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Congress

Grassley, Ernst vote for Keystone XL pipeline bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 20:51:02 PM CST

After hours of floor debate and votes on dozens of amendments over more than two weeks, today the U.S. Senate approved a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nine Democrats joined all the Republicans present to pass the final bill by 62 votes to 36 (roll call). Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have long supported Keystone XL, and Ernst possibly owes as much as any member of the Senate to campaign spending by the Koch brothers, who stand to profit from more tar sands oil extraction in Canada.

The Keystone XL bill now goes back to the U.S. House, which will surely send it to President Barack Obama. (All four Iowans supported the pipeline bill that cleared the House earlier this month.) A White House spokesman repeated today that the president intends to veto the current bill.

Before today's vote on final passage, senators rejected more than a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL bill. You can find all the roll calls here. Democrats offered most of the defeated amendments, which went down primarily along party lines. For instance, Grassley and Ernst helped their GOP colleagues reject Sheldon Whitehouse's amendment, which was designed to "require campaign finance disclosures from companies benefitting from the Alberta oil sands." Other defeated Democratic amendments would have further studied potential safety problems and threats to public health associated with the Keystone XL pipeline, allowed permitting agencies "to consider new circumstances and new information," or delayed the effective date of the bill until the President could rule out "certain negative impacts" from its construction.

In what may be the first Senate vote where Grassley and Ernst landed on opposite sides, Grassley was one of just three GOP senators to support Heidi Heitkamp's amendment that would have extended renewable energy tax credits. Ernst was among the 51 Republicans who voted against that amendment, which would benefit Iowa's wind power industry. Both Grassley and Ernst voted against Bernie Sanders' effort to expand incentives for installing solar power and Tom Udall's amendment on establishing a federal renewable electricity standard.

A few Republican amendments also fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage during the Keystone XL debate. Without Democratic votes, support from Grassley, Ernst, and most of the GOP caucus wasn't enough to win approval of Ted Cruz's amendment promoting crude oil exports, Jerry Moran's effort to "delist the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species," or Lisa Murkowski's amendment, which would "free up areas like ANWR [Alaska National Wildlife Refuge] and others that have been designated by the federal government as wilderness regions to potential drilling." Yesterday and today, Grassley and Ernst helped the Republican majority either to reject or to table a series of amendments related to climate change. Puneet Kollipara and David Malakoff described those amendments and votes in this Science magazine article.

During Senate sessions last week, Grassley and Ernst voted for language stating that climate change is "real" and "not a hoax" but against various statements indicating that human activity contributes to climate change.  

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 09:52:40 AM CST

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa's first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel "is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run." He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel "has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates" and is "an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses."

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign "would be data-driven and heavy on social media." His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP's 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn't make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I've posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I've excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America's major political parties with a view to reducing the "vitriol in our disagreements." Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It's also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I've posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven't heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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Iowans split as House approves bill on gas exports

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 13:22:31 PM CST

The new Republican-controlled Congress continues to prioritize legislation desired by the oil and gas sector. Today the U.S. House approved by 277 votes to 133 a bill to "expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports," Timothy Cama and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill.

Under the bill, the Energy Department would have 30 days to review an application, starting from when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes its environmental review for a project. [...]

"There is no backlog or delay at the [Department of Energy] to speak of," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "So legislation to impose an arbitrary 30-day deadline on DOE as suggested by the underlying bill is simply unnecessary."

The issue has taken on a new urgency in recent years as Republicans and some Democrats have started to see natural gas exports as a way to help eastern European countries avoid having to buy gas from Russia, thus weakening the power that Russia holds through its near monopoly on gas in the region. [...]

The Obama administration said Johnson's bill isn't necessary after a series of steps the Energy Department took last year in an attempt to streamline the review process.

Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all supported today's legislation. Although 41 Democrats joined the GOP caucus in voting yes, Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed the bill. He also voted against a similar bill House members approved last year. Loebsack recently was assigned a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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House passes package of bills on human trafficking

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 27, 2015 at 21:18:14 PM CST

Yesterday and today the U.S. House passed two batches of bills aimed at curbing human trafficking. All four Iowans were present as representatives approved some bills by voice vote and others by unanimous roll-call votes. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill on January 26,

One of the bills passed by voice vote, H.R. 515, would require the Department of Homeland Security to notify foreign countries when a registered sex offender travels abroad. It would further formally request notification from foreign governments when a known child sex offender is trying to enter the U.S. [...]

Another measure passed by voice vote, H.R. 468, would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use grants for training staff on the effects of human trafficking among runaway and homeless children. [...]

In addition to HHS, State Department employees would receive training on human trafficking under a separate bill passed by voice vote, H.R. 357.  

Marcos followed up with this story on today's Congressional action:

One of the measures passed by voice vote on Tuesday, H.R. 285, would establish penalties for people who knowingly sell advertisements to exploit human trafficking victims. [...]

Meanwhile, H.R. 159, passed by voice vote, would encourage states to adopt "safe harbor" laws for trafficked children to seek welfare services by giving them preference in applications for Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grants.

Three of the 12 measures would require training for employees at the State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments. One bill passed by voice vote on Tuesday, H.R. 460, would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement a human trafficking awareness program for agency employees. Agencies eligible for the training program would include the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection. [...]

Another bill, H.R. 350, passed by voice vote, would direct the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking to issue a report on the best strategies to prevent children from becoming human trafficking victims. And H.R. 181, passed by voice vote, would authorize the attorney general to create grants for improving deterrence programs for human trafficking of children.

Members debated two bills Monday afternoon but waited to conduct roll call votes until Tuesday due to inclement weather canceling the previous day's votes. One measure, H.R. 469, passed 410-0, would create additional reporting requirements for state child welfare systems for human trafficking. The other, H.R. 246, passed 411-0, would amend existing law to replace the term "child prostitution" with "child sex trafficking, including child prostitution," in reporting categories for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

According to Marcos, versions of some of these bills passed the House during the last Congress but did not clear the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. New Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn indicated that he will push for scheduled votes on the trafficking bills.  

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House approves anti-abortion bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 23, 2015 at 11:20:00 AM CST

On the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v Wade, the U.S. House approved a bill that could make abortion an unaffordable choice for many women. Emily Crockett reported for RH Reality Check,

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act" would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

The bill, HR 7, would also go much further than Hyde by prohibiting women or small businesses from using tax credits or subsidies under the Affordable Care Act to pay for any health insurance plan that covers abortion care.

The bill has no exceptions for a patient whose health is endangered by her pregnancy. [...]

The effect of the bill could be to cause the entire insurance market to drop abortion coverage, according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Traditionally, health insurance policies have covered abortion services, because doing so is much less costly than covering prenatal care and labor/delivery.  

The bill passed by 242 votes to 179 (roll call), with only one Republican opposed and three Democrats in favor. Iowa's U.S. representatives split on party lines: Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted yes, while Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no. I enclosed King's statement below and will update if I see any other official comment from the Iowans in Congress.

House leaders had originally planned to pass a 20-week abortion ban on the Roe v Wade anniversary, to coincide with an annual March for Life in Washington, but that bill was pulled at the last minute "following a revolt from female members who objected to language regarding exceptions for rape." The bill would have allowed abortion in the case of rape only if the victim had reported the alleged crime to police. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise says the bill will come back to the floor at a later date. On Wednesday, fifteen of the sixteen Republicans who spoke in favor of the 20-week abortion ban were men.

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IA-01, IA-03: Chet Culver is thinking about it

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 14:05:00 PM CST

Kathie Obradovich reported in today's Des Moines Register that former Governor Chet Culver is considering a run for Congress in either Iowa's first or third district:

"Well, you know, we do have family roots in Cedar Rapids and McGregor, and I spent a lot of time as a kid in northeast Iowa," Culver said in an interview. His father, former U.S. Sen. John Culver, grew up in Cedar Rapids and was elected to Congress from there in 1964.

In addition to family history, Culver also pointed to a more recent connection he has with the 1st District: His work as governor toward recovering from the 2008 floods. His jobs and infrastructure program, I-JOBS, put nearly $500 million into flood recovery, he said.

"I feel really good about helping communities like Cedar Rapids get back on their feet, and I think if you talk to most people over there, they will acknowledge the fact that without our administration stepping up, recovery would have been even more difficult," Culver said.

Culver says he hasn't made any "final decision" on running in 2016 or potentially even waiting until 2018. If he decides to move forward, he said, he expects the next step would be an exploratory committee.

The Des Moines rumor mill has long considered Culver a possible candidate for the U.S. House or Senate someday. Although it never occurred to me that he might run in IA-01, the idea has some logic. The I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program was great for Iowa generally but especially for the Cedar Rapids area. Democrats have a voter registration advantage in the first district but are slightly outnumbered by Republicans in the third district. Of the two newly-elected Iowans in the U.S. House, Rod Blum looks like a weaker incumbent. David Young has more experience in Congress and close ties to Senator Chuck Grassley, who will be at the top of the ballot in 2016.

More than a dozen prominent Iowa Democrats have already endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon for Congress in 2016. Gary Kroeger may enter the IA-01 Democratic primary as well.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Is there an opening for Culver in either Congressional district?

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House approves gas pipeline bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 08:05:00 AM CST

Continuing the Republican push to make fossil fuels projects a priority for this Congress, yesterday the U.S. House approved the "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act" by by 253 votes to 169 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would be ordered to approve or deny a [natural gas] pipeline application within 12 months.  Agencies responsible for issuing licenses or permits must act within 90 days after FERC issues a final environmental review, though the deadline could be extended by 30 days if the agency demonstrates it can't finish in time.

But if the agency doesn't make a decision by then, a pipeline would automatically be approved.

Republicans said the legislation would put pressure on agencies to avoid unnecessary delays for natural gas pipelines. [...]

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, saying it would "create conflicts" with current requirements and force agencies to make rushed decisions or deny applications entirely because they don't have enough information by the established deadlines.

All the Republicans present supported this bill, including Iowans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). They were joined by fourteen House Democrats, but Dave Loebsack (IA-02) stuck with the majority of his caucus in opposing this bill. Loebsack also voted against a similar bill that the House approved in 2013. I haven't seen any public comment on yesterday's vote, but I will update this post as needed.

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Grassley, Ernst affirm climate change is "not a hoax" but reject human contribution

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 23:39:21 PM CST

The U.S. Senate considered a series of amendments today to a bill that would force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats know they will be unable to block passage of the bill, but are trying to get senators on record acknowledging the existence of climate change. One amendment that would "express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax" passed by 98 votes to 1 (roll call). The yes camp included Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as possible Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill that most Republicans rejected a separate Democratic amendment which stated that "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change." Grassley, Ernst, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio were all in the "nay" group on that amendment. From Barron-Lopez's story:

In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word "significantly."

Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst voted for the Hoeven amendment (roll call). I assume that if they do not accept any human contribution to climate change, they would not be open to any government policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

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State of the Union and Joni Ernst response discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 19:30:00 PM CST

President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address later this evening to a joint session of Congress. Newly-elected Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa will deliver the Republican response afterwards. It's her chance to make a first impression on many politically-minded Americans who live outside Iowa, and lots of people were reportedly searching for information about her today. This thread is for any comments related to either Obama's or Ernst's speech. I'll update this post later with highlights and Iowa reaction.

Representative Steve King got bent out of shape by the news that a "DREAMer" (undocumented immigrant who was brought to this country as a child) will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama tonight.

#Obama perverts "prosecutorial discretion" by inviting a deportable to sit in place of honor at #SOTU w/1st Lady. I should sit with Alito.

It's bad enough that King frequently refers to undocumented immigrants as "illegals." A person should not be labeled a "deportable." Anyway, under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Ana Zamora is not "deportable."

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland has a longstanding policy of not commenting on women politicians' attire, but Ernst's camouflage pumps compel me to break that rule. Ernst knows her audience, and whoever designed those shoes is going to make a fortune.

SECOND UPDATE: Iowa reaction to the president's speech is after the jump. Ernst's comments were a barely-revised version of her stump speech from last year's Senate campaign. Radio Iowa mentioned some highlights, including Ernst advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline. Cristina Marcos of The Hill focused on the "folksy" aspects of Ernst's performance, including her anecdotes about working at Hardee's as a teenager and wearing bread bags over her only pair of shoes. On social media I've seen lots of Iowans debating how common it used to be for children to wear bread bags over their shoes to prevent water damage. I don't remember seeing it when I was growing up, but I was a "city girl."

Pat Rynard sees Ernst as a likely GOP vice presidential nominee in 2016. I think that's out of the question, because she is way too inexperienced, and the Sarah Palin experiment didn't work out well for Republicans. Ernst can't be the VP nominee in 2020 either, because she would have to choose between that and running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Maybe in 2024 if Iowans re-elect her in 2020. Anyway, at the end of this post I enclosed excerpts from Rynard's case for Ernst as a VP candidate.

The most memorable line from the president's speech was reportedly ad-libbed.

THIRD UPDATE: Des Moines-based RAYGUN shirts is already out with a new design that reads, "IOWA! YOU SAY BREAD AISLE, WE SAY SHOE STORE." I think mocking the anecdote is a mistake for Democrats; doing so only plays into Republican narratives about liberal elitism. Iowa Rabbi David Kaufman is right: "Anyone who cares for the poor" and "wouldn't walk up to a homeless person and insult their clothing" should not be making fun of Ernst over her bread bag anecdote. That said, it's fair game to point out that Ernst opposes many policies (such as Medicaid expansion or a minimum wage increase) which would help the working poor and their children.

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Democrat Gary Kroeger may run for Congress in IA-01

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 08:53:07 AM CST

What better way to launch a new blog than with a scoop? Pat Rynard delivered that when his Iowa Starting Line website came online yesterday, with this post about Gary Kroeger considering the Democratic primary in Iowa's first Congressional district. On his own blog, Gary Has Issues, Kroeger describes himself as follows:

First and foremost, I am the father of two wonderful boys.  I am also a son, a brother, and the creative director at an advertising agency in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  I write an Op-Ed column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, and in my past, present and future, I have been an actor, a writer, television host, announcer, voice over artist, producer, restaurateur, emcee, activist, and fundraiser.

Judging by his comments to Rynard, Kroeger would position himself as the progressive candidate in a Democratic primary:

Born in Cedar Falls, he moved back to his hometown in 2003 to give his two young sons a more stable life. At 57, he says he's kept himself involved in local politics by hosting coffees for candidates, lobbying a bit on some statehouse legislation, and writing the left-leaning column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. That got him thinking about taking his passion for politics to a bigger stage.

"I have a strong voice and a capability to persuade people to listen better than most in the political arena," Kroeger says of what advantages he thinks he'd bring to a campaign. "I believe I have something that may be missing. I've been watching politics my whole life. It's a whole lot of dull. Legislators are not persuading, not convincing people, not getting people to think."

As for the issues he would run on, civil rights would anchor his platform. "Civil rights and justice for all, for gay marriage, for women, for minorities. It's what defines progressivism. And then you go out from there. It touches on the right to breathe clean air, it lends itself to environmental justice, to economic justice." On where Kroeger thinks his party goes wrong, he says, "Democrats tend to get soft to win. No one draws a line in the sand. The Constitution guarantees civil rights to all. A woman should have domain over her body. I'm not going to go away from these ideas. It defines being a progressive."

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon rolled out her campaign in IA-01 last week with endorsements from some liberal Democrats in the Iowa legislature, but others have expressed doubt over whether she is committed to progressive values. For the most part, I believe competitive primaries make parties stronger, so I welcome a good, clean debate between Vernon, Kroeger, and anyone else who wants to make Representative Rod Blum a one-termer. May the best Democrat win.

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Iowa Congressional round-up: Dodd-Frank rollback, immigration, and taxes

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 16, 2015 at 10:18:53 AM CST

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to delay or roll back various portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Almost the entire Republican caucus, including Iowans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), supported the bill, which passed by 271 votes to 154 (roll call). Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) missed the votes in order to attend President Barack Obama's visit to Cedar Falls. Last week he voted for the Dodd-Frank measure when it was brought to the House floor under a suspension of the rules, so we can assume he would have joined the 29 House Democrats who backed it this week.

Also on January 14, the House approved by 236 votes to 191 a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the 2015 fiscal year, which ends on September 30. During the floor debate, Republicans passed "a series of contentious amendments that take aim at facets of Obama's immigration policy," Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill. Seven Republicans defected on an amendment that would "choke off funding for Obama's executive action announced in November. Then 26 Republicans voted against an amendment to withhold funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which some undocumented immigrants are temporarily shielded from deportation. Blum, Young, and King voted with the GOP majority in support of both controversial amendments before supporting the final DHS funding bill. (Based on his past voting record, Loebsack surely would have stood with most House Democrats, who opposed the immigration language in the DHS funding bill.)

I have not seen any lengthy comment from Rod Blum, just this tweet: "Proud to vote to fully fund the DHS today while stopping the President's unconstitutional executive actions on immigration." Press releases from Young and King are after the jump. In a video statement, King hailed the DHS funding bill and said it included provisions he has proposed.

Speaking of King, he introduced two constitutional bills this week. His "Birthright Citizenship Act of 2015" would repeal automatic citizenship for babies born in the United States to parents who are not legal residents. That's been a longtime goal of King's, but to date Republican Congressional leaders have not shown any interest in moving forward. In fact, King's previous comments on repealing birthright citizenship are one reason he wasn't picked to chair the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration after Republicans took control of the lower chamber in the 2010 elections.

King's other proposal would repeal the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which authorizes the federal income tax. He has long been a vocal supporter of the so-called "Fair Tax," which would replace federal income taxes with a value-added tax on most goods and services. It's a monumentally bad idea.

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IA-01: More than a dozen Democratic legislators endorse Monica Vernon

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 16, 2015 at 08:58:50 AM CST

Some of the most prominent Democratic legislators living in Iowa's first Congressional district have endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, a day after she announced she will run for Congress again in 2016. The group includes lawmakers from the three largest metro areas in IA-01:

Cedar Rapids (State Senators Liz Mathis and Rob Hogg, State Representatives Art Staed, Kirsten Running-Marquardt and Liz Bennett)

Waterloo/Cedar Falls (State Senator Bill Dotzler and State Representative Timi Brown-Powers)

Dubuque (Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum)

Support from Mathis is particularly noteworthy, because many Iowa Democrats encouraged her to run for Congress in 2014. Mathis endorsed Vernon shortly before last year's five-way primary.

Former State Senator Jack Hatch and several current lawmakers who live outside IA-01 also endorsed Vernon today: State Senators Joe Bolkcom, Bob Dvorsky, and Rich Taylor, and State Representatives Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, and Sally Stutsman. All besides Taylor represent parts of Johnson County, which is part of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor.

The full press release from Vernon's campaign is after the jump. It sends a strong signal to any other Democrats who may be considering this race, including former State Senator Swati Dandekar and Ravi Patel, the president of Hawkeye Hotels.

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Monica Vernon running for Congress again in IA-01

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 15, 2015 at 09:55:34 AM CST

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon announced this morning that she will run for Congress again in Iowa's first district. I enclosed her campaign's press release after the jump. Her official website is here, and Vernon for Congress is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Vernon finished second to Pat Murphy in the 2014 five-way Democratic primary to represent IA-01. She then became the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, while Murphy narrowly lost the general election to Republican Rod Blum.  

IA-01 is a top target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for 2016. Among Iowa's four districts, it is the most Democratic-leaning with a partisan voting index of D+5. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office, the 20 counties in IA-01 contain 158,190 active registered Democrats, 135,957 Republicans, and 192,679 no-party voters. Turnout is typically about 30 percent larger in a presidential year than in a midterm and includes more voters from demographic groups expected to favor Democratic candidates.

I expect a competitive primary in IA-01 again, as Blum is considered vulnerable. Although Joni Ernst already broke Iowa's political glass ceiling, many Democrats will want to elect their own woman to Congress, which could work in Vernon's favor.

Among the other Democrats who ran in this district last year, only former State Senator Swati Dandekar is rumored to be seriously considering another Congressional bid. Both she and Vernon have a base in Linn County, which could create an opening for a candidate with strong appeal in either the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area or Dubuque.

During last year's primary, some activists criticized Vernon for having been a registered Republican until 2009. Her work as Jack Hatch's running mate should put to rest any questions about her commitment to the Democratic Party. It's unfortunate that Governor Terry Branstad's campaign didn't agree to let Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds debate Vernon, though.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Scroll down for the National Republican Congressional Committee's comment on Vernon's announcement.

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All Iowans in favor as House passes Keystone XL bill

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 09, 2015 at 14:58:43 PM CST

Today the U.S. House of Representatives approved by 266 votes to 153 (roll call) a bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As expected, Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted for the bill. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 28 Democrats who also supported the bill. Laura Barron-Lopez and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The vote marked the 10th time the House has voted to authorize the Keystone pipeline in the last four years, and the third time in sixth months.

Loebsack has not supported all of those bills, but he voted for several of the Keystone XL measures, most recently in November. In a statement I've posted after the jump, Loebsack explained that "environmental concerns are important," but he came down in favor of the pipeline because of "the infrastructure jobs that will be created."

In the comments to yesterday's post on Loebsack joining a Republican effort to roll back financial regulations, Bleeding Heartland user ontheright asked whether the five-term Democrat might face a primary challenge from the left. I don't expect that to happen, because for reasons I don't entirely understand, Johnson County liberals never hold Loebsack accountable for his bad votes on Republican bills, no matter how disappointed they may be. In this case, people will forgive the vote because several Iowa labor unions want the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, or because the White House has said President Barack Obama will veto the bill. Next week or next month, it will be another disappointing vote by Loebsack, and another excuse.

The veto threat is important because for now, Keystone XL backers lack the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride a presidential veto in the U.S. House. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the Keystone bill next week. While there are enough Democrats in favor to cross the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, there are not enough to provide 67 Senate votes to over-ride a veto on this issue.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. King released a video statement on today's vote.

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Loebsack votes with House Republicans on rolling back Dodd-Frank rules

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 08, 2015 at 12:13:33 PM CST

House Republicans tried yesterday to pass a package of eleven bills that would roll back one or more parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The measure - one of the first to be considered in the new Congress - was brought up under a fast-track procedure typically considered for noncontroversial legislation that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. But Democratic opposition led to its defeat, by a vote of 276-146.

After the jump I've posted the floor speech by Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who laid out the Democratic case against passing this bill. He pointed out its substantive flaws and argued against a process that allowed such a complex bill to be brought to the floor in 24 hours, outside "regular order."

The roll call shows that not only did all three Iowa Republicans vote for this bill, Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among the 35 Democrats who supported it too. On social media I've seen some confused or angry Iowa Democrats ask why Loebsack would vote for such a bad bill. Although he may agree with its content, I would guess that he mostly wanted to protect himself against future campaign attacks. (Political considerations have pushed Loebsack to vote for many bad Republican bills.) Even if he agrees with rolling back Dodd-Frank reforms, though, Loebsack should not have gone along with rushing it through on the second day of the new Congressional session. Legislation this complicated and far-reaching should be debated and marked up in committee first.

Democrats who aren't happy with Loebsack's vote should be sure to let him know. Unfortunately, I anticipate many votes like this one to follow.

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Dynamic Scoring Ends 40 Years of CBO Independence

by: JonMuller

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 18:10:47 PM CST

(Thanks for this diary on an important issue that stays mostly below the radar. This resolution passed on Tuesday on a mostly party-line vote. Iowa Republicans Rod Blum, David Young, and Steve King all voted for it; Democrat Dave Loebsack voted against it. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The House of Representatives approved a resolution changing the House Rules to require dynamic scoring for large tax and spending bills.  The resolution contains a disturbing provision that may well transform the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), long the last bastion of independent public policy analysis for the federal government, into a hapless tool of the House Leadership and a few committee chairpersons.

The resolution requires dynamic scoring for all tax and spending bills greater than 0.25% of US GDP.  US GDP stands just south of $17 trillion.  Thus, the CBO will be required to estimate the economic feedbacks for all bills with a direct impact greater than $42.5 billion.  While I remain unconvinced this is the proper way to analyze the fiscal impact of federal legislation, this provision alone would not be that onerous.  In fact, the principal advocates of dynamic scoring should be careful what they wish for.

Problems will arise due to a provision in the resolution that will inherently yield fraudulent scoring in the aggregate.  The provision requires dynamic scoring on smaller bills with fiscal impact if they are deemed important by the Chairmen of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and the House Budget Committee, both of which are now controlled by a single party.

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Links and news from Joni Ernst's first day as a U.S. senator

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 12:15:00 PM CST

Joni Ernst was sworn in yesterday (twice) as Iowa's first new U.S. senator in 30 years. You can view the ceremonial repeat swearing in on KCCI's website. Vice President Joe Biden complimented Ernst on her "great victory". He also made an inappropriate comment to one of her daughters. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham gave Ernst a livestock castration device mounted on a plaque engraved with the words, "MAKE 'EM SQUEAL, JONI!"

Ernst is the first woman ever to represent Iowa in Congress, and while I think many women who came before her were more worthy of the honor, it's good that the young generation will not grow up wondering whether Iowans would ever elect a woman to high office.

I'd been looking forward to see how Ernst would set the tone on her first day in the Senate. For the last two months, she has been dodging interviews--sorry, "keeping a low profile." She hired staff and made time for her first foreign junket (a trip to Israel bankrolled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), but she has said little of substance about any current events. Watching Ernst's first official remarks after being sworn in, I felt disappointed to hear a rehash of her stump speech. In two months she could have come up with something more than "it is certainly a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C" and "As a mother, soldier and independent voice [....]" I would like to know whether she has specific goals and legislation she wants to help pass. Instead, we got more vague talk about the "Iowa Way," "working with our neighbors to find solutions to the many problems we face." Ernst plans to visit all 99 counties every year. I hope at those town-hall events, Iowans will press for real comments about real issues.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I've enclosed the full transcript of Ernst's video remarks yesterday, a list of her key staff hires, and excerpts from her recent interview with Kathie Obradovich. Ernst is "anxious to get to work." I would advise her not to miss a single hearing of any of the four committees to which she has been assigned (Agriculture, Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs). Her campaign's attacks Bruce Braley set the standard: missing a committee meeting = not doing your job and not caring about people.

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15 Iowa politics predictions for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 02, 2015 at 09:41:49 AM CST

Happy new year to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community! Undeterred by my failure (yet again) to win, place, or show in my own blog's election contest, I offer fifteen Iowa politics predictions for this calendar year.

Your own predictions or any other relevant comments are welcome in this thread. At the end of this year I'll look back to see what we got right or wrong.

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley against funding deal, split on other votes

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 10:27:58 AM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his last votes in Congress over the weekend. After the jump I've posted the video and full transcript of Harkin's final speech on the U.S. Senate floor, delivered on December 12. He and Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley were at odds in many roll-call votes these past two days. However, they both voted against the $1.1 trillion government funding bill senators passed late Saturday night. The 56 to 40 roll call reveals an unusual bipartisan split. Yes votes came from 32 Democrats and 24 Republicans, while 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted no. Liberals like Harkin found plenty to dislike in the so-called "cromnibus" spending bill. Notably, it included a big change to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which was literally written by one of the large banks that will benefit. The spending bill also includes a "big coal giveaway", big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, and several other bad environmental provisions. What Democrats supposedly got out of the "cromnibus" wasn't worth it in my opinion.

Just before the final vote on the spending bill, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas raised a constitutional point of order:

"If you believe President Obama's executive order was unconstitutional vote yes," Cruz said ahead of the vote on Saturday. "If you think the president's executive order is constitutional vote no."

Only 22 senators voted with Cruz and 74 voted against his point of order.

The roll call shows that Grassley was one of the Republicans who voted for the point of order. The group included several senators who may run for president (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman) and a bunch of Republicans who are up for re-election in 2016 and presumably want to avoid a GOP primary challenge.

Many of the Republicans who opposed Cruz's motion (including the Senate GOP leadership team) probably were motivated by the desire to avoid a government shutdown. Nevertheless, they are now on record voting no when Cruz said such a vote signified a belief that "the president's executive order is constitutional."

Also on Saturday, senators approved on party lines a series of motions to advance judicial nominees. Here Harkin and Grassley were on opposite sides. In fact, disagreements over whether to vote on these nominations delayed a final vote on the spending bill. Harkin and other Democrats backed all the nominations. Grassley will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee when the new Congress convenes and has promised more vigorous oversight of nominations. He objected to moving the judicial nominations during the lame-duck session, even though many of the nominees were non-controversial and had been approved by a Judiciary Committee voice vote. In fact, Republican senators from Illinois and Texas had recommended some of these nominees for federal judgeships.

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House passes huge government funding bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19:58 PM CST

Last night the U.S. House approved a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus," a massive continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government through September 2015. The 219 to 206 roll call showed an unusual bipartisan split, with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it. Many of the most outspoken House progressives and conservatives were against the cromnibus, for different reasons. Only one of Iowa's four U.S. House members voted yes: retiring Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). I have not seen any official statement explaining his reasons.

Republican Steve King (IA-04) opposed the bill primarily because in his view, it did not do enough to block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. I've posted some of King's recent statements on the issue after the jump. King's office has not responded to my request for comment on assertions by House Appropriations Committee staff that it would be "impossible" to defend the immigration order. King offered an amendment (full text here) which would have funded "all of the government until January 30 of next year but [would] prohibit any and all funds from being used to carry out the president's lawless, unconstitutional executive amnesty in all its forms." But an analysis by Scott Wong for The Hill suggests that the Obama administration would be able to carry out the executive order even if Congress shut down the federal government.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted against the funding bill. I have not seen any official statement explaining those votes but will update this post as needed.

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