Rep. Cindy Axne

Iowa Press | Episode
Oct 28, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Rep. Cindy Axne (D - West Des Moines) discusses her campaign for a third term and some of the key issues on voters' minds less than two weeks before Election Day.

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief politics reporter for The Des Moines Register.

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



She is the only democrat in Iowa's federal delegation and her race for re-election is a target for both parties nationally. We sit down with 3rd District Congresswoman Cindy Axne on this edition of Iowa Press. 


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


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, October 28th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.  


Henderson: This fall Iowa Press has brought you a series of candidate interviews and debates leading up to the November 8th General Election. Today's guest is running for Congress in the 3rd District. This is the first election cycle with Iowa's redrawn congressional districts. The 3rd District covers parts of Central, South Central and Southwest Iowa. It includes the Des Moines Metro area in Polk and Dallas Counties as well as the cities of Jefferson, Atlantic, Red Oak, Clarinda in the Southwest corner then across to Creston, Osceola, Centerville and Ottumwa in the Southeast. This year's 3rd District congressional candidates were invited to debate on Iowa PBS. Republican Zach Nunn declined our invitation. Our guest today, democrat Cindy Axne, accepted. Congresswoman Cindy Axne is running for her third term in the U.S. House. Welcome back to Iowa Press. 

Axne: Thank you. 

Henderson: Joining the conversation, Brianne Pfannenstiel of the Des Moines Register. 

Pfannenstiel: Congresswoman, you appeared at a virtual fundraiser with President Joe Biden this week. Des Moines Register polling shows he is one of the least popular Presidents in recent memory here in Iowa. Why did you decide to make that appearance with him? 

Axne: Well, the President has done a lot for this country as we have moved through the issues of COVID, then supply chain agendas and inflation. And we are as a democratic Congress and as the President's administration working very hard to address those issue,, put money in people's pockets and make sure that we got folks out of COVID, got the economy back on track, work to make sure that businesses were staying open, have been dealing with the supply chain agenda issues, obviously dealing with the issues folks are feeling at the pump and in the grocery store. So I'll be honest, we've done a good job ensuring that the United States has come out of COVID in a much better position than many other countries. So I believe the President coming on just shows that I support all those good things that we have been able to get done like lowering the cost of prescription drugs and limiting the cost of diabetes insulin at $35 an hour. So I wanted folks to know everything that we've done, join us if they felt like it, hear directly from the President how much we've changed the economic opportunity for folks in this country. And we know we've got a lot more to do. But to really have a sit down with the President. I will tell you this, I've said to folks all along, I'll never give up having an opportunity with the President to be in front of any of my constituents. I said that when President Trump was running, I tried to get into some of his events because I always think it's important ot make sure that we get as much time with a President as we can. It can only benefit the district. 

Pfannenstiel: A Washington Post reporter who was at the event said you called him the most impactful President in history. Is that what you said? And why? 

Axne: Well, he is one of the most impactful Presidents in our recent history because of the work that we have been able to get done, things like the infrastructure bill which has been talked about obviously for years. And by the way, this is the most impactful infrastructure bill since the highway system was built and quite honestly probably going further than that because it addresses so many things like the worst in the nation bridges that we have here in Iowa and bottom of the barrel broadband connectivity, the connectivity of today. So things like that have really put us in a new trajectory in this country, bringing new jobs back to this country. I would also say things like tax provisions that help middle class families but put those folks who aren't paying taxes on notice to pay those. When Amazon comes in here and is using our roads and bridges, our education system, health care system, all that stuff, our employees, but yet only pay the equivalent of 4% tax for multiple years while Main Street is paying 15%, 20%. Now they're going to pay 15%. There is a minimum tax. These things are important for our economy to thrive. And then lastly, finally, I mean after decades getting to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs and just even opening that door so that we're doing it for folks on Medicare but the ability to get that done for the rest of America, this is huge. So I'm not going to shy away from the good things that have been done. Yeah, we're trying to get gas prices down. Yeah, we're trying to make sure that meat doesn't cost so much in the store or mayonnaise or whatever. We've got to work with corporations to make that happen as well. So I think most folks know that I'll always be honest about where we're at in this country and there's a lot of good things happening as we continue to work on those things that are harming our family's pocketbooks. 

Henderson: Iowans with televisions and electronic devices are seeing advertisements in this race from your opponent and now from you about the subject of proxy voting. Are you getting questions about the vote that you cast on the Inflation Reduction Act while you were on vacation in France? 

Axne: Yeah, yeah, I'm absolutely getting questions on that because my opponent has decided to make that an issue. He went in and spied on my children's social media, then created what is called a red box on his site, Kay, where that's a call out to external organizations, in this case the NRCC, to run ads on this. So I find it offensive that he would bring our kids into this to begin with. But secondly, to really push forth an agenda that is totally false. We are not in DC, not in session in August, that's how it is every year. It's the only time we know that we don't have to be called to DC, the only time. And so because of my schedule there and my kids' schedule with school and going off to college we had a two week window in which we needed, that's the only time we had to take a vacation. I planned it during a time where we weren't in session. Now, I think we all remember when Manchin and Schumer were able to get their act together over in the Senate and put together the Inflation Reduction Act that we voted on in the House months, months prior. I think it was even the prior year. Then the leader of the House decided to call a vote. It happened to be when I wasn't available because I was on vacation prescheduled during a time when we weren't in session and myself along with approximately 170 other members, including Mariannette Miller-Meeks from our other district here, voted via proxy. So it wasn't out of the ordinary. It was something that came as out of the ordinary. It was an unexpected vote. And in the end here's the deal, Kay, I'm always going to vote for something that is positive for Iowa and it was taking a vote to lower the cost of prescription drugs for goodness sake and to produce more energy here in this country and to push my agenda forward with my legislation to ensure that we got infrastructure build out of biofuels across this country. So I wanted to make sure that I voted for this. So I'll take the heat because my opponent consistently is lying about how things go down, manipulating the truth and my deal is I did what was the right thing to do for Iowa. 

Henderson: Do you think proxy voting should continue in 2023? 

Axne: Listen, I think that the Congress should be modernized to reflect current organizations today. I don't necessarily think that proxies should be a full-time use of anything. I think that certainly we should look at opportunities for folks when they can't vote, if someone gets pregnant they're not there, so think about that. If they want to vote I think there is an opportunity to represent their state doing that. There's folks who are sick. When I tore my MCL, when my dog ran into me, two dogs, I couldn't get there so I had to proxy. So in those kinds of cases I think we should look at what is reasonable. But it shouldn't be something that is used as a normal activity. 

Pfannenstiel: Following up on all of these things that voters are seeing on their televisions right now, you've been accused of making illegal stock trades and this is something that voters are seeing in TV ads. What happened there? And what is your explanation to voters on that issue? 

Axne: Well, the explanation is that's not true. I think both of you know that's not true. Kay actually reported I believe on the Office of Congressional Ethics and House Ethics Committee both clearing my name completely because it was a false allegation. So in Congress you're supposed to fill out what are called PTRs, personal transaction reports, if you have a stock that gets traded. Well, that is if you're trading stock. Now, I only have retirement accounts and kids 529 College Savings accounts. My husband and I have a few of those rolled over from things like my work at the state. We don't make those trades. We don't make the purchases and we don't make the trades, some third party does it, but yet I was informed through the allegations that were made about me, which actually were from a non-profit started by a republican who was the federal elections campaign chair under President Bush. So this was to begin with something that they wrote in such a way that would create something well beyond just the fact that some paperwork needed to be done. So we got the paperwork done and literally before that complaint that they made even got to the Office of Congressional Ethics I had taken care of everything. I have spent the last year dealing with this lie, Brianne, about me and my family. When my husband first heard about it he goes, do we even have that kind of money? I'm like no, we don't have that kind of money. They can portray things in different ways because when you sell a stock you declare it between $1000 and $15,000. Well, if I had a $1000 trade that somebody did for me, they called it $15,000 and added it all up. It's a complete fabrication. So in this case I didn't do the trades, the Office of Congressional Ethics and House Ethics cleared me. They even asked me what could be done to fix the process so folks like me don't get tripped up in it. And they asked me that because I have a background in government training and development as well as in private as well. So I do not trade or execute my stocks or purchase them. I don't think members should. It is paperwork that is done and a third party takes care of all the stocks, I don't even look at them. And what they're doing, once again, is taking something that they have perpetuated and turned into a lie. And the unfortunate thing is it's not just an attack on my character, which is what they're trying to do, it's also an attack on my husband and also really quite honestly an attack on our constituents who are being fed a lie. 

Pfannenstiel: Well, right now in a related issue, members of Congress are allowed to trade stocks in companies that may be affected by their committee work. The New York Times reported this was something that happened to you, that you had traded stocks in some companies that did work on the committees that you serve on. Is that something that should be changed going forward? 

Axne: I think certainly that is probably something that could be looked at. But here's what I want to also point out. What they used as an example there was Wells Fargo. And I found it humorous because during that time where they said, oh my gosh I was overseeing something with Wells Fargo, and we had that stock, if you recall the hearing it is when Wells Fargo outsourced jobs and didn't pay our workers here trade adjustment assistance. In the hearing, I grilled the CEO to the point where that trade adjustment assistance was made to the 300 and some odd employees here in the West Des Moines facility and then that CEO literally quit three weeks later. I wasn't going to let that guy get away with anything. These are people in our own district, these are jobs that we need. So to say that just because somebody traded, again not me but the folks that manage my account, a stock just because that's there, look at the work too. That wouldn't be very smart for me if that was something that I was trying to benefit from. So I think what we should do is make sure that members are not purchasing or trading stocks. I think that is the biggest thing there. And if that validation is there I think that we should be able to rely on the system to do its work. 

Henderson: You have said that you would like to codify Roe v. Wade in federal law and you took a vote on a bill in the House that outlined steps to do that. How would it work? And republicans have said that goes a little bit farther than the context of Roe. 

Axne: So we in the House voted on the Women's Health Protection Act and we need to get this signed into law. Essentially yes, to your point, it would codify Roe v. Wade, giving women across this country the ability to get an abortion, essentially limiting states from being able to override that. That is essentially what it is. And so I firmly believe, Kay, that this decision, women's health decisions, women's reproductive health decisions should be made between themselves, their family and their doctor. That's it. That is what this bill allows for. It also allows to make sure that people who are involved don't get criminalized, doctors, folks who are helping women, we cannot get to a place in this country where we're criminalizing people for assisting with women's health care and we certainly can't be in a place where we are right now which is taking away the rights of women across this country and where our young women have less rights than their mothers do. So we're on a slippery slope here. The Republican Party obviously has said that they want to pursue this agenda. My opponent is as extreme as it gets. He has said that he does not support abortion even in the case of rape, even in the case of incest, even in the cast of a mother's life. And on, ready to go on the floor, supported by other republicans, about 178, close to 180 of them, is a bill that would codify no abortions at conception. I mean, come on, this is very extreme. This is what we're up against with the republicans who intend to make this a priority, Kay, if they take the House. This is a very, very important time in our country's history, the first time that the Supreme Court took away rights from Americans and the Republican Party would like to codify that. And it's a very dangerous place and one that we've got to ensure that we protect America against. 

Henderson: What about a bill about access to birth control? That was part of the previous legislation. 

Axne: That's right and so we passed a bill as well to obviously allow contraception to be sold in this country. And we did get good bipartisan support on that. And so that bill should move forward. I really can't believe that we're talking about controlling people's contraception and having to put a piece of legislation in place that is so deep in somebody's bedroom is ridiculous. But we have to. 

Pfannenstiel: Polling shows that voters are consistently pegging the economy and inflation as their top issues this election cycle. You mentioned them earlier on. What more can you do to bring those issues under control? 

Axne: Well, the number one thing that we really need to do is ensure that corporations who have been just reaping these giant profits are not strapping Americans. And that is what we've had to deal with, first with big oil who was not producing at pre-COVID levels, just decided that they didn't need to go back to that because barrels were going up in price, getting up to $150 a barrel and those big oil presidents were saying hey, we're not going to cut the price at the pumps, we're going to give those shareholders back some more shareholder support, even if it rises to $150, $200 a barrel. We literally had to force big oil to start producing for America to the level that they were at pre-COVID. We're almost there. We've also opened up reserves to ensure that we're getting more oil out there so folks can, so we can get more gas into our cars. We've expanded biofuels and as I mentioned my piece of legislation which allowed the infrastructure to build it out across this country is part of the key legislation that we passed over the summer. So we are actively working on reducing those prices at the pump and then of course producing energy through the Inflation Reduction Act with wind, solar and clean fuels. That is going to put a couple hundred bucks in family's pockets as we move towards a country of clean energy. And right now people can take advantage of tax breaks for things like a better hot water heater, windows that can weatherize their home, go crazy on solar and produce their own energy and be able to use it to make sure that they can do everything for their home. So we are working on those issues. But we're also making sure that the structure works, actively addressing things like monopolies in the market with the big four packers. I'm working on a bill right now with Randy Feenstra and in the House with Senators Tester and Grassley and we are trying to really ensure that we've got a piece of the consolidated market through our cash cattle producers here because we don't have a piece of that market and so our prices aren't transparent. And what that means is they can manipulate market prices, we don't get as much for our cattle and people pay more in the stores. We're fixing that. I was just with Secretary Vilsack as we continue to announce more opportunities for regional processing, bringing that back to Iowa so we can move from our farms to our processing and right to the market, lower prices bring better products to the table. These are all things that we're working on. Many things you'll start seeing prices go down and we have seen that with fuel, but we are going to continue to focus on the future and bring prices down for folks and also make things here, Brianne. I know we need to move on and you guys always want more questions, but it's really important that we make things in this country again because if we get strapped by having all our semi conductor chips being made in Taiwan and then we can't even buy a toaster for a reasonable price, well that's not how we should operate in this country. So we're bringing that back here to this country as well. And we already know we have brought back to our country over 350,000 jobs as a result of it. 

Henderson: President Biden's plan for forgiving a portion of student loan debt for some Americans is now caught up in the courts. If the courts ultimately rule that it shouldn't move forward, should Congress in 2023 do it as a law? 

Axne: Well, we'll see what happens as a result of this. I think what Congress should do is look at the cost of college in general and how well our loan system functions. I'm already on a bill right now that would cap student loan interest rates at 1%, these are federally backed loans, would cap repayment back at no more than 5% of your income, which was one of the pieces within what the President did, so that people aren't getting strapped with massive payments and they can't afford them because they're not even bringing in a decent paycheck. And then third, those payments would go towards that loan, not the interest, so it doesn't turn into one of those hey I took out $100,000 and now it's $200,000, which we've seen over and over again. So we need to be looking at pieces of legislation like that. We also need to expand Pell Grants and loan forgiveness and certainly in areas and industries where we're really feeling the pinch. Right here in Iowa we need to be doing that with our teachers, making sure that they've got grant forgiveness, loan forgiveness I should say, and going into the areas of need where we're seeing teachers leave because of unfortunately the attack that the republicans have on them here in our state. And so we need to make sure that we're supporting all of these opportunities within any legislation. We are actively working on bringing in more trade schools and apprenticeship programs. I think that is another key part of what we need to do. We're seeing some of the successes of that as a result of the America Rescue Plan and other pieces of legislation that we have put forward in the infrastructure bill to add more elements to our schools for trade schools and apprenticeship programs. But we've got to do more. We've got to lower the cost of college because that is the big issue in general. We've got to stop this gouging of folks when it comes to their loans where they go in and think they're going to get a 4% or a 5% loan and then they end up with an 11% loan. That's got to stop. And it's got to be things like the bill I talked about. And then we've got to look at these colleges and make sure that they're reducing expenses for the students because we're never going to get out from under this if we don't work on it from both directions. 

Pfannenstiel: You said you've supported President Biden's plan to hire 87,000 additional IRS agents. Why? 

Axne: Because those IRS agents are actually going to help us audit those very wealthy and the corporations and make sure that the taxes that those folks aren't paying come in the door. Let's be very clear here, this is another situation where the republicans are trying to craft a picture that isn't true, one that says that middle class Americans' taxes are going to get raised. Not true. And that they're going to get audited. Not true. The pieces of policy that bring in the IRS agents are really to bring in that $160 billion, my goodness, $160 billion of unpaid taxes because we don't have enough folks auditing those higher earners. There are so many loopholes with those higher earners that you and I barely even can brush the surface of even knowing about. They can offshore jobs, they can offshore their taxes in different ways, they can find all kinds of loopholes and effectively pay very little tax. And so in this case these are folks who aren't even paying their taxes though because they know they're not going to get audited. That's what it's for, it's that $160 billion that is sitting out there from folks who make millions. And let me make this very clear to folks because the Secretary of Treasury Yellen as well as the President in writing said that no one who makes under $400,000 a year will see any increase in percentages of audits. It is going to be on folks who make, those are the half million dollar folks, that's who is going to see that because they need to pay their taxes just like regular Iowa folks are. 

Henderson: Cindy Axne, there is no loophole here. I have to tell you we are out of time. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Iowa Press. 

Axne: Thank you, Kay. Thank you, Brianne. 

Henderson: If you have missed any of the Iowa Press Election Coverage over the past few weeks you can see it online at For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching. 


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