Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Iowa Press | Episode
Dec 4, 2020 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, (R-Ottumwa), Congresswoman-elect for Iowa's 2nd District, discusses the recently certified general election results.

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and Caroline Cummings, political reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group.

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


A photo finish in Iowa's Second Congressional District decided by only 6 votes. Iowa's state-certified winner of the Second Congressional District, Mariannette Miller-Meeks joins us 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, December 4 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. (music) Yepsen: While most of the political races across America were decided on Election Night or in the days after November 3rd, an extremely tight contest in Iowa's Second Congressional District stretched on for the entire month, and it's not over yet. County officers in the second district commenced an extensive recount of ballots and the lead switched back and forth between Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart. On Monday, the state of Iowa certified its election results with Miller-Meeks claiming a win by only 6 votes out of nearly 400,000 cast. And Representative-elect Miller-Meeks joins us now at the Iowa Press table. Congratulations, I think. Fourth time's a charm. Miller-Meeks: Well, I'd say it has been an arduous process to get here, a long journey, but it is very humbling to be in this position. Yepsen: Glad you made time for us. Thank you. Also joining the conversation across the table is Caroline Cummings, Reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group and Kay Henderson, News Director at Radio Iowa. Henderson: Rita Hart, your democratic opponent, has indicated she will appeal to the U.S. House of Representatives for a district-wide recount. What is your reaction to that? Miller-Meeks: I think it's unfortunate that we're taking the election out of Iowa, out of the voters of Iowa's hands and putting it into a partisan political process. So, on Election Night I was ahead, on the official county canvass I was ahead, throughout the recount I was ahead, although votes diminished. As David Yepsen just said, it was an extensive recount process and we have an election process and law here that are very scripted, people know what the rules are and I think to now skip over the Iowa courts, which I trust the Iowa courts to be fair and to be impartial and to be objective, and go to the House Administrative Committee, essentially what we're saying is that the votes of Iowans don't count but one vote from California counts. So I think it's unfortunate, but that is a process that is open to her to proceed. Cummings: Rita Hart believes that there are legally cast votes that have not been counted. Do you agree with that? Miller-Meeks: Well, I think we had Election Night contests, we had provisional and absentee ballots that were then counted, then we had the official county canvasses and audits and recounts in several counties, then we had the official recount process that she requested and the recount took place as they had wanted and desired. And as was already said here, it was an extensive process. So at some point in time those votes that were cast, all those ballots have been counted, all the ballots were in by the 9th have been counted and I think throughout that process I have been ahead. Yepsen: Her argument though is that there is a time to go back and count everything the same way, to find those votes that seem to be showing up that go to her and so she has to go to the U.S. House. Miller-Meeks: Well, there were votes that were cast that were for me also that were not counted and that I did not receive. So I think throughout that process you can't continue to want to change the rules because the count doesn't go the way that you want. And no question it's an incredibly close contest, if you had asked me my preference I would have rather won by 600 or 6,000 votes. But we are where we are here. The process was followed. We have an election process, there was a count, there was additional counts, there was an official recount and throughout that process I have remained ahead and I was certified the winner of this contest. Yepsen: Do you believe that having been through this process, this isn't something that happens very often in Iowa and in America certainly, that there are changes that need to be made to Iowa's election laws so we keep this from happening again sometime? Miller-Meeks: I certainly think being an ophthalmologist hindsight is 20/20 and so we did make election law changes several years ago and then we made election law changes this year so that people would know that their ballots were secure whether they are voting at the polls or whether they are voting by mail after an absentee ballot request. And so I think the process that we have evolved in the state of Iowa is an extremely good process and people can feel safe and secure in their balance in casting their vote regardless of where they cast it. But yes, I think when you look at the recount process there may be some more legislative action so that this process is fair and everybody understands the rules as they go into the process. Henderson: As a member of the U.S. House in 2021, what would you vote for in a "stimulus package"? It appears that there will be one that may be clearing the house this month. But there still may be a need for some sort of economic stimulus. Miller-Meeks: We're very hopeful that a stimulus package, when we were in D.C. this week there was a lot of talk about cats and cannabis and not a lot of talk about COVID-19 and even this week I got emails from people within my Senate district, but even throughout the congressional district, on their businesses closing. They could survive and survive the first shutdowns but now it is incredibly difficult for these small businesses to survive. It is heart wrenching, truly heart wrenching to listen to the stories when people have put their live savings, all of their energy, sometimes family businesses that may close down. So we definitely need a small business package that is geared towards, or a package that is geared towards small businesses, helping them to survive through closedowns, lockdown, reduction in the ability to provide services. And then I think you have to look at we still have unemployment and how do we navigate through that through extension of unemployment benefits. Our state is in a good position financially through conservative fiscal policies the past three years and so the original shutdown we were able to help individuals very rapidly. But we know that continuing that process, if we don't have a vaccine in the very near future, that we're going to have to have more, I'm going to say more repair, restoration and approval of those packages going forward. Cummings: The pandemic is clearly unrelenting here and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days as an act of patriotism. Do you support this approach to getting Americans to wear masks? Miller-Meeks: I think that we should certainly encourage people to wear masks, to socially distance, to maintain small gatherings. It's a difficult process when you're looking at, number one, a pandemic that, and a virus, quite frankly a virus that has not responded in the way typical viruses do. Typical viruses are seasonal. I know that I and you I'm sure have seen the same thing that are we phase 1, phase 2, phase 3? I'm not sure that the virus ever went away. But when we were outdoors more in the summer more people weren't as close together and for as prolonged periods of time and so there was less transmission. And so now we're in the winter months, we've seen our cases go up, totally to be expected that when people are indoors more, closer together more, that we're going to have to continue to maintain the guidance with wearing a mask, socially distancing, small group gatherings and trying to avoid large group gatherings. Henderson: As a medical professional, an eye doctor, what do you say to people who are reluctant to take these maybe miracle vaccines we can call them that have been developed in record time? Miller-Meeks: Well, I'm going to give President Trump and Vice President Pence, the administration and all of the health care workers, this was both private and public, and the pharmaceutical companies pre-funding them to develop this vaccine, I am ready to get the vaccine as soon as it is available. There will be a ranking and a prioritization, as there should be. Health care workers, those on the frontlines, first responders, those in long-term care facilities should have the vaccine first, those that are most vulnerable, that are at high risk. We also, and then essential workers, and then we need to look also at people of color and how does that fit into if in fact what we saw early on in the vaccine that there was a higher risk in those populations even when they're healthy I think that has to be figured into the recommendations and the CDC does have a priority algorithm for who gets vaccinated first. And I think that process should be followed. But absolutely, I will get the vaccine as soon as it is available for me to get it. Yepsen: And what do you say to people who have reservations about vaccines generally as well as specifically about this one? That was an issue in America even before this pandemic. What do you say to them? Miller-Meeks: There was a backlash against vaccinations and as the former Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health vaccinations save lives. Even two years ago in 2018 there was a measles outbreak in I think it was Malta and the vaccination rate there was only 57%. And I think it was over 1,200 people ended up dying from the measles outbreak. And with global travel we see those types of childhood diseases that we had gotten to a point in the United States where there was no measles outbreak. So strong proponent of vaccinations. I don't think it should be mandatory but I would encourage every single person to get the vaccination. It's safe, it's effective, more effective than the vaccine we have for influenza at 90% or greater efficacy and I would strongly encourage people to do it. Yepsen: Sticking with health care, your party has called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, I think you have too. Miller-Meeks: I'll correct you on that. I've always talked about reforming the Affordable Care Act. Yepsen: All right, let's talk about that then because what I'm leading up to is, are you in a position now as a physician to help the Republican Party fashion an alternative to affordable care? You know the wrap, republicans are against affordable care but you've never come up with an alternative. What do you want to do? Miller-Meeks: That's actually one of the reasons I ran for Congress. I think as a physician and both having been in private practice, in military medicine and in academic medicine I am in a position to be able to influence and persuade in my Congress. We absolutely need to have a universal care, but it has to be affordable. And so how do we structure that? There was a Fair Care Act that was introduced last year, or this year, and has some very good tenants within the Fair Care Act. So I think we need to push on that so that we know that people have access to care. No one should be worrying in a pandemic that they're not going to be able to get tested or get care or get treatment. And I strongly believe that. So I do think that we can push on that. And I do think the republicans do have ideas about it but we tend to be a little individualistic and wrangle among ourselves for what is the best thing. But I think what is most important is that we really need to hear the voices of Iowans and the American people. They want access to care, they want it to be affordable, we definitely need to work on lowering prescription drug prices, we did some of that in the State Senate and the legislature when we passed our bill on pharmacy benefit managers, trying to lower prescription drug prices, a very big piece of what we need to do going forward. And I'm looking forward to being one of those voices that can help to change that dialogue. Henderson: Senator Grassley has been trying to tackle prescription drug prices in the Senate and could never get his republican colleagues to bring the bill up. How as a member of the minority in the House would you be able to press this issue? And what will it take? Will it take price controls? Will you have to get rid of these pharmacy benefit managers that you mentioned? Miller-Meeks: I do think when you look at the pharmacy benefits managers, so they are a middle man, and the whole system is difficult I think for people to understand. But pharmacy benefit managers, many of which are now owned or subsidiaries of medical insurance companies, are a middle man in that process and they do about 70% of prescriptions in the United States. So we need to look at what -- and I think we know the answer to that, what they have done to prescription drug prices, what it takes to get a drug on the formulary if you have a prescription drug plan and this includes Medicare. I really thought we would have some action on that last year through CMS and they did not have the action that I thought they were going to do in preventing rebates. But one of the things we did was transparency in the aggregate amount of the rebates, the aggregate amount of the administrative fees and the administrative fees that are not passed on to the insurance companies. And I think once we start to understand and have transparency of that data and information and hopefully we'll have that this year, that we'll be able to see how much money is going to help insurance companies lower premiums, how much money is going into the pockets of the PBM's and is causing increases in prices. Two weeks ago I had someone approach me who is a senior citizen but whose insulin went from $134 to now $636 a month and I think all of us should be outraged by that. Cummings: As Key mentioned, you'll be in the minority party. What priorities do you think democrats and republicans can agree on? And how would you work with a Biden administration? Miller-Meeks: I think one of the things that both parties can agree on is getting us through this pandemic. I think that is a priority for us. People want their lives to get back to normal, they want to be able to interface with their loved ones, they want to be able to visit their grandparents or people that are in assisted living or in nursing homes. So getting us through this pandemic, but also very importantly preparing for the next pandemic. This will not be the only one we have. And we know, having been in the military we do after action reports. So I did triage, we did drills. So you go through your after action report and say what things did we do well and what things do we need to do better? We know that we need to do better on the strategic national stockpile. And I have ideas for how we can do that and how we can work with companies on that. We know that we need to bring things, some things back from China, that we need to diversify our supply chain. So whether that is PPE or personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, we need to bring some of that back online in the United States. I think those are things that both parties can agree on. Infrastructure. We know that we have problems with infrastructure. In our state it is locks and dams on the Mississippi. Why is that important? Because it's part of our agricultural economy and agriculture is 25% of our GDP. But it is also important for our manufacturing base. So, roads, bridges, locks, dams and then broadband. We did a broadband bill in our legislature in the session in 2020, extraordinarily important. Some of the COVID-19 funding I think was going to broadband and we know with telehealth, telemedicine, telework and telelearning, especially in low income populations who don't have access to high speed Internet that this is a critically important part of our infrastructure that we need to work on. Henderson: Have you had a conversation with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy about which committees he may assign you to? Miller-Meeks: We have had that conversation. We're supposed to get -- mostly you meet with your steering committee, so I have met with August Pfluger for the freshman class is our steering committee representative, so I met with him this week and discussed committee assignments. And they told us to be realistic. Naturally being a physician and the former Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health and being in a variety of medicine and a variety of settings, energy and commerce which deals with not only health care but public health, also deals with energy and it deals with broadband, interestingly enough, would be desirable. But I also know that is something you have to work towards. Yepsen: What are other options that you have? Miller-Meeks: Well, I'll put my marker down for energy and commerce knowing that I'm realistic and pragmatic, but I'll let it be known that's where I want to be so that if this works out the way I want and I'm sworn in and take my seat in Congress and in future years I'll be able to get it. But transportation and infrastructure for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Education and labor because health care is in education and labor, small businesses, franchises, which we have a lot of in our congressional district. Armed Services because of my military background and Homeland Security. Yepsen: You've mentioned infrastructure a couple of times here. Everybody talks about infrastructure, everybody talks about broadband. How do you pay for it? Miller-Meeks: That's where we have to, and I think can as a bipartisan group, come together and discuss how do we fund infrastructure and knowing that we need not just a year over year, that we need a long-term infrastructure plan. Yepsen: But that means tax increases -- Miller-Meeks: It means we have to work together. It means we have to work together, come together for the common good of the people of our state, our district and our nation. We have come together on difficult issues before, this is another one of those difficult issues we'll have to come through. So whether it is the permitting process and how we make the permitting process more relevant and faster and more locally controlled or state controlled so that that helps reduce costs, how we get projects to be done faster and initiated faster. I think there is a variety of ways that we can do to work on both ends, on the spending and then the revenue side. Cummings: Switching to politics here, did Donald Trump lose the election? Miller-Meeks: Well, I think that he is still going through the legal process as my opponent is going through, but I think that all transition services should be available to President-elect Biden, that at this point in time the way that the courts have ruled and the Electoral College votes have gone, President-elect Biden will be assuming office. But I do think that just as my opponent is going through all maneuvers, even though they jumped over the Iowa courts, I think the President, President Trump should go through all the legal options that are available to him as well. Yepsen: And should President Trump pardon himself or members of his family on the way out the door? Miller-Meeks: You know, I haven't thought much on that process but I think that is the purview of the President to do so or any President to do so. I know that there were pardons of Mark Rich with President Clinton that I didn't exactly agree with, but I think in all Presidents there have been pardons which we have not, I think President Obama had pardoned some groups that there was some controversy over. So I haven't given it that much thought, to be honest. But I do think that it brings up challenges in to what is acceptable in our nation. Henderson: The USDA this week announced that farm income will be up 43% this year, yet 39% of farm income will be government payments. What will you advocate for continuing the trade disruption payments, these pandemic payments that went to farmers? Or can the federal government continue to afford it? You have some of your colleagues who are saying no. Miller-Meeks: There are colleagues that are concerned about these issues and we're back to when we talked earlier about it, COVID-19 policies and helping small businesses that they are affected by the policies that we had in order to try to contain and slow the spread of a virus. And so through no fault of their -- farmers don't want to be paid money not to farm, they want to be able to engage in their business practices, they want to -- so I think continuing that meat processing facilities are part of an essential workforce, I think that is going to be important going forward, being able to continue to open up new markets and new product lines for farmers is going to be important. So I think if we can continue to open up markets, complete our trade agreements. USMCA was very valuable and competing that, the trade agreements with Japan and then the Phase 1 trade agreement with China, we're not sure where that will go under a Biden administration but hopefully we'll continue with our trade negotiations with China. We know that there are problems with trade. If you talk to farmers -- I had farmers talk to me for a decade about currency manipulation, about shipping products over whether it was soy, corn or carcasses that would sit in a port for 6 months and then get rejected, that we know there are unfair trade practices that need to be addressed. So hopefully we'll continue to have those trade negotiations with China that will be beneficial not only to our farmers and our agricultural economy but to manufacturing as well. Cummings: A six-vote margin means half of the Second Congressional District did not vote for you. How do you reach out to people who did not vote for you? What is your message to them as presumably Congresswoman-elect in Washington? Miller-Meeks: I think when I started in the State Senate we were in the majority and I was Chair of Human Services and Vice Chair of Veterans and I asked my leadership how to, what do I do and what do I do with bills that came from democrats? And what I was told was, you're the doctor, if it makes good health care sense and it's good health care policy then pass it. And so I follow the Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated. So at some point in time you may be in the majority as an elected official, at another time you may be in the minority. So if there's things that are good health policy, if I can help to persuade and move my colleagues while we're in the minority to come together with bipartisan things that work for our district, that are important to our district, then I will do that. I'm also a person that tends to be very accessible, very available. I am deliberately looking at, and this is one of the reasons why it is so important to be able to go through this process and to assume office, we need to set up district offices. How do we most meet the needs of our constituents? How do we interact with them? But I think if you treat people with courtesy and dignity, you're available, you're willing to listen, then I think that you'll have that reception. I had democrats send me emails who said, because of this work you did in the Senate I was willing to vote for you. Yepsen: We've only got 90 seconds left. Henderson: I'm wondering, this is the fourth time that you have run for this office. If you could just explain why after three unsuccessful tries you put you name out there again and tried a fourth time? Miller-Meeks: Well, it was an extraordinarily difficult decision to make and to do. It's very difficult to fail in such a public fashion and public manner. And I think I taught my children a lesson as well in how you respond to failure, what you do, and that it doesn't define you, but how you respond to failure defines you. I felt called to try to help my state any my country in any way that I could. I did not anticipate after the Affordable Care Act that health care was going to be a major issue again. Health care becomes a major issue, a pandemic becomes a major issue, and when you have a skill set where you can offer to help move that dialogue, to help offer your experience and your background. And so I think just coming from a very humble background, having worked very hard to get to where I was, I've always been a person of service and I felt I was being called to serve again. Yepsen: And I'm called to watch the clock and we're out of time. Thank you very much for your time. As I said, I know you're busy and good luck. Miller-Meeks: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Yepsen: And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and again at Noon on Sunday. Our guest will be Representative-elect Ashley Hinson, an Election Night winner in Iowa's First Congressional District. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today. (music) (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