Senator Charles Grassley

Iowa Press | Episode
May 7, 2021 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) discusses current and future legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political reporter for The Des Moines Register.

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


(music) With the Biden administration proposing a sweeping set of new programs, we sit down with Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Charles Grassley 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. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. 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 politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, May 7 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. (music) Yepsen: When Charles Grassley was first elected to the Iowa Statehouse in 1958, the sitting U.S. President was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Six decades and twelve presidents later, Senator Grassley is in his seventh term in the U.S. Senate and current President Joe Biden is a former Senate colleague. As the new administration proposes a wave of new programs, Senator Grassley joins us again at the Iowa Press table. Senator, welcome back. Grassley: I'm always glad to be with you. Yepsen: Good to see you. Also joining us across the table is Brianne Pfannenstiel, Chief Politics Reporter for the Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson. Henderson: Senator, a few years ago you used this program to announce that you were running for re-election. What is your announcement today? Grassley: Have me on in October or November and I'll be glad to answer your question. Henderson: Why that time period? Grassley: I think that it's just a matter of a year being long enough to campaign. I think it's also a reflection and I ought to give it some greater thought and listen to the people of Iowa and listen to my family and I'll just be making that decision sometime this fall. Thank you for asking. Pfannenstiel: Senator, you have said that you really love this job still, you still love serving the people of Iowa. So what, if anything, could convince you to step away? Grassley: I'm going through that thought process now and I'm going to make an announcement this fall and except for the people of Iowa and family I think that the only other thing that would go into it is not to leave any question in people's minds that I enjoy what I'm doing, that I get up at four in the morning and go a couple of miles, I get to the office by 6, I haven't missed a vote except for 6 votes when I had the COVID. So I have cast 8,927 votes without missing a vote and I haven't missed a vote since I went back. I didn't want to contaminate my colleagues. I go to each of the 99 counties every year. And I really enjoy serving the people of Iowa. Pfannenstiel: According to our most recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll though there is a significant number of Iowans including about a third of republicans who see they would rather see you step away rather than running again. So what is your message to them? Grassley: I think my message to them would be to repeat what I just told you and that one poll doesn't make any difference. I don't pay attention to polls that much. Pfannenstiel: Well, I'm going to ask you another question about the poll. That same poll showed your approval rating at the lowest point it has been in nearly 40 years. Do you think you can still appeal across party lines the way that you once did? Grassley: I'll have to take that into consideration. I have no reason to believe that I can't. I have won several elections by 65% to 71%, the last one by 61%. It's a different political environment now. But I feel very good about my 13 county meetings that I had this week and the reflection I got from people urging me to run. And those weren't political meetings, those were official meetings, but people bring it up, just like you brought it up. They want to know whether I'm going to run again. And you get a lot of encouragement to do that. And so you just take a day at a time. You know the old saying, take a day today, God will take care of tomorrow. Henderson: What role does President Trump in your view have in your party and in the 2022 campaign? Grassley: I don't know what he will do for sure but first of all, he can do in the political party whatever he wants to do or outside the political party whatever he wants to do. But I think there's too much focus on thinking that the Republican Party is one party, a national party, and somehow he is a former President, he is going to lead it. He may end up doing that, but you aren't going to know that for two or three years. In the meantime we have got 50 separate republican parties and each of them take care of themselves and we're a party from the grassroots up and you'll know who the leader of our party really is come either early 2024 when they sew it up or at the national convention. In the meantime, everybody is out there doing their own thing, including probably four or five of my candidates, or my fellow Senators that are running for the United States Presidency. Henderson: Is there room in your party for people like Liz Cheney who have a different view than President Trump? Grassley: Absolutely. We shouldn't -- particularly when you're a minority party, and the Republican Party at least since the 1920s have been a minority party, you should not kick, you should not say -- everybody should be welcome into the Republican Party. I welcome everybody into the Republican Party and I think we do a good job of that in Iowa. Pfannenstiel: What does it say though that republican leaders in the House have moved to remove her from the leadership position for saying that President Trump lost the election to Joe Biden? Grassley: I think that, first of all, I don't know the dynamics of the whole thing and I wouldn't get involved in that making any statement whether they're doing the right thing or the wrong thing because they don't mess around with the republican caucus when we choose our leaders. And so I don't know exactly what but I know that there is dissatisfaction but it's kind of surprising to me that there's dissatisfaction now when by a vote of 165 to 84 or something like that she was stayed in that office on a reaffirmation of her original selection. So it kind of surprises me. But there's no way I can question what 212 republicans are going to do in the House of Representatives and I don't really have a right to do that. Henderson: President Biden in his speech in the House of Representatives last week said he wanted to work with Congress on prescription drug reform. You have been working on that issue for years. What are the prospects? Grassley: I think if you take it step by step there's a good process, good chance that the Grassley-Wyden Bill could become the bill that would reduce prescription drug prices. But right now as a necessary step to it the President is pretty much aligned with the progressive in their party that think they ought to pass a bill called HR3 in the House of Representatives which would go beyond what I'm doing but it would also have the negative impact of reducing the formularies that people can have and what drugs the doctor might be able to prescribe and what the government will pay for. And I don't think we should do that. But short of that I've got a bill that will save $95 billion, I've got a bill that will reduce the amount of money that is spent on drugs by making sure that there could be no increase in drugs year over year more than the CPI and that is about 2% now compared to the 5% to 10% they go up. But I think they've got to know first that their bill can't get 60 votes in the United States Senate and that I'm there, I've had discussions with legislative people from the White House and I've talked to Joe Biden once about it. Pfannenstiel: President Biden is also pushing a $2 trillion infrastructure bill. Short of dramatically reducing that price tag is there anything that they could do to get your vote on that bill/ Grassley: Yes. In fact, I think there's a good prospect not on the $2 and six-tenths trillion that you mentioned, but on what is traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, broadband, municipal infrastructure. We all recognize kind of what infrastructure is. That is 25% of the $2 and six-tenths trillion. There is already agreement among republicans that is not very much different from what the President has except a few, relatively few billions of dollars. So if you're close to $600 billion in each out of that $2 and six-tenths trillion, if they're willing to separate that out we will do that. I'm very confident that we can pass an infrastructure bill and it's badly needed in Iowa, not so much for highways although they need it, but broadband is very important and we've learned a lot from the virus with distance learning and with telehealth that when we have these pockets that people don't get served we need broadband. And it has brought great emphasis to it. Yepsen: Senator, one of the factors in Washington among a lot of democrats involves you and President Obama and the 2009 healthcare. He mentions this in his book and he feels, these are my words, that you kind of led him on and led him on and didn't want to make a deal and sort of ran out the clock. And democrats now today say we don't want to play rope-a-dope again, we're going to pass what we want to do, we've got the votes, we could lose the Congress. I'm just curious what your reaction is to what President Obama said and what effect it's having on the debate now.  Grassley: I'm glad you asked this. I had a chance to explain it at Politico a couple of days ago because he asked a question similar to what you asked. And I said, I think it was August 5th, 2009, the six of us that had been negotiating for nine months went down to the White House to visit with the President and Chuck Grassley very directly got this question and it is not portrayed this way in the President's book. He said, would you be willing to be one of two or three republicans to go along with the democrats to have a bipartisan bill? I said, pointing at Senator Baucus who was at the meeting, I said, why do you think we've been working for seven or eight months here to get a bipartisan bill that could get 65 to 70 votes? And I said, we've been working towards that. And no, I wouldn't be one of two or three republicans just to get a so-called bipartisan bill, but he doesn't explain it that way in his book. But there would be five other senators that could verify that I just told you because there were three democrats and three republicans in the White House at that particular time. Yepsen: We've got a lot of issues and not a lot of time. Henderson: You several years ago signed on to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's effort to change the way the military handles cases of alleged sexual assault. It appears there is now a broad coalition and that proposal could pass. Why did it take so long? Grassley: Because of the strength and the respect that everybody has for people that have four stars on their shoulders coming along and saying, if you expect us to lead a company or a brigade or the whole military, you can't interrupt the chain of command and that sold. But also besides them, just that respect that is a general thing, they said, well we're going to take care of this situation, we're going to take care of it. We listened to that three or four Congresses because this started in 2013. We're sick of doing that. And finally several democrats and some republicans including our own Senator Ernst that is a big factor in this change of mind, it's just gone too far and they haven't done enough and statistically the problem is worse than when they told us that we were going to approve it. So I've been glad to be the first republican to sign up with Senator Gillibrand in 2013 and I'm glad now that we got more than 60 votes to make sure this can pass. Pfannenstiel: Senator, you were fairly critical of President Trump's EPA as it related to ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard. How do you think Joe Biden's EPA is doing so far? Grassley: As of right now I cannot have much negative to say about them, a little slow getting what you've got to mix ethanol -- how much ethanol you've got to mix in with gasoline, but actually that should have still been done in the Trump administration and these people are relatively new, I'm going to give them time before I criticize them. But I think the best thing that ought to bring some certainty to the ethanol industry in Iowa is that we've got this Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that has said that over the years they have been giving out too many waivers to the small refineries. Now that has been on appeal to the Supreme Court and if the Supreme Court upholds the Tenth Circuit then what the courts are doing brings more certainty to it than anything that we do arguing with the executive branch of government over three presidencies, Obama and Trump and now hopefully not with Biden. Yepsen: Senator, I want to ask you about earmarks in Congress. You have served when there are earmarks and you're serving now when there aren't. Some people are saying we ought to bring them back, that nobody knows better what districts and states need than the members of Congress from those states and it would sure help move things along if there were a few earmarks that could be handed out to people. How do you feel about these earmarks? Grassley: I don't like it. And it doesn't show respect for a decision that was made in the 2010 election. It doesn't show respect for people, the message that they were signaling that a bridge to nowhere that cost tens of millions of dollars to serve 55 people was just one bad example of bad earmarks. So the 2010 election kind of answered this. Right after that election republicans and democrats went back and they all adopted a position that there would be no more earmarks. Okay, that's been that way for ten years. Now all of a sudden there seems to be a bipartisan reason for going back to them. And presumably they’re back because I've read about several House members putting in earmarks. The republicans adopted a rule of no earmarks. Now, that's just a caucus rule but it is governed for 10 years and now some republicans think we don't have to go by it, it's a caucus rule, we can ask for earmarks. If you want to as for earmarks, ask for them, if you don’t like it. But I don't like it and it's still a rule, it has been a rule for 10 years and every republican United States Senator ought to abide by it. Now will they? I don't know. But they should. Henderson: You have worked on criminal justice reform. Speaking of having a discussion between Congress and the courts, the courts are trying to interpret a law on crack cocaine versus powder cocaine in the sentences, number one. Number two, is there a prospect that the Senate will pass some sort of policing reform? Grassley: I know that Senator Tim Scott is working very hard on it and trying to reach a bipartisan agreement and as of a year ago now when he first put his bill forward that I could easily vote for, he said that all of it is -- put it this way, 70% of it is what the democrats want. So he was pleading with them. If you get 70% isn't that better than anything? You aren't going to get 100%. We ought to agree to it. Well, we didn't get -- democrats didn't want to bring it up because somehow a republican couldn't be for police reform just before the election. Now there's a better chance and he's working hard at it and I hope he's successful. Pfannenstiel: Senator, you have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus but there is still a lot of hesitancy across Iowa broadly and also among republicans. What is your message to Iowans as they are considering whether to get this vaccine and whether they have some hesitancy about it? Grassley: You should get it and even if they've had the COVID I think they should still get vaccinated. And I was vaccinated not only because I wanted to be vaccinated but I thought as a public official I should. But I'll let every public official make up their mind what they want to do. I would not vote for a law that said everybody has got to be vaccinated. But I would encourage everybody to get vaccinated. Henderson: You are a prolific tweeter. You have been on that platform for years. What is your view of big tech decisions that have de-platformed people like President Trump? Grassley: They are a monopoly. I don't want to take a position they should be broken up but if somebody thought they should be I would take a look at that. They have this immunity from lawsuit that is called Section 230, it should be repealed or very drastically modified. But they're a monopoly, they are censoring. I think they censor a lot more conservative points of view than they do liberal points of view. They aren't the platform they said they were going to be where you could have dialogue. They think they're smarter than the average American. You ought to be able to say anything you want to, that is what freedom of speech is all about. And let the people decide what they want to. Yepsen: Senator, I want to ask you about the President's proposals on capital gains taxes and the concern that the administration and many democrats have that there is too great a concentration of wealth and they want to claw back some of that. How do you feel about all of that? Grassley: The purpose of taxation is to raise enough money to fund the government and the programs. The function of taxation is not the redistribution of wealth. That becomes confiscation, not taxation. And the two items you're talking about that I heard about at my 13 town meetings this week, even at a high school I heard about it, doing away with a stepped up basis, which has been law since 1922. Nobody has ever really questioned it very much. And then reducing the estate tax exception from $11 million down to $5.5 million. This is going to hurt a lot of small business and a lot of farms from being passed on from generation to generation. I imagine the people in Washington, D.C. think people buy farmland today to sell it tomorrow. You buy farmland to have an efficient operation and to pass it onto your family.  Yepsen: At the end of the day, Senator, what do you think is going to happen with this issue? You have watched it for many years. Grassley: I believe that even if they use reconciliation, which has only been used twice in the last five years where you can get something done with 50 votes, that there's enough democrats would be hearing what I'm hearing from Iowans. Every one of my meetings, not just these 13 I had this week, but all the meetings I've had -- I've been in 59 counties so far, I bet it has come up in two-thirds of the counties. And the democrat senators in their states, particularly from farming and small business, have to be hearing the same thing I have. Henderson: Senator, what are the prospects for passage of a law that would improve price transparency in the cattle market? Grassley: Well, you're talking about my legislation or something similar by Senator Fischer of Nebraska. And I met in Jones County, Iowa with 150 cattlemen that were very irate about the dominance of these four big packers having 80% of the slaughter and 80% of each daily slaughter is either pre-contracted or by the company-owned cattle. So the independent producer can't get a market. They told me about well maybe three weeks from now we can take your cattle and then you're a residual supplier. So the marketplace isn't working and we've got to pass this legislation so the independent producer can negotiate a price and know when he can deliver. Henderson: You've been talking about this for years though and it has never passed. What is the difference this year? Grassley: Well, let's say I've talked about it from 2002 to 2007 or 2008 and I gave up then. And then a year ago the cattle people came back to me from Iowa and said, would you please resurrect your bill? I thought, egads, we're going to go through this same thing again and not get any support? You'd be surprised the number of people that signed up for my bill almost immediately. We have good bipartisan support now. And I think it has got no problem getting out of the agriculture committee. Yepsen: Senator, I want to get you involved in an Iowa spat that involves a lot of republicans, this question of selling ethanol at fast food and at gas stations. The ethanol industry and the Governor want to mandate a mix of fuel and how they're sold. The industry says don't tell us how to do our business. Both of those groups are a lot of republicans in both of those organizations. Where do you come down on this question? Grassley: Well, I come down from a little bit different angle. I don't know about the Iowa legislature, I wouldn't tell the legislature what they should do that way. But if one of the arguments against doing it is we can't afford to have another pump or we don't want to take something away from one customer for another there is a federal answer for that out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these filling stations and convenience stores can get some help in putting in an extra pump for E-15. And that is what I am for and Senator Ernst is for it as well and maybe that can be combined with whatever the state legislature is doing and then that would reduce some of the opposition that you know exists, I don't know that it exists, but to the bill that you're talking about. Yepsen: Do you think this is going to get resolved? Grassley: Well, you're asking me -- it's resolved as the federal level, the money is going out now. I don't know whether the state legislature, I don't even know the extent of it. Yepsen: Just a few seconds left. What do you think the legislature should do with the bottle bill? Your grandson said you told him don't fool with it. Grassley: Well, I wasn't there when it was passed, I had gone. But it incentivizes people to clean up the environment and I think you ought to incentivize people to have a cleaner environment as much as you can. And they ought to increase it to 17 cents because inflation would bring it up that far. Yepsen: Thanks for being with us today, Senator, we're out of time. Grassley: Glad to be with you. Yepsen: And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today. (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. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. 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