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Senate confirms Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China

Minutes ago the U.S. Senate confirmed Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China, clearing the way for Branstad to resign on Wednesday, allowing Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to be sworn in as governor. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had unanimously approved Branstad’s nomination earlier this month, but twelve senators voted against advancing his nomination last week, and thirteen senators voted against him on the floor today. The opponents included Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont–all considered potential presidential candidates in 2020. In a list-building e-mail earlier this afternoon, Brown wrote,

Branstad is notorious for busting collective bargaining rights in his state. Legislation he signed into law will force Planned Parenthood clinics to close this summer.

How can we make an anti-labor, anti-women’s rights politician in charge of U.S. relations with a country that has large human rights problems, especially in the areas of women’s and workers’ rights.

Given how unpopular Branstad is with highly-engaged Democratic activists, a vote against confirming the governor certainly wouldn’t hurt any of these senators in the next Iowa caucus campaign.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, also a possible Democratic presidential contender, supported Branstad’s confirmation. I’ll update this post later with full details on the Senate vote once the roll call has closed and some political reaction.

UPDATE: The thirteen senators who voted against Branstad were Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Booker, Brown, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Gary Peters of Michigan, Sanders, Chuck Schumer of New York, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Warren. All are Democrats except Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats. All represent states where organized labor is relatively strong.

SECOND UPDATE: Added below Branstad’s statement and other comments on his confirmation, as well as Senator Chuck Grassley’s speech on the Senate floor before today’s vote.

I had to laugh hearing Grassley “express my disappointment and frustration with the seemingly endless obstruction on the part of the minority.” He is bent out of shape because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to file cloture on Branstad’s nomination:

We could have approved this nomination with just a few minutes of debate time, yet, the minority required that we use 30 hours – not because they wanted to debate the merits of the nominee, but simply to delay the business of this body.

It’s unfortunate that their delay has kept an eminently qualified individual from getting into the job to promote American interests in China sooner.

Grassley and his fellow Republicans didn’t give the eminently qualified Judge Merrick Garland even a hearing, let alone a floor vote for his nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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What do you have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

When I learned last summer that several Waterloo police officers who had used excessive force against black residents had not been disciplined, even after one officer threw a 17-year-old boy to the ground and filed a false report about the incident, and other officers kept their jobs despite making racist remarks at a murder scene or hitting a handcuffed, immobilized suspect on the back of the head, I wondered: what does someone have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

Last week the answer became apparent: a lot more than I would have imagined.

One officer remains on the Waterloo force even though Chief Dan Trelka determined he had abused his authority and “displayed poor judgement, unprofessionalism, a lack of competency, a lack of knowledge, a failure to conform to work standards, [and] a failure to take appropriate action”–without showing any remorse.

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Weekend open thread: Iowans remember Don Avenson

A an Iowa political legend passed away suddenly this week. Former House Speaker Don Avenson had a heart attack on May 19 while on the way home from vacation. He told Iowa Public Television in 1984, “A speaker of the House, if he wants to, can change the course of the state, can change the face of a great deal of legislation, a great deal of law.” As speaker from 1983 through 1990, “nearly twice as long as any other Speaker in Iowa history,” Avenson helped craft many laws that still affect state government and education. He left the House to run for governor in 1990, winning the Democratic nomination but losing to Terry Branstad. For more than 25 years, he remained an influential force at the statehouse, representing many clients through the Avenson, Oakley & Cope lobbying firm.

Dozens of people who have been involved in Iowa legislative politics reflected on Avenson’s legacy as news spread of his death. I compiled some of those recollections after the jump.

The Vilsack family suffered a devastating loss this week as Ella Vilsack, daughter of Jess and Kate Vilsack and granddaughter of Tom and Christie Vilsack, died at the age of six of complications related to influenza. Condolences to all who are bereaved. This kind of tragedy is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Speaking of untimely passings, Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of NPR published a terrifying article this month about maternal mortality, which “is rising in the U.S. as it declines elsewhere” in the developed world. Because “the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being,” new mothers are rarely monitored closely in hospitals, and doctors and nurses often miss symptoms of potentially life-threatening complications. The central figure in this article is Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal intensive care nurse who died of preeclampsia the day after giving birth. It’s important to be aware of the signs; I know healthy women who had close calls with this condition during pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

The scenarios Martin and Montagne describe are among the reasons peer-reviewed research has shown the “risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” But in their infinite wisdom, Branstad and Iowa’s Republican lawmakers enacted new requirements this year for doctors to warn women seeking to terminate pregnancies about “possible detrimental physical and psychological effects of abortion.” Naturally, the state does not require obstetricians to give patients information about the risks of continuing a pregnancy.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Now we can see which Iowans will suffer most from Planned Parenthood and victims assistance cuts

It’s not abstract anymore.

We knew eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning services would cause thousands to lose access to basic health care.

We knew deep cuts to state funding for victims assistance would affect thousands of sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.

Now we are starting to see which Iowans will be the first to suffer from Republican choices on how to spend the public’s money.

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Czech newspaper: Steve King's name submitted for U.S. ambassador UPDATED: Different Steve King

UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg reported that the person recommended for the ambassadorship is a “Different Steve King, Trump aides tell me.” A source told Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson that the story may be about a Wisconsin Republican National Committeeman named Steve King. Iowa’s representative in Congress told Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg he’s not up for a State Department position.

SECOND UPDATE: My husband contacted one of the Hospodarske Noviny reporters to let him know their story was about the wrong Steve King. The journalist e-mailed back to say that they had their doubts, but their sources spoke of a Congressman Steve King. King’s office did not respond to their request for comment.

THIRD UPDATE: Hospodarsky Noviny has posted a corrected story.

Original post follows after the jump:

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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