Iowans shut out of Trump's cabinet, and Chuck Grassley's not happy

The less said about President Donald Trump’s divisive, angry, poorly-delivered inaugural address, the better.

Catching up on transition news of particular importance to Iowa, yesterday Trump’s team finally announced that former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Perdue had long been considered a front-runner for the last cabinet position to be filled, but Trump delayed the selection for weeks in an apparent scramble to find a Latino. (He is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to appoint any Latinos to a cabinet-level position.)

The only Iowans Trump has tapped for important jobs so far are Sam Clovis, who is heading the transition at USDA, future U.S. Ambassador to China Governor Terry Branstad, and Eric Branstad, in line to become White House liaison to the Commerce Department. (By some accounts, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton is on Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Senator Chuck Grassley had expressed concern about the delay in choosing a secretary of agriculture and specifically about rumored efforts to find someone other than a white man for the job. He didn’t sound pleased about the Perdue appointment either.

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Some of Branstad's extended family will move with him to China

I didn’t believe the early speculation about Governor Terry Branstad becoming ambassador to China, for two reasons. First, the governor shot down the rumor the day after the election. WHO-TV’s Dave Price quoted Branstad as saying on November 9, “I’m not interested in living overseas,” adding that the governor “pointed out he has seven grandchildren now and wants to remain in Iowa.”

Second, I doubted First Lady Chris Branstad would ever agree to move halfway around the world from her grandkids. At a November 21 press conference, the governor said he would consider a job offer from President-elect Donald Trump but added that he wanted to stay in Iowa and that his wife’s views on the matter would carry weight: “We are not doing anything without her blessing, that’s for sure. […] We have been married for 44 years and I want to stay married.”

In what may be his final appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program Friday, Branstad explained that some of his grandkids will be moving to China along with him and his wife.

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Branstad going to China: Let the IA-Gov speculation commence

Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg last night that Governor Terry Branstad has accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to become the next U.S. ambassador to China. Jacobs cited three unnamed sources, and an unnamed member of Trump’s transition team confirmed the news to the Washington Post this morning. I expect Trump to make the official announcement during his Thursday “thank you” rally in downtown Des Moines. (By the way, many central Iowa Democrats as well as Republicans received a robocall invitation to that rally, featuring Donald Trump, Jr.)

I wish Branstad well in his new adventure. He’ll have a lot to contend with: the president-elect’s recent overture to Taiwan was destabilizing; Trump’s threats to punish China for supposedly unfair trade and currency practices could spark a trade war; and horrific air pollution has made Beijing “almost uninhabitable.”

Kim Reynolds is the fifth woman to hold the office of Iowa lieutenant governor and will soon become the first woman governor in our state’s history. Branstad has been saying for years he wanted her to succeed him, and many Democrats expected him to step down before the end of his sixth term, to give her the advantages of incumbency going into the 2018 campaign. The domain KimReynoldsforgovernor.com has been registered since 2012, Mark Langgin pointed out today.

Reynolds will select the next lieutenant governor, and she may use that power to neutralize a potential rival, such as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. (Why Northey would agree to that arrangement is a mystery to me.) I don’t expect Reynolds to clear the field for the 2018 Republican primary, but as governor, she will be able to raise more money and possibly deter some ambitious people. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign for years. I don’t know how many major donors would back him now that Reynolds will be the incumbent, though. Running a credible campaign against her would require millions of dollars.

Many Democrats were delighted to read this morning that Representative Steve King told The Hill’s Scott Wong he is thinking about running for governor himself. I suspect this will play out like the early months of 2013, when King attracted a lot of attention by saying he might run for U.S. Senate. I never believed then and don’t believe now that King will run for higher office. However, two recent developments may have changed the equation for him.

First, Iowa’s sharp turn to the right this November may have convinced King he has a chance to win a statewide election, which didn’t appear to be the case a few years ago. Second, he and Branstad are not on good terms. King was a leading surrogate for presidential candidate Ted Cruz, whom Branstad attacked shortly before the Iowa caucuses. Reynolds and many other prominent Iowa Republicans endorsed King before this year’s GOP primary in the fourth Congressional district, but Branstad didn’t join them. Adding to the insult, soon after King defeated State Senator Rick Bertrand in that primary, the governor’s son Eric Branstad hired some of Bertrand’s former staffer to work on Trump’s campaign.

Any thoughts about Branstad’s prospects in China or the 2018 campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Des Moines rumor mill sees State Representative Peter Cownie as a likely lieutenant governor choice for Reynolds. Further updates are after the jump.

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Throwback Thursday: Down memory lane with politicians who don't pay income taxes

By Tom Witosky

Donald Trump’s reported avoidance of paying federal income taxes – possibily for almost two decades – raises a simple, but interesting question for Iowa voters.
Does it matter? And, if it doesn’t matter to voters in 2016, then why did it matter when Gov. Terry Branstad and his supporters made such a big deal of it in his campaigns against Democrat candidate Roxanne Conlin in 1982 and Jack Hatch in 2014?

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Manafort's departure shouldn't end questions about Trump's Russia ties

Only two months after firing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump accepted Paul Manafort’s resignation this morning. Manafort had already been “sidelined” earlier this week, keeping the title of “campaign chairman” while pollster Kellyanne Conway was promoted to “campaign manager” and Stephen Bannon given the “chief executive” position. Bannon is best known as chairman of the none-too-reputable Breitbart News website.

For a Republican presidential nominee to give Bannon such an important role in a faltering campaign is itself newsworthy. Former Breitbart staffer Kurt Bardella told ABC News that Bannon “regularly disparaged minorities, women, and immigrants during daily editorial calls at the publication.” Ben Shapiro, who spent four years as an editor-at-large for Breitbart before resigning in March, wrote this week that Bannon had “Turned Breitbart Into Trump Pravda For His Own Personal Gain” and had encouraged the website to embrace white supremacists.

But let’s get back to Manafort. He reportedly resigned so as not to become a “distraction” for Trump, as journalists have dug more deeply into his lobbying work for pro-Russian forces and business ties to shady “oligarchs” from Russia and Ukraine. Manafort may have committed a crime by not registering as a lobbyist for foreign entities during the years he “tried to sell” former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to U.S. policy-makers. Eric Trump said today, “my father just didn’t want the distraction looming over the campaign […].”

Ditching Manafort won’t resolve the many valid concerns about whether Russian entities could exert undue influence on Trump. Here are five questions journalists should keep investigating.

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Branstad to be "unofficial" Trump adviser; Bruce Rastetter may have same role

New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner had the scoop today for NJ.com: Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-announced economic advisers include Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and “Bruce Rastetter, a multimillionaire livestock and bio-fuel tycoon who insiders say is also a leading candidate to be Trump’s agriculture secretary.” They

will advise Trump on agribusiness and energy policy, according to a source within the Trump campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

“There’s a clear nexus between [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.

Rastetter helped talk Branstad into running for governor again in 2009 and was his campaign’s top donor in 2010. He has exerted substantial influence since Branstad returned to office in 2011, speaking to the governor “at least once a week.” Rastetter tried to recruit Christie to run for president in 2011 and endorsed him in a highly-publicized event last September. Though Branstad did not endorse any presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, several people close to him were involved in Christie’s campaign.

Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes confirmed via e-mail that the governor “was asked to advise Mr. Trump in an unofficial role. He will be offering his advice on important issues to Iowa, none more important than renewable fuels.” Iowa Republicans have seized on a recent report by Reuters, suggesting that as president, Hillary Clinton might change federal policy on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate for biofuels blends into gasoline. The governor’s son Eric Branstad is running Trump’s general election campaign in Iowa, having coordinated an ethanol industry group‘s political efforts here before the caucuses.

Hammes declined to comment on Rastetter’s possible role in the Trump campaign or a prospective Trump cabinet. At this writing, Rastetter’s office has not responded to my inquiry. The man often described as an “ethanol baron” sought to enhance his reputation as an authority on agriculture policy last year, when he organized an Iowa Ag Summit, attended by nine presidential hopefuls and a who’s who of Iowa GOP elected officials. Though Rastetter would surely want to have a strong voice in any Republican administration, I have trouble seeing him in a cabinet secretary’s role, with many public events and press availabilities. The way Trump’s poll numbers are looking lately, we will likely never find out whether Rastetter was really the top contender to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

UPDATE: According to Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, Rastetter met privately with Trump not long before the nominee’s July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids. Excerpts from that story are after the jump, along with comments Hammes provided to Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller.

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