U.S. Senate Debate

Iowa Press | Episode
Sep 28, 2020 | 58 min

Candidates U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and Theresa Greenfield (D) answer questions and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans.


It's 36 days until Election Day. But many Iowa voters begin receiving their absentee ballots one week from tomorrow. On the eve of Campaign 2020 voting in Iowa, we sit down with democrat Theresa Greenfield and republican Senator Joni Ernst for this special live Iowa Press Debate. (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. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. (music) For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Live from Iowa PBS Studios in Johnston, Iowa, this is a special Iowa Press Debate featuring candidates running for the U.S. Senate. Here is moderator David Yepsen.  (music) Yepsen: Tonight's debate holds pivotal importance to future control of the U.S. Senate. When Joni Ernst won her first six-year term in 2014 she helped republicans take back the chamber. And this fall Iowa remains a crucial battleground for both parties. Tonight we'll focus on a wide range of issues dominating the campaign. We're hosting this debate with increased public health precautions, with minimal staff joining us inside an empty 300-person auditorium here at Iowa PBS Studios. And candidates here on set are separated by Plexiglas barriers. Yepsen: Those candidates joining us are democratic contender Theresa Greenfield of West Des Moines and republican Senator Joni Ernst of Red Oak. Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here. Ernst: Thank you. Greenfield: Thanks, David, it's nice to be here. Yepsen: Joining us in tonight's debate questioning is Caroline Cummings, Politics Reporter for Sinclair Broadcasting and Kay Henderson, News Director for Radio Iowa. Henderson: Joni Ernst, President Trump's taxes are in the news today. Should any of the deductions that Iowans are hearing about be eliminated? Ernst: Well, first, thank you, Kay, it's good to be here. Many years ago I also echoed the call for the President to release his tax returns. However, this is a New York Times report, I haven't had time to scrutinize it. We don't know where that information came from so more yet to be discovered. But bottom line we would love to see lower taxes for everybody including all of our hardworking Americans. So the 2017 tax cuts and jobs act was part of that effort which gave tax relief to 1 million Iowans. I certainly don't want to see that rolled back. But Vice President Joe Biden as well as Theresa Greenfield, they have both stated that they would roll back those tax cuts, which did provide relief to Iowans, allowed businesses to give employees additional benefits and wage increases, and I certainly don't want to see that happen. Henderson: Theresa Greenfield, tax policy, is she correct on your stand? Greenfield: Well, I think the President should release his taxes also and have certainly called for that. I think the fact that the President only paid $750 in 2016, 2017 just really reflects how the system doesn't work for hardworking people and everyday Iowans and that the wealthiest and the biggest corporations get the biggest benefits. And I'll tell you what, Senator Ernst's tax bill increased our tax bill by $2 trillion and it gave those benefits to the largest corporations. And then it's going on to threaten Social Security, Medicare, and our health care system, which by the way health care is the number one issue on the ballot in November. Iowans have pre-existing conditions and they want those protections. Families want to keep their children on their health insurance. And goodness knows Medicaid expansion has kept our rural hospitals open. I've just talked to too many Iowans across this state who already drive 20, 30 miles to get health care. And so Senator Ernst's vote could close our rural hospitals. Ernst: Actually if I could just dive in there as well, the democrats' plan, which would eventually lead us to Medicare for all, would actually bankrupt about 52 of our rural health care systems. So I think that there are ways to address the issues. But certainly putting our rural constituents on the hook is not the way to do it. We are seeing OBGYN's leave the rural areas already because of low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Henderson: Ands so what plan are you talking about? Are you talking about Medicare for all? Ernst: Medicare for all, yes. Henderson: Do you support Medicare for all, Theresa Greenfield? Greenfield: I've been very clear about my position. I don't support Medicare for all. But I do support strengthening and enhancing the Affordable Care Act, making sure that everyone has health care and in addition to that building in a public option which creates competition and brings down those prices. Senator Joni Ernst did the exact opposite. She voted multiple times to end the Affordable Care Act, devastating health care for so many Iowans who rely on coverage for pre-existing conditions, about 1.3 million Iowans. Ernst: And what we have with the Affordable Care Act is limited choice obviously and I spoke with an oncologist over in Iowa City and because of the Affordable Care Act he is very limited as the types of options that he can provide for his cancer patients. So eventually moving in that direction, which is what the democratic plan is, would limit choice, it would not control costs. We've seen that. Costs continue to go up even with the Affordable Care Act. We know that we have to work on prescription drugs. I actually have a bill that did pass and was signed into law that lowered prescription drug costs. I'm also a co-sponsor of Senator Grassley's plan. But the democrats have removed their support from his bipartisan plan. So they want to play politics with the issue rather than address the actual issues. Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, do you care to respond to that? Greenfield: Well, I think Senator Ernst has had 6 years and she has forgotten Iowans. She has forgotten seniors who are being gouged by prescription drug costs. She could have lowered those for her entire term. But instead she refuses to require Medicare to negotiate for those costs and bring them down and save Iowans and taxpayers $500 billion. You know why? Senator Ernst, she sold out Iowans for her big corporate donors, in particular her big pharma donors who have given over $450,000 to her campaign. Yepsen: Excuse me, we've got a lot of questions. Caroline? Cummings: You brought up the Affordable Care Act. That issue is before the Supreme Court and you stand prepared, Senator Ernst, to vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Yet four years ago in the 2016 election you have said that delaying a vote during an election is "precedent". So what has changed on this Supreme Court nominee? Ernst: Caroline, I have been very consistent on this. And in 2016 we followed the Vice President Joe Biden rule, that was important. And that is what we have stood beside. The Biden rule says that, or that precedent says that when there are divided parties, you have a presidency of one party and a Senate majority of another party, you wait. Right now we do not have a divided government situation. So I feel that I have been consistent, we are following the Biden rule. Cummings: But Senator, in 2018 when the republicans controlled the Senate and we had a republican, Donald Trump, President, you doubled down on the position that should be held off until after the election. So how is that different? Ernst: The President has made a nomination and so as a member of the Judiciary Committee I will do my duty. We will vet the nomine, we know who the nominee is now and we will move forward with that nominee. Bottom line, what I won't allow to happen is the radical left to move forward and pack the court. So our presidential nominee, Joe Biden, the democratic nominee has refused to publish a list of who he might appoint one, because he's probably afraid that he will either upset those on the far left of the party or upset those that are moderates. Chuck Schumer, the defacto campaign manager for my democratic opponent, has said that everything in is on the table, everything is on the table -- Yepsen: Senator, excuse me, I need to let Theresa Greenfield -- Cummings: Theresa Greenfield, how many Supreme Court justices should be sitting on the court? Greenfield: Well first, let's back up just a little bit. I want to offer my condolences to Justice Ginsburg's family. She certainly was a leader for our country on civil rights, women's rights, equality, and we're going to miss her on the Supreme Court. When it comes to this next Supreme Court nominee, which we now have one, I'm going to work hard to independently vet any nominee and unfortunately Iowans, they're going to the polls in just a few days and I believe they're independent voters, they're independent thinkers and we should let them vote and let the next U.S. Senate and President get seated and then process this nomination. Yepsen: The question was how many justices should there be on the Supreme Court? Greenfield: The rhetoric that comes out of Washington, it's so divisive and as I travel this state Iowans want it to end. I've been clear all along that I don't support packing the courts if that's what you call it. Cummings: So you want 9 justices on the court, you want it to stay 9? Greenfield: Absolutely. That is our institution and our tradition and I don't support packing the courts. Ernst: Thank you. I appreciate that because it has been unclear that last several days because during the democratic primary Ms. Greenfield had stated that no, she didn't support packing the court. And then just maybe a week ago you said you hadn't formed an opinion on that yet. So this is a very, very -- Greenfield: My position has been clear all along and if I need to clarify from last week that's fine -- (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: One at a time, excuse me, one at a time. Greenfield: I don't support packing the court. Yepsen: Kay?  Henderson: The Affordable Care Act, Senator Ernst, if it is repealed what will republicans replace it with? And why haven't you replaced it already? Ernst: We have attempted that and there have been a number of plans that we have discussed. One of the plans I supported was a bipartisan plan which would provide a government backstop, federal government backstop for those that have the most expensive medical cases, those that do have pre-existing conditions. This is an issue that is very important to me because I did grow up in a very modest home with two siblings that have pre-existing conditions. My brother and my sister are both Type I diabetics, they have relied on insulin their entire lives. I have a nephew with autism. Pre-existing conditions. And so making sure that the federal government is caring for those and providing equal access to health care products, making sure that they are affordable, that should be the federal government's role. Henderson: Theresa Greenfield, how would you replace the Affordable Care Act if it is ruled unconstitutional? Greenfield: Yeah, Kay, I'll tell you, in my over 250 events all over this state health care is the number one issue. And I believe health care is a right and we need to make sure that everyone has access to high quality and affordable health care. And again, I think the way to do that is to strengthen and enhance the Affordable Care Act, build in a public option, that is creating competition, bringing down those prices and of course making sure that Medicare can negotiate for those prescription drug prices saving seniors a whole bunch of money, putting some nickels back in their pocket, and saving taxpayers about $500 billion. Unfortunately, Senator Ernst, she had control of the presidency, the House and the Senate and the only thing they voted on was to repeal the Affordable Care Act four times without a replacement. She has voted to end pre-existing conditions coverage for about 1.3 million Iowans repeatedly. Ernst: But I have voted and I am co-sponsoring a bill that does protect people with pre-existing conditions. Again, I have stood up, it affects my own family. It's very important that we protect those with pre-existing conditions. Yepsen: But Senator, the criticism that is made -- excuse me, excuse me, excuse me. Senator Ernst, the criticism of you is that republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act but don't put any alternatives on the table. We all are concerned about health care. I wonder if you could be as specific as you can about some of the types of things you want to do to fix Affordable Care or what happens if you have to replace it? Ernst: Again, I have been out on the road, I have just completed by sixth consecutive year of the 99 county tour, very important to get out and speak directly to Iowans. My opponent has not been out to probably 40 or so counties -- Yepsen: Excuse me, Senator, this question is not about 99 county tours, it's about the Affordable Care Act. Ernst: Yes, and David, it is about hearing from Iowans, directly from Iowans. So when I'm out and we're talking about those health care issues, again pre-existing conditions, one is making sure that those insurance companies are covering people with pre-existing conditions. So that is a bill that I support, I am a co-sponsor. Again, working with Susan Collins on backstops where the federal government can provide that backstop for those that have the highest and most complex medical conditions. So we had a number of different plans and I believe that three of them were brought up in the United States Senate, but all of them lacked the support to get over the finish line. But they have been successful, the plan that Susan Collins brought up, it was actually a plan that was utilized in the state of Maine but Barack Obama outlawed it with the Affordable Care Act. Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield: Well, first let me start with Senator Ernst wants to talk about travel schedules because she can't come back to Iowa and explain to Iowans how she sold them out, sold them out to big pharma and can't lower the prescription drug prices, sold out our farmers to big oil and put one of their people to head the EPA, sold out Iowans in general -- Yepsen: Ms. Greenfield, this question about Affordable Care, it's about what you want to do to improve health care, it's not about, I don't want to hear a criticism of her, I want to hear what you want to do. Greenfield: Well, I got in this fight to put Iowans first and not corporate donors and so I'm going to fight for a health care plan to protect Iowans. And as I told Kay, I want to strengthen and enhance the Affordable Care Act, I want to build that public option in so we can create competition, so we can bring down those prices. We should immediately allow Medicare to negotiate for those prescription drug costs, making sure that we're putting a few more bucks in senior's pockets and we're saving Iowans, well saving us all about $500 billion. Yepsen: Abortion. Senator Ernst, you're pro-life. Theresa Greenfield, you're pro-choice. From each of you I'd like to hear what happens, what do you do if the court, the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade? Senator, I'll let you start. Ernst: Well first, I am proudly pro-life. I think every life has value and is worthwhile. I don't believe anyone is to be thrown away. My opponent is backed by extreme abortionists, she doesn't oppose abortion at any point during a pregnancy. I think the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned is very minimal. I don't see that happening, truly I don't see that happening. But what we can do is certainly educate the public on how important life is. So again, I'm adamantly pro-life. I will stand behind that. I think that the views that are being taken by Theresa Greenfield and those that are backing her from the coasts, from California and New York, it's inappropriate and not acceptable to most Iowa voters. Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, what should happen if the court overturns Roe v. Wade. Greenfield: Well, first off I know that there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, absolutely. And I believe Roe is settled law. I will always defend a woman's right to make her own health care decisions with the guidance of her doctor. And I actually will defend all people to make their own health care decisions with their doctors and will continue to defend it regardless of where we go in the future. Ernst: And yet when we talk about health care -- Cummings: Senator, we're trying to keep the pace here. The pandemic is worsening and that is obviously top of mind. We're talking about health care. This is a top issue. Is it time for the U.S. government and politicians to change positions on requiring Americans to wear a mask given virus cases rising in Iowa and elsewhere? Ernst: Well, I do wear a mask when I'm out in public and when I'm back home in Red Oak certainly if I'm going into Dollar General or Hy-Vee, even if I know I'm probably the only person that is going to be in the store other than the clerk I do wear a mask. I think that's important. My mother was part of a brigade of elderly women in Red Oak that sewed masks at the onset of the pandemic to make sure that those essential workers that had to be out and about around the community had the availability of masks, even though they're homemade they work. So I think it's really important that we set the example by wearing the mask but certainly to mandate it, we know that it's unenforceable and we know that it doesn't work. There is a mask mandate, I know there was one in Des Moines, so I rolled into town wearing my mask, even in the car, and as I'm driving down the street there are many people that aren't, even under a mask mandate, they're not wearing a mask. Cummings: Theresa Greenfield, do you have a response to her thoughts on that? Greenfield: Well, I think that this pandemic is going to be one of the most consequential events in our lifetime. The health implications, economic implications and when it comes to wearing a mask I do support a statewide mask mandate. Iowa has some of the highest cases of infections at this point in time and of course even the White House Task Force wants Iowa to have a mask mandate. And we do that because it really makes it clear what the health guidelines are that everyone should be trying to follow and I know I and a lot of people around the state have a lot of frustration with our federal leaders because those guidelines have not been clear. And I have put out plans on what we should do next. Senator Ernst hasn't taken action for six months. We need a phase 4 plan and it needs to include a number of things. One, focusing on health and safety. We need testing. We need contact tracing. We need PPE for everyone and emergency protection standards. We've got to focus on our workers. We need to make sure that we extend the expanded unemployment benefits and that maybe look at some additional direct payments and again, those emergency protection standards so we know workers will be safe at work. And then finally, we need to rebuild our economy. Iowa is a state of small towns and small businesses and they need additional PPP, our local governments need that -- Yepsen: I want to let Senator Ernst -- Ernst: Thank you for that very much because that is so much of the work that we have been doing in Congress. So yes, the last six months have been very hard on not just the state of Iowa but the United States as a whole. So that is why I do travel to all 99 counties to make sure that I'm hearing directly from constituents about these issues. So, gathering that information, going back to Congress and working in a bipartisan manner we have been able to get 4 packages over the finish line. I have been ranked as one of the most bipartisan Senators by Georgetown University over the last 25 years from any state of either party. And so the Heroes Act, Ms. Greenfield says she wouldn't have supported that, that was the democratic plan in the House. She has criticized me for passing the CARES Act which provided relief to rural health care systems, it provided PPE -- she had about five minutes to talk, David. So we have all of these plans that provided those supports and yet she is saying that she opposes the targeted relief bill, she opposed the CARES Act, she opposed the Heroes Act. So now she is saying she's for these things, that's what we did in the CARES Act and she's criticizing me -- Yepsen: Senator, I'm going to interrupt you because we need to give her a chance to respond here. Thank you. Greenfield: Senator Ernst should have stayed in Washington and gotten a phase 4 stimulus package done and I'll tell you, Iowans want the divisiveness to end, they want this kind of he said, she said. Bottom line is Senator Ernst supported a skinny package and we don't have a skinny problem, people, we have a big fat problem. And this is a package that even President Trump wasn't ready to endorse because it didn't go far enough. Yepsen: And we have a lot of other issues that people in Iowa care about and I want to move on to those. Kay? Henderson: Criminal justice reform has been a topic. Theresa Greenfield, how do you balance support for law enforcement and support for people in black and brown communities who are fearful of law enforcement? Greenfield: Yeah, Kay, I'll tell you what, black and brown communities have faced discrimination, unfair treatment for way too long and we have to take action and take a look at that kind of discrimination and the racism in all of our systems whether it's policing or health care, housing, education, lending. But I'll tell you what, I come from a long line of police officers in my family and my father-in-law was a police officer and Sunday dinners were filled with conversations and stories about serving and protecting his community, protecting and serving. And it was with a lot of pride that he worked hard to know everyone that was in his community and meet the young kids and protect his community. Henderson: Senator Ernst, how do you balance these two sometimes diametrically opposed groups? Ernst: How do you balance? We have two ears and one mouth and perhaps we should spend more time listening and less time talking. And I have been blessed to serve our nation in uniform and our United States military is one of the finest institutions made up of a very diverse and inclusive population. So many of my years have been spent with very different populations maybe even than the makeup that you might find here in Iowa. Just recently because we did have the Justice Act on the floor of the Senate, it was blocked by Senate democrats who were not looking for a solution. The bill was 70% of what the democrats had asked for. Senator Tim Scott who had offered the bill said provide me with additional information. They got up and walked out. He was willing to work with them but they didn't want a solution, they wanted a political football. So at that point I did call, I spoke with Matt Windschitl and Ako Abdul-Samad who had just passed the reform, policing reform bill in Iowa. In a matter of days it was signed into law by our Governor. Iowa, we need more Iowa in Washington, D.C. I asked how they did it. They said, neither of us agreed that it was a perfect bill but we knew we had to act on it. So I do feel that we need to work more in our communities of color. I think that's really important. But my opponent has accused our law enforcement officers -- Greenfield: Let's stop right there, Senator Ernst. That is a lie. (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: Excuse me, I'll let everyone have something to say, but one at a time. One at a time, please. (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: Please. (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: Neither one of you are agreeing to the rules. Excuse me, Ms. Greenfield. One at a time, please. I'll let you finish your thought but I'm going to want to give her plenty of time. Ernst: Yes, so the democrats have spent time blocking a bill that would have implemented a number of the reforms that our communities of color were asking for. Theresa Greenfield has stated that our law enforcement system is systemically racist, meaning that our law enforcement officers are racist. I don't believe that and I believe that our communities can work together. They don't have to be opposed. Yepsen: Let's let Theresa Greenfield have a chance to respond to that uninterrupted. Greenfield: Absolutely. We have systemic racism in all of our systems and have for generations, including our policing system. But that is not saying that our police officers are racist. And, you know what, we need Washington to work a lot more like we do in Iowa and in our hometowns and end this kind of divisive rhetoric. We need to work together like we did in this state to pass the plan for the more perfect union where we attack this kind of racism, requiring racial bias training, requiring de-escalation training, banning chokeholds and so many other things. Iowa has shown a gold standard of how we can work together to attack exactly that, systemic racism. Yepsen: We're right about at the mid-point of the debate. I know you have lots of opinions. But I have to ask you, we've got a lot of issues that people care about, give me your best short answers if you would please. Caroline? Ernst: And I would say too that all of that was included in the Justice Act. Cummings: Theresa Greenfield, how do we keep Social Security solvent? Do we raise the retirement age or remove a cap, the salary cap on paying taxes on Social Security? Greenfield: Caroline, this is an issue that is incredibly personal to me. I was widowed at the age of 24. My first husband was a lineman for the power company, he was a member of IBEW, a union member. And I'll tell you what, when the priest knocked at my door, told me he had died in a workplace accident, I became a single mom with a 13 month old and another one on the way and it was Social Security benefits, those hard earned benefits, his union benefits, neighbors, friends, family, community that gave me a second chance. And so one of the reasons I got in this race is because Senator Joni Ernst talks about privatizing Social Security or going behind closed doors to gut Social Security and I said, no way, and I got in this race. I want grannies to know I've got their back. Yepsen: That doesn't answer her question. Cummings: Making it more solvent, how do you fix this unsustainable problem that we are facing right now? Greenfield: Well, it's not an unsustainable problem. But I will tell you this, when it comes to looking at fees and taxes I'm going to make sure we don't do anything that puts it on the back of our middle class and our hardworking Americans. I got in this fight for hardworking families. We need to make sure that the largest corporations and the very wealthiest pay their fair share. But there's a couple of immediate things we can do -- Yepsen: Excuse me -- Greenfield: Pass the Swift Act. Making sure -- Yepsen: I need to interrupt, you're not answering her question -- Greenfield: -- get the benefits they have earned. Yepsen: You're not answering the question. How do you keep it sound? Let me ask specifically, do you raise the retirement age? Do we lift the cap above $138,000 a year? Greenfield: Dave, I will look at so many things. I am not supporting raising the retirement age and when it comes to additional taxes I just want to make sure that the very wealthiest and the biggest corporations are paying their fair share. Cummings: Senator Ernst, the same question to you. How do you make it solvent? Do you support raising the retirement age or removing salary caps on paying taxes on Social Security? Ernst: My own mother and father are reliant upon Social Security, they count on that every month. There are 700,000 Iowans that do rely on Social Security. And so I am being criticized and lies here about what has been said. I have said many times over that we need to look at all options. And so I have not said whether I will support one option over another, David. So all of these options do need to be looked at and we need to find out what are the best ways for moving forward. But it has to be bipartisan. It has to be bipartisan if it's going to pass. One of the easiest ways to help shore up Social Security and Medicare right now is to make sure that we are fully employed as a nation and that we have as many people working within a strong economy as possible so that those workers are contributing into Social Security and Medicare. So we have to do that, but again, bipartisan. And again, I have been ranked as one of the most bipartisan Senators period in the last 25 years. Yepsen: Thank you. Kay Henderson? Henderson: Student debt. Theresa Greenfield, you have talked about this on the campaign trail. Some presidential candidates talked about completely getting rid of student debt. How far would you go? Greenfield: Well, student debt is a really serious crisis in our country and it has kept so many of our young leaders from starting families and starting businesses. So we do need to take a look at student debt. I think we need to one, get back into investing into education. I'm a product of republican Governor Bob Ray when they really invested and I went to Iowa Lakes Community College up in Estherville. I got a job at Pizza Hut. And I was able to make enough money to pay my rent and bills. So investing is something that we need to do. Henderson: So does that mean getting rid of student debt? Or does that mean renegotiating the interest rate on student debt? Greenfield: So, investing in education and then next we need to make sure that students can refinance their student debt and two, we have so many needs across this state and across this country, we need to find ways for students to participate in programs where they can work off their student debt whether they are medical professionals or young farmers that want to come back and get started in farming. Henderson: Senator Ernst, should student debt renegotiation be open to everybody? Ernst: Well, first, I also worked my way through college. I worked at Hardee's to put aside money. I made biscuits in the morning, no problem there, I enjoyed it. I also worked operating heavy equipment with my dad on construction sites. So I was able to set aside for college and that was a really important thing for me. Not everyone has those types of work activities or opportunities. But when Ms. Greenfield talks about investment in college, her party leaders want free education for everyone, which means that hardworking union laborers like my brother would be paying for even wealthy kids to go to four-year institutions, our farmers would be paying for wealthy kids to go to four-year institutions. I think there are better ways of doing this. Of course the state is great investing in our educational systems. I do think that there should be opportunity to refinance student loans. I think that is a great opportunity. I have also authored a number of different provisions, like with Chuck Grassley, know before you owe, making sure that our students know exactly what the cost of their education is going to be and then what their actual job will pay on the tail end. But you talk about employer investment, I also have had written a bill that would allow employers to pay back already assumed student debt. So there's a number of ways we can tackle this issue. But bottom line we know that in order for those students to move on, to start a family, to build a home together, they have to be able to get rid of that student debt. Henderson: Let's talk about debt and climate change. How long can the federal government keep paying to help states like Iowa recover from disaster? Do you foresee the government telling people that they shouldn't build in floodplains, for example, if it continues to flood along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers? Ernst: Those are opportunities, Kay, and we have seen some devastating, devastating storms recently with the derecho. I was out through the area many times over visiting farmers, visiting Cedar Rapids, talking with community leaders about what has happened and the impact to them. So I do think that through FEMA a number of programs are offered to buy out those landowners. So there are programs that are in existence. But bottom line we as a state have really been at the cutting edge of implementing different types of conservation projects, making sure that we're investing in renewable fuels whether it's wind energy, solar energy or even our fuel space with biodiesel and ethanol. That's one way we can help the environment. Henderson: Theresa Greenfield, how long can the federal government keep bankrolling disasters of the magnitude that we're seeing? Greenfield: Well, absolutely Iowa has recently been hit by a derecho, which is one of the most devastating storms in our history, and certainly we need to be focused on the recovery and getting Iowans what they need. I think we still have 7 counties that still are waiting for some individual aid. And I was frustrated, too many people waited too long for the federal government to come in. I was in Cedar Rapids working to hand out food and provide water and ice to people who couldn't even keep their medicines cold five days after the storm and that is a little too long. But we need to be prepared in the future for these next storms. And I believe that we can do a better job at that. We also need to take a look at this storm and make sure that we're looking to see if we can get some coverage for the grain bins and the grain that has been damaged, if we can get debris covered for individuals on their properties. But Senator Ernst is not really somebody to talk about the national debt. She voted for a tax bill that raised the debt $2 trillion putting the needs of her big corporate donors first and selling out Iowans for her corporate donors. Yepsen: Let's let Senator Ernst respond. Ernst: She is making a lot of accusations. And let's talk about corporate donors and corporate PAC. She has based her entire campaign on the fact that she will not take corporate dollars but she is receiving dollars directly, directly from the lobbyists and the executives, even big oil and big pharma folks, you can dig into her campaign reports and find that. So she is getting money, over $700,000 from those corporate donors. If she is lying about this, what else is she going to lie about? Yepsen: Let's give her a chance to respond. We've already heard a lot about these arguments in your television commercials. So I'd like to have you respond and then we need to move on to some other issues. Greenfield: Iowans want those attack ads, those awful attack ads to end and how we do it is by getting rid of dark money in our politics and ending the political corruption. Senator Ernst has taken $2 million in corporate PAC donations. Folks, there's too much money in our politics. I put a plan together, she doesn't have one. I drew a line in the sand and said, I won't accept one dime of corporate PAC donations. She has accepted $2 million. (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: Excuse me, Caroline has a question about ethanol which is an issue a lot of people care about. Excuse me. (speaking simultaneously) Ernst: Because while she is talking about dark money, in one hand she's saying, we're not going to have dark money in this campaign, she's got the other hand behind her saying, please hand me some dark money. She has benefited from nearly $100 million of dark money in this campaign, folks. So while she says, I'm going to go to the United States Senate and get rid of dark money spending, what she's saying on the campaign right now is give it to me please, bring in the dark money. She is way -- so much more spending from her liberal allies on the coast, both New York, California, liberal extremists that are funding -- Yepsen: Excuse me, Senator, excuse me. Do either of you think you're acting like a U.S. Senator? Is this the way Iowans expect their Senator to act? I want to ask a question and get a response. Please, you have a response and she has a question. Cummings: Do you want to follow up to anything that the Senator said or can we move on here? Yepsen: Move on. Cummings: Okay, let's move on here. You've also sparred on ethanol and ethanol policy. Can Iowa, Senator Ernst, can Iowa continue to bet on the future of ethanol given some movement towards electric vehicles and away from fossil fuels? Ernst: Caroline, that is a great point and as long as I am there in the United States Senate I will be fighting to ensure the future for biofuels. But the party of Theresa Greenfield, the party on the left is moving towards electric vehicles, which if they go the way of California, would be outlawing fossil fuels and ethanol and biodiesel in a matter of 15 years. And that is not something we should be supporting right here in the state of Iowa. So I have gone toe-to-toe, I have been endorsed by the Iowa Corn Growers, I have also been endorsed by Iowa Farm Bureau because they know how hard I have been fighting for ethanol and for biodiesel, going toe-to-toe with even members of my own party to make sure that we're upholding those renewable fuel standards. Cummings: Senator, I have to let Theresa Greenfield respond. Same question to you. Can we continue to bet on ethanol given the movement towards electric vehicles and away from fossil fuels? Greenfield: Well, we have to take urgent climate action, that's for sure. And farmers agree with this. And in my Fair Shot for Famers plan I focus on a number of things from trade, to leveling the playing field, to investing in conservation, making it a new commodity for our farmers and our landowners, focusing on making sure that we become the first net zero farm industry in the world and part of that is ethanol. We need to invest in research to understand what else we can do from shipping to airplanes, we need to invest in bio-based manufacturing. Senator Joni Ernst, I'll tell you what, she voted for a fossil fuel lobbyist to head the EPA and they have gutted our ethanol industry with 85 waivers, reducing our demand by about 4 billion gallons. Heck, a bushel of corn right now is about $3.30. That's going out of business prices. Senator Ernst, she sold our farmers for her big oil donors. Yepsen: I want to let Senator Ernst have a response to that. Ernst: Absolutely. And again, I have been endorsed by the Iowa Corn Growers and the Iowa Farm Bureau because they know how hard and how adamant I have been about our biofuels industry. It was actually the Obama-Biden administration that opened the door to those waivers. It was Joe Biden, presidential candidate Joe Biden of your party, that opened the door for those waivers by working with his Philadelphia small oil refinery buddies that allowed those first waivers to take place. So we have pushed back on that and -- (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: Let Theresa Greenfield respond to you. Greenfield: Senator Ernst voted for two EPA administrators who have issued those 85 waivers. And with the confirmation process of Andrew Wheeler she knew as part of those discussions that he was going to continue those waivers. I'll tell you what, with Senator Ernst on the job between haphazard trade, reckless tariffs and 85 waivers, bankruptcy rates are at an 8 year high, bankruptcy rates are at an 8 year high -- Yepsen: Excuse me, we still have several issues. I want to move on to other things that people care about. Kay Henderson? Kay Henderson has the next question. Kay Henderson has the next question here. Henderson: Do you support a path to citizenship for people who came into the country illegally? Greenfield: We need to modernize our immigration system. Henderson: Does that mean a path to citizenship? Greenfield: I have talked to business leaders who want to welcome new immigrants, I have talked to non-profits, education systems and for me I think we need to start with three things. We need to modernize our visa system and shorten up that path, making sure that we're welcoming new Iowans and in a way that grows our economy. I don't care if you're an egg producer or a contractor or in the sciences, we need more skilled, we need more workers in Iowa. We also though have to focus on public safety. We can be smart and strong and safe but we also have to make sure it's humane. We have to make sure families are together, they come together and that they put down roots. No more kids in cages. Henderson: So does that mean a path to citizenship or does that mean legal status? Greenfield: That means that we're working on those paths to citizenship and for our dreamers, they need to have a legal status, people need to be working towards that. Henderson: Senator Ernst, do you support residency or legal status or citizenship for dreamers? And what should the immigration policy of the U.S. be going forward? Ernst: I think this is a very important issue and our state and nation have been welcoming, especially our state. And we know that this is a system that needs to be worked on. So with DACA I have been very clear with DACA, this is where even in my campaign six years ago I stood for those DACA, those dreamers. And so a pathway to citizenship is something that could be worked on bipartisan. We could. We need to sit down and discuss that. We know that we do have millions of undocumented residents that are here within the United States. And again, this takes a bipartisan solution. We have to sit down and work through this. Again, I am ranked as one of the most bipartisan Senators in the last 25 years, even in the Iowa State Senate I was known for being Iowa Nice but very tough, but could work with members of both sides of the aisle to resolve issues. This has to be bipartisan. Henderson: So does it mean legal residency or does it mean citizenship -- Ernst: I would support more of a legal residency. And see how easy it is to be very direct about an answer? So a legal residency, we know that there are many out there that are contributing to our economy. However, as we are moving forward on a new immigration system we have to make sure that we are carefully vetting those that are coming into the United States and making sure that, again, we can be welcoming, but making sure that they are a good fit for citizenship here in the United States. Yepsen: Again, I want to move on to another issue. Theresa Greenfield -- Greenfield: I just want to mention, Senator Ernst has had six years to work on this issue. I'll work with anyone to get immigration modernized and reformed because I hear it from business owners, egg producers, faith communities, small towns. We have to take and pass and modernize our immigration system. Yepsen: Caroline has a question now. Cummings: Is it time to raise the federal minimum wage, Senator Ernst? Ernst: I do think that we can look at the federal minimum wage, and again, finding the right solution. Again, it has to be a bipartisan solution. But maybe we should index it to our GDP. There are a lot of solutions out there. But overall I do believe that this should be a state-based issue as well because while Theresa Greenfield is being backed by funders in California and New York, what is right for California and New York may not be right for the economy in the state of Iowa. So I worked minimum wage when I was working for Hardee's and as I was working for Hardee's then I had the opportunity to work for my father in a construction job -- Yepsen: Senator, what do you think the minimum wage would be if it were indexed to the minimum wage you made at Hardee's? It would be a lot larger today, would it not? Ernst: Yes it would, David, absolutely. But again, it needs to be based on those states and those are things that we'll need to look into and make sure that it's right for each state's economy because while California may say, we need a $30 minimum wage, that would not be right for Iowa. Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, how do you feel about the minimum wage? Greenfield: Well, I'll tell you what, no one can feed a family on $7.25 an hour and folks I talk to, hardworking folks, they want to make more money and they want to work hard. And I'll tell you what, I remember after my husband died my very first job was for $8 an hour and I had to work hard to build that career. I want to make sure people have those paths. So $7.25 isn't enough. I believe we need to move it up to $15 over time. But here's how we really build out economy, we invest in three things. One, a workforce development. I support debt free community college, trade schools, technical schools, advancing our apprenticeship programs so people can earn while they learn like my first husband did. Two, we need to then make sure that our small businesses can grow, providing more capital, more credit so that they can expand in this state. So we marry the two, a stronger workforce with skilled training where they can start their small businesses, growing small business. And then finally, this is something I have been disappointed in both parties because I'll work with anyone, is an infrastructure plan. We have to invest in a robust infrastructure plan to grow this economy and give people the chance to compete and earn wages in this modern economy. Henderson: So, Theresa Greenfield, would you raise the gas tax to do that? Or would you raise a per mile fee on vehicles? Greenfield: You know, I think that what I want to make sure it I'll look at all kinds of avenues to work towards raising that minimum wage. My priority, frankly, is living wages, is investing in a way so people can get the -- Henderson: I was talking about the gas tax. Greenfield: -- yes, get those skills to start their careers -- Yepsen: The gas tax. Ernst: She's talking about the infrastructure. Greenfield: Senator Ernst, thank you. Ernst: You're very welcome. Greenfield: I want to make sure that we're doing those things so that people can earn living wages and I'm happy to take a look at either of those proposals if that is something we need. Yepsen: Senator, how do you feel about it? Raise the gas tax? A fee to miles driven? Ernst: This is an issue that I did deal with at multiple levels. I have spent my entire life devoted to public service and serving Iowa. My first elected position was county auditor in Montgomery County, one of our most rural counties, working with those secondary roads guys and understanding the type of dollar necessary to build that budget. So the gas tax dollars were very important. Yepsen: Raise it? Ernst: But what we're finding, I'm getting to that, David, what we're finding is that just a flat gas tax out there will be minimalized, especially if the democrats move to all electric vehicles. You have no gas tax. So there does need to be either a blended option of gas tax or perhaps the per mile that Kay is speaking about. So these are all issues -- and I have asked the subject matter experts to go back, the Iowa Motor Truck Association, they've got some ideas. I've asked them to dig in a little bit more. But certainly working with those secondary roads guys, Iowa Department of Transportation, all of those things are very important. But I do want to go back to infrastructure because it was brought up. This is really important and actually on the United States Senate I sit on environment and public works. We passed an infrastructure package in our committee bipartisan, 21 to 0 it came out of our committee -- Yepsen: Senator, we've got just a few minutes left. I've got to interrupt you so Kay can get in -- Greenfield: Senator, you've had six years and you didn't get an infrastructure package done. Our bridges are 50th in the nation here in this state -- (speaking simultaneously) Greenfield: You did nothing for six years. Yepsen: My mother always used to say one at a time. So, Theresa Greenfield, Kay has a question. Henderson: How do you solve the broadband question? Do you have the government take over the service of broadband or do you continue to let the private sector extend it? Greenfield: So we absolutely have to extend broadband to everyone. And as I was just saying, as I travel the state, and particularly during COVID, I've talked to graphic designers who can't work from home because they don't have the speeds to upload and download. I've talked to too many families that are struggling to educate their kids because they don't have access to the Internet or they can't afford it. I've talked to farmers, Floyd County as a matter of fact, who can't do precision farming because they don't have access to broadband Internet. We have to make sure that we are investing in it whether it is through our rural cooperatives -- Henderson: So when you say we is that the private sector or is that the government? Greenfield: I think it's a combination of both. Henderson: Do you support continued public-private? Can you count on the private to extend it to that last acre, if you will? Ernst: That's why we've been working, Kay, on so many different opportunities because, again, as I'm out talking directly with Iowans, especially in Osage, we had that exact situation where community members came together and we were working, okay what is it we can do in a public-private partnership? How can we connect the last little bit of acreage out there as well as our communities, our rural communities and make sure that they can do telehealth, teleworking, telemedicine, whatever the case may be? But we do have to have both a private partnership and public partnership in this so that we can get to that last mile. I've actually worked on those plans, again, in the Agriculture Committee, working very hard on that. One, we had to correct mapping. Certainly with the census going on we understand how important that is. But the mapping, if there was one family in a census block that received Internet service that entire census block was considered served. So we have to correct that and that's what we're working on. Yepsen: Another question and I'm going to Theresa Greenfield first. Post Office, a lot of talk about closing, privatizing. What do we do about the Post Office? Greenfield: Well, the Post Office is one of the most beloved services in our country and certainly in our state. It keeps us connected, it ensures that whether you are a senior or you are a veteran you are able to get your medicines delivered. So many small businesses rely on it -- Yepsen: I know, but I mean, what do you do to keep it sound? That's what I'm getting at. Privatize it? Greenfield: Right now, absolutely not. Right now we are in a crisis and we need to make sure that they can operate and continue to provide those medications, continue to get us through this election in the fall, and then we need to take a look at their financial structure. And I'll tell you, as someone who has worked almost my entire career in small businesses, I understand how to look at those businesses and make sure that we examine their structure, their pensions, their health care, so that they can be solvent. Yepsen: Senator, the Post Office. Ernst: The Post Office is extremely important. I live in a rural area. I've always been connected to our rural areas. I grew up on Rural Route 2, Red Oak, Iowa 51566 -- Yepsen: But what do you do about the Post Office? Ernst: Well, they have to pre-fund their pensions, David -- Yepsen: So they shouldn't have to do that? Ernst: This is something that we should look at. So that is really contributing to a lot of their struggles right now. So I do think we have to go back to the drawing board, we do have to have a plan out there. Absolutely we need to make sure that our Post Office stays in existence. They are so important to the folks like me that live in the rural areas. Yepsen: I've got one minute left. Give me your best sound bites. Theresa Greenfield, why you? Greenfield: Well, I got in this race to put Iowans first and I think my skills are exactly what Iowans need. I'm a businesswoman, worked in small business most of my life. I'm a mom. I'm a scrappy farm girl, that's for sure. And I'll tell you what, Iowans want the divisiveness to end, they want this kind of rhetoric to come to an end and I'll work with anyone to fight for Iowans, I'll stand up to anyone to fight for Iowans. But I have to say, enough is enough. And I'll leave you with this, after my first husband died and I got that first job it was for $8 an hour and I worked my fingers to the bone to build a career and raise my boys and I got in this fight for hardworking families and I'll never forget who it is I'm fighting for in the United States Senate. Yepsen: Senator, half a minute. Ernst: Thank you. Iowa is more than just a place to me. It is who I am, it truly is. I grew up on a farm in Southwest Iowa and I live just a few miles from the farm where I grew up. I still have family members engaged in farming and agriculture. I am fighting for our farmers because I grew up on a farm. I'm fighting for our single moms and working families because I have been through those struggles myself. I am fighting for our veterans because I have put my boots in that sand and let 150 of Iowa Army National Guard's finest men and women. I am fighting for survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence because I have been there myself. And I will continue fighting for Iowans. It's who I am, it's how I was raised. But what we can't do is turn our country over to the radical left, those that are funding Ms. Greenfield's campaign. Their extreme abortionist ideas, the radical environmental ideas that would kill Iowa's farms and eliminate our manufacturing jobs -- (speaking simultaneously) Yepsen: I'm fighting the clock. Senator, I'm fighting the clock. It's time to go. Thank you both. And a quick reminder, tonight was the third in a full slate of Iowa Press Debates on statewide Iowa PBS. We've already finished debates in Iowa's 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts as well as the U.S. Senate race here this evening. Now, on Monday, October 5th we'll round out our debate series when we host 3rd Congressional District candidates, democrat Cindy Axne and republican David Young. Iowa PBS will not be hosting a debate in Iowa's 4th Congressional District as republican candidate Randy Feenstra declined our debate invitation while democrat J.D. Scholten accepted. So instead of a 4th District Debate we'll now have Mr. Scholten on this week's regular edition of Iowa Press, Friday night at 7:30 and Sunday at Noon. For our hardworking Iowa PBS crew here in Johnston, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us tonight. (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. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. 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