Grassley, Ernst vote against Harvey aid/debt ceiling package

With only a few days left before the Federal Emergency Management Agency runs out of disaster relief funds, the U.S. Senate approved $15.25 billion in funding for those affected by Hurricane Harvey today. Eighty senators voted for the legislation, even though GOP lawmakers were said to be “furious” when President Donald Trump agreed yesterday to a Democratic proposal linking Harvey aid to a short-term debt ceiling hike and language to fund the federal government through December 8.

Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the seventeen Republican senators who voted against today’s bill (roll call). In a statement enclosed in full below, Ernst said she supported a “clean” Hurricane Harvey relief bill, like the one U.S. House members approved on September 6 by 419 votes to 3. All four Iowans supported that bill: Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02).

Carefully avoiding direct criticism of Trump, Ernst added in her statement, “Unfortunately a final deal was cut and while it includes initial relief funding, it also raises the debt limit and kicks the can down the road once again on our overall government spending levels. This is not the right way to legislate, and quite frankly, it is exactly what the American people are sick and tired of.”

I assume Grassley opposed the Harvey aid bill for similar reasons. At this writing, his office has not released a statement; I will update this post as needed with any public comment.

The Senate bill goes back to the House, where Democratic support is assured but a large number of Republicans will bolt over the debt ceiling hike and short-term spending resolution. I’ll be surprised if King or Blum votes for the bill; Young could go either way. UPDATE: All four Iowans voted for the revised bill in the U.S. House. I posted statements from King and Blum here.

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Bill Northey's heading to the USDA. Who will take his place?

President Donald Trump has officially nominated Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to a senior position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In another sign of this administration’s lack of basic competence, the USDA’s news release says Northey will be Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, while the statement from the White House says he will be Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. (See excerpts enclosed below, along with Northey’s official biography.)

Either way, U.S. Senate confirmation should be smooth sailing, clearing a path for Governor Kim Reynolds to appoint a new secretary of agriculture later this year or in early 2018. The appointee would presumably be a prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination next spring.

This thread is for any speculation about successors to Northey. A few months ago, I thought State Representative Pat Grassley was a lock for the job. He was seen as a likely candidate for secretary of agriculture in 2014 or 2018, had Northey run for higher office. His grandfather, Senator Chuck Grassley, is co-chairing the Reynolds campaign for governor.

And yet: ever since Pat Grassley tweeted last week that he was “not convinced” a state tax incentives package worth $400,000 per long-term job created by Apple was “good value for Iowa taxpayers,” I’ve been wondering whether he and the governor had a falling out. Perhaps word reached him that Reynolds is leaning toward someone else for secretary of agriculture. The governor has been talking up the Apple deal as a major accomplishment. Her chief of staff, Jake Ketzner, is not known for showing tolerance toward Republicans who criticize or question his boss.

Former State Representative Annette Sweeney could be a contender. She’s executive director of the Iowa Angus Association, having previously headed a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women. Before that, she served as Iowa House Agriculture Committee chair and floor-managed the country’s first “Ag Gag” bill.

The political map drawn up after the 2010 census put Sweeney and Pat Grassley in the same legislative district, and she lost a tough, expensive 2012 primary widely viewed as a proxy war between Bruce Rastetter and Senator Grassley. The two Iowa Republican powerhouses were on opposite sides again during last year’s GOP primary in the fourth Congressional district.

Sweeney is a childhood friend of Rastetter, who has been a major donor to Reynolds and before that, had tremendous influence over her mentor, Governor Terry Branstad (see also here). Reynolds’ chief of staff Ketzner became a senior adviser to Chris Christie’s presidential campaign around the same time Rastetter endorsed the New Jersey governor.

Iowa Democrats do not have a declared 2018 candidate for secretary of agriculture yet. Northey narrowly defeated Denise O’Brien in his first statewide election, then won his second and third terms by comfortable majorities.

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Sure, Trump just wanted Grassley to know he's pro-ethanol

President Donald Trump can be called many things, but subtle will never be one of them. Within 24 hours of journalists reporting that Donald Trump, Jr. had agreed to a private, transcribed interview with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the president picked up the phone to let Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley know that he’s very pro-ethanol.

Iowa’s senior senator was delighted.

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Trump won't call out neo-Nazis. Republicans must hold him accountable

What a discouraging weekend for the country. Hundreds of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday night, carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next day, police mostly stood by while racists (some displaying swastika flags or calling out the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”) clashed with counter-protesters during “the largest public gathering of white supremacists in decades.” One of those anti-fascist protesters, Heather Heyer, was killed after a car struck her while driving into a crowd, allegedly intentionally. Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates died in a helicopter crash while assisting in the law enforcement response to the “Unite the Right” rally.

Many Republican officials, including Iowa’s top GOP leaders, condemned this weekend’s acts of domestic terrorism and racist hatred. But President Donald Trump–long an inspiration to white nationalists and neo-Nazis–deliberately avoided calling out the instigators in Charlottesville.

Politicians who enthusiastically campaigned for Trump and continue to support him must demand much more.

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Weekend thread: Best and worst Iowa reactions to Trump's transgender ban

Keeping track of this administration’s scandals would be a full-time job. President Donald Trump has already spent 58 days of his presidency at Trump properties, including 43 days at golf courses. He’s been venting about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in his view, should have killed the investigation into possible Russian collusion with Trump campaign officials.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke warned Alaska’s senators that Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote against GOP health care proposals “had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.” Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said Zinke should be fired for “threatening to abuse his agency’s statutory mandate to hurt Alaska,” adding that the “Interior Department controls vast parts of our Country and cannot be allowed to use federal lands for an extortion racket.”

Trump’s new communications director Anthony Scaramucci conducted an interview that was beyond parody, trying to lean on New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza to reveal a source. Reince Priebus finally got dumped as Trump’s chief of staff. Alexandra Petri noted in her excellent commentary, “Priebus was one of the last Adults In The Room, not that it mattered because everyone in the room was doing exactly as they pleased regardless. His function was largely decorative. What is the point of adult supervision if all you do is sit back and watch as the children set everything on fire?”

The president politicized a Boy Scouts event, upending eight decades of tradition and prompting the national Boy Scouts leader to apologize. Days later, police chiefs around the country condemned the president’s remarks encouraging officers to be rougher with suspects during arrests.

But of all Trump’s outrages this week, none were more disgraceful than his unprovoked attack on transgender people serving our country in the military. After the jump I’ve compiled some of the best and worst reactions from Iowa political figures.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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