be agreement right off the bat. And so I think we had to work through some of those things. Some of the people on the more progressive side of our caucus wanted to see particular elements of the Build Back Better Act, making sure we were moving forward with that, while some of the folks on the more conservative side of the Democratic Party wanted to see more in relationship to cost reduction overall for a package. And so what happened was because of all this difficulty in kind of coming to the conclusions that we needed to, the packages got split up and then it took a little bit to make sure that within each one of those we're going to see what we need. My job was to fight for what we needed here in Iowa whether it was the $65 billion that we're getting in the infrastructure plan for broadband or the reduction of costs for families in the Build Back Better Act. And when you write good policy it takes a minute. And I want folks to realize that. There are some things in this world that can be done quick, but writing the most transformational piece of legislation that this country has seen in a century between the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act, just isn't done overnight. And what we're coming out with is a really good end product. Gruber-Miller: You have been advocating, obviously, for the passage of both bills but with the infrastructure bill on the President's desk, is there any guarantee still that the Build Back Better Act will pass? And do you think that democrats are hurting themselves if they can't pass the full bill, both bills? Axne: Well, we passed the rule for the Build Back Better Act when we passed the infrastructure bill out of the House. So that means the indicator is there that we bring Build Back Better to the floor. That was done so that the folks who, as I mentioned on the more progressive side said, hey we want to make sure the Build Back Better Act is going to be done, while those on the more conservative side said, we want to see a CBO score. And so to make both parts happy we passed the infrastructure bill and then passed the rule to bring the Build Back Better Act to the floor. The rule indicates that the Build Back Better Act will come to the floor for a vote. Obviously it's not over until it's over. You never know. But that is the intention is to get that done. Now, I know there is always, we hear back and forth what is Manchin going to do or what is anybody going to do but we're bringing that to the floor and we're going to make sure that we pass it for Americans. And I would tell you, this isn't, I don't look at this as a bill for democrats, I look at this as a bill for Iowans and a bill for Americans because it fulfills the promises that I made to the people here in the state when I decided to run, which was putting money in people's pockets and bringing more opportunity to the people that live here and it's exactly what these two bills do. Gruber-Miller: Republicans have been raising concerns about the spending talking about the fact that maybe it could worsen the inflation problem that we're seeing. Do you think that there's any risk of that? Is that a risk that you want to take? Axne: Well, again, that is not a true statement. One of the most frustrating things with moving these agendas forward is the false narratives that are coming out of the republican agenda. The 17 of our country's top economists have said this will reduce inflation, a CBO initial score has, the Congressional Budget Office, has already put out initial scoring for us so that we could move forward, which says that this will pay for itself. We also know through the data that has been presented to us that this will reduce the deficit by billions of dollars in the first decade and by a couple of trillion dollars in the second decade after putting this forth. Now, keep in mind that this doesn't impact anybody that makes under $400,000 a year. What we're asking here is those who are at the very top, about the top one one-hundredth of one percent in our corporations actually start paying some taxes because I can tell you what, folks over here in East Village Salon W, Projects Furniture, all these folks over there, they're paying their taxes, but many of our large corporations aren't like Amazon three out of four years and now they're here in Iowa using our infrastructure. Let's make sure that those folks who benefit actually help support this agenda for Iowans in America. Henderson: So why is inflation so high? Axne: Well, I think inflation is high because we're still dealing with this worldwide pandemic. And folks needs to realize that this isn’t just an issue here in America. Across the world we see worker shortages, supply chain issues and a problem with all of those areas. And so when we are faced with coming out of a pandemic that our country has never seen, we have high demand, low supply because of the pandemic, a loss of workers, we don't talk about the really sad number that we lost 700,000 people because of COVID, we have lost hundreds of thousands of workers in this country just to COVID itself. 2 million women left the workforce to take care of their children or their elderly parents or folks with disabilities during this time and we're just getting some of those people back. We have shipping companies right now controlling how much exports we take out in containers, which is why I'm addressing that through my agenda that I just put out, which is a supply chain agenda which encompasses six bills, including the infrastructure and the Build Back Better, but also an ocean shipping bill, an ocean shipping reform bill, a bill to work with our manufacturers in a private-public partnership as well as non-profits and getting workers there, a commission that will look at long-term supply chain issues and we've got, and also trucking, making sure that we've got truckers. What I've always been in support of changing some of the opportunities there to get more people into that. So what I would say is that the best way to address inflation is to get this bill, Build Back Better, put in place and get my agenda for addressing supply chain issues in place and we'll start seeing this issue moving in the right direction. Masters: One of the things that you have talked about is securing about a billion dollars for biofuels. Curious with the administration talking more and more about electric vehicles, why invest that kind of money in biofuels? Axne: Well, because climate change is here right now and we've got to address it whether it's the floods that we've had on the Missouri River that I fought to make sure we took care of Iowans with that, whether it's what we see right here in Des Moines when we have flooding here. Our farmers are impacted by climate change, everybody is. And so I want to make sure that we address that issue. So -- Masters: Just asking about biofuels when there's so much focus on electric vehicles right now from the Biden administration. Axne: Here's the deal, it's a tool in the toolbox right now. And unfortunately too many people are overlooking some of those tools that we currently have just for electric vehicles. Absolutely, we're moving forward with electric vehicles. But why would we overlook a great homegrown energy that we produce here that puts money in the pockets of Iowans but also addresses climate at the same time? So my biofuels bill puts infrastructure out across the country so that we can sell ethanol year-round. I was just out at Elite Octane in Atlantic a couple of days ago as I announced with the USDA Undersecretary a grant that they have basically to help them continue to reduce their energy consumption. And so that is why we've got to push biofuels, because it will address climate right away and it will absolutely make sure that we help Iowans. Masters: Does Iowa need to ease back on ethanol production at some point with the amount of subsidies for it? Is that alternative fuels, do they need to be explored more outside of biofuels, more solar, more wind, when electric vehicles are really the thing that are being talked about more from the Biden administration? Axne: Well, everybody hears about electric vehicles, but there is support for all types of energy that we produce here in Iowa. We are supporting solar, we are supporting wind. But I would tell you that our biofuels industry is one of the most innovative industries in the country. And this isn't just an Iowa issue. We could be looking at biofuels with switch grass, white pine down in the Carolinas. This isn't just corn and soy. There is an opportunity around this country to use biofuels and our natural resources in a way that moves us away from dependence on fossil fuels and really being stuck having to deal with countries and how much they're going to charge for our gas. And so I think it's really important that we continue to push biofuels because we are innovating every single day and it should be a tool that we use to address climate. Henderson: Stephen? Gruber-Miller: Democrats have been talking about voting rights this year and passing voting rights legislation. But that has stalled, we've seen it in a couple of different iterations stall in the Senate. Is there going to be a voting rights bill before 2022? And if not, what does that mean where democrats are raising the alarm about all these states that have passed more restrictive voting laws? Axne: Like Iowa, which has passed more restrictive voting laws? It's very concerning. The message that it sends to people in our state, what we've done like the 17-year-olds who signed up to vote this year and then were wiped off the rolls because they didn't vote in that year. Well, that is ridiculous. We want all young people to know that they are a part of our democracy, reducing the hours that people can go to the polls, all that does is limit people's voices from being heard and across the country that is unfortunately what we're seeing. And we are unfortunately struggling to get HR-1 through and I know in the Senate they are as well getting their piece through. But we need to make sure that we address voting rights across this country because it has to be an opportunity for Americans to have their voices heard and not manipulated. And so we definitely need to get something passed. We've seen how it has impacted elections across the country and if anything I would hope all elected officials would come together and say, the most important thing that we should be doing no matter where you sit is ensuring that every voter has a voice in our democracy. Henderson: In June you told a group of Iowa reporters that you intended to speak with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin because he had just then announced that he would oppose the bill that cleared the House on voting rights because it was not passed in a bipartisan fashion. He wants a bipartisan compromise. You talked earlier about the Democratic Party being a big tent. Are you comfortable with Joe Manchin's role in that tent? Axne: So I did talk with Senator Manchin, as I mentioned I would. I have in my possession his outline for what he would like to see from a voting rights act. And what I can tell you is I believe he came to the table in good faith, absolutely, especially after I have looked at his documents. I've talked to the leadership in our House that knows him well and they believe that he was acting in good faith as well. So I think it really is just a matter of making sure how the policy is crafted fits the agenda for some of the concerns that he or others might have. But I don't think we're that far off in getting this done. The obstruction comes from the fact that how many votes we're going to need to get this passed. And that is where the concern is. It's not that Senator Manchin doesn't want to protect voting rights, because I believe he does, he would not have put together a document and be sharing that if he didn't. Gruber-Miller: Do you think it's possible though to pass that with the filibuster in place in the Senate because it seems like republicans aren't ready to come on board with any kind of voting rights legislation? Axne: No, I think it would be really difficult to pass it if we don't eliminate the filibuster. Masters: Move on in the remaining time that we have to a few more topics here. I'm curious just as far as pharmaceutical prices go for prescriptions for seniors over 65 on Medicare, why is it taking so long to have some kind of big change with that? Axne: The sad part is, is that we have people out in Washington who are beholden to big pharma and we have a representative here who just was in the other day saying she didn't think Medicare should be able to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. So we have representatives, unfortunately, from around the country who are putting, I believe, big pharma over average everyday Americans and that is a really sad thing. To me that says it's one of the reasons why this money has to get out of politics, which was part our big HR-1 bill, which included the voting rights. Other than that I really don't know why people would oppose it because there is no reason why anybody should oppose us being able to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs so that we pay no more than people from other countries who literally are getting cheaper drugs that are from the United States, made in research dollars from our taxpayers and then they negotiate and get cheaper drug prices, but we're not doing that. So I don't understand how anybody opposes this and it's time we get it done. Henderson: To put a footnote on it for the benefit of viewers, you were mentioning that something Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa, a republican, said about the bill. She and other republicans label it socialism. What is your response to that label? Axne: It's a great talking point for the Republican Party. They seem to have been able to use that terminology really as a weapon to convince people that the good work that we're trying to get done is not in their favor and that's just not true. For God's sake, how many times do we need to tell folks, we live in a capitalist society, these are not socialist agendas. And if anybody wants to say that reducing the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors who can barely make ends meet is socialism, you know what, that's a very disappointing thing to hear. We're going to cap prescription drugs at no more than $2000 out-of-pocket for some of our seniors who are paying $5000, $6000, $10000 that they just can't afford. We're going to reduce the cost of these prescription drugs. And as I mentioned, capping things like insulin at $35 a month. If you think putting money in people's pockets is socialism, well I'm not sure how you come up with that term, but I call it helping Iowans. Henderson: We have about 45 seconds left. Gruber-Miller: Yeah, the House has I think passed legislation that would protect the right to abortion and we're seeing that the Supreme Court might take some cases that could have the effect of gutting basically abortion protections around the country. Do you expect Congress as a whole, including the Senate, to be able to act on legislation like that in the face of potential rollback from the Supreme Court? Axne: Well, unfortunately once again, women's reproductive freedom is front and center in this country and the rights for women are under attack, quite honestly. The law of the land is Roe v. Wade. We in the House will continue to protect a woman's right to choose with her, make that decision between her, her family and her doctor, which is where it should be. But we obviously have a Supreme Court that is now leaning more on the conservative side and so we could be putting this at risk. Listen, I don't know how the whole thing is going to shake out at this moment, but what I can tell you is the majority of Americans believe that a woman has the right to choose and I will continue to stand up for that because I want women to have as much opportunity for their lives as anybody else in this country. And they are the ones who are best apt to make the decisions for themselves and their families. Henderson: Congresswoman Axne, thanks for joining us today. We're out of time. Axne: That went quick. Henderson: Thank you for watching this episode of Iowa Press. Join us at our regular times, 7:30 on Friday and noon on Sunday or anytime on For all of us 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