The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2015

As I mentioned on Tuesday, writing is a labor of love for me. Some posts are much more labor-intensive than others.

All of the pieces linked below took at least a couple of days to put together. Some were in progress for weeks before I was ready to hit the publish button. (No editor, deadlines, or word limits can be a dangerous combination.) A few of the particularly time-consuming posts required additional research or interviews. More often, the challenge was figuring out the best way to present the material.

Several pieces that would have qualified for this list are not included, because they are still unfinished. Assuming I can get those posts where they need to be, I plan to publish them during the first quarter of 2016.

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Congress approves spending bill and tax extenders: How the Iowans voted

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The good news is, the federal government won’t shut down before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2016. The bad news is, members of Congress snuck some awful provisions in the "omnibus" budget bill and package of tax cut or tax credit extensions that just cleared the U.S. House and Senate. You know leaders aren’t proud when they bury news about a deal during another event occupying the political world’s attention, in this case Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate. I enclose below background on key provisions in the bills, as well as statements from the Iowans in Congress. I will update this post as needed.

The House held separate votes on the "tax extenders" and the omnibus. Republicans were nearly united in support of the tax bill (confusingly named "On Concurring in Senate Amdt with Amdt Specified in Section 3(b) of H.Res. 566"), which passed yesterday by 318 votes to 109 (roll call). The Democratic caucus was split; Naomi Jagoda and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that House Democratic leaders "opposed the tax package" but "did not whip their members against it." Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the tax extenders; so did Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), one of 77 House Democrats to do so.

Loebsack was the only Iowan to vote for the omnibus bill, which easily passed this morning by 316 votes to 113 (roll call). Most of the Democratic caucus supported the bill that keeps the federal government open for at least nine more months; just 18 Democrats voted against it.

Although House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team persuaded 150 Republicans to vote for the budget measure, 95 Republicans opposed it, including all three Iowans. Blum and Young appear to have concluded that the bill was simply too expensive. King’s main objection was that none of his nine amendments were included in the final deal. Click through to read the texts of those amendments, which would have barred the use of appropriated funds for: enforcing the 2010 Affordable Care Act (health care reform law); implementing President Barack Obama’s executive orders to provide temporary protection against deportation for some immigrants who entered the country without permission; enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide; supporting any activities of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or any of its clinics, affiliates, or successors; implementing or enforcing any change to the U.S. EPA’s Waters of the United States rule; resettling refugees; implementing the multilateral deal struck earlier this year to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; implementing any regulation that stemmed from the recent international agreement to combat climate change; or expanding the use of H-2B visas.

The Senate combined the tax extenders and budget bills into one package, which passed this morning by 65 votes to 33 (roll call). Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted no; in the statements I’ve enclosed below, Grassley went into greater detail about his reasons for opposing the package. However, earlier this week he released a separate statement bragging about some of the provisions he helped to insert in the tax legislation. Members of Congress from both parties use that sleight of hand.

Among the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul voted against the omnibus, Lindsey Graham voted for it, and unbelievably, Marco Rubio missed the vote. What is wrong with this guy? He "has missed more than half of the Senate’s votes since October," Jordain Carney reported for The Hill. I think not showing up for Senate work will hurt Rubio in Iowa, though not having a strong field operation will hurt him more.

The Senate is now adjourned until January 11 and the House until January 5. During the winter recess, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the Iowa Congressional voting not covered here during the late summer and fall.

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Where are they now? Swati Dandekar edition

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President Barack Obama has named former State Senator Swati Dandekar "to be United States director of the Asian Development Bank, with the rank of ambassador," the White House announced yesterday. Created in 1966 and representing dozens of member countries, the bank had nearly $23 billion in operations last year. It "finances development in the Asia and Pacific region with the aim of reducing poverty" through "loans, technical assistance and grants for a broad range of development activities."

After growing up and getting her education in India, Dandekar moved to Marion, Iowa with her husband during the 1970s. She became active in local schools while raising her children and served for six years on the Linn-Mar School Board before winning three elections to the Iowa House and eventually a 2008 election to the Iowa Senate. That last victory prompted the Asian-American newspaper AsianWeek to name Dandekar the Asian Pacific American of the year. During her years as a state lawmaker, Dandekar focused on many education and economic development issues; she was also involved in efforts to promote trade between Iowa and India. A past leader of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, Dandekar did not serve out her term in the Iowa Senate, accepting an appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board in 2011. She left that position in order to run for Congress in Iowa’s first district. Dandekar finished third in the 2014 Democratic primary behind Pat Murphy and Monica Vernon.

Dandekar disclosed earlier this year that she was considering running for Congress again. She confirmed by phone today that because of her new position, she has ruled out any election campaign. I doubt she will endorse a candidate in the three-way primary between Murphy, Vernon, and Gary Kroeger to take on IA-01’s Republican incumbent Rod Blum.

Loebsack, King cross party lines on bill halting refugees from Syria, Iraq

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Today the U.S. House approved a bill that "would prevent any refugees from Syria or Iraq from entering the United States until the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence certify that none of them are dangerous," Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill. Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among 47 Democrats who joined 242 Republicans to pass the bill (roll call). Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) also voted yes, but Representative Steve King (IA-04) was one of only two House Republicans to vote no. His office has not yet responded to my request for comment or issued a statement explaining that vote.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which according to White House would "’provide no meaningful additional security for the American people’ and impose new certification requirements that effectively end the refugee program" to assist those fleeing Syria or Iraq. Marcos reported, "GOP aides noted that because of absences, the vote would have met the two-thirds requirement to override a presidential veto if that vote had been held Thursday. Still, there’s no guarantee that Democrats would vote to override the president if the bill comes back to the floor." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sounds confident the bill will not clear the upper chamber.

I will update this post as needed with comments from Iowa’s Congressional delegation or other reaction to today’s vote. The epic fail of the day goes to the Republican Party of Iowa for sending out the press release enclosed below. In that statement, Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann "applauds King, Blum, Young on Refugee Vote." Check the roll call first, guys.

Note: most of the perpetrators of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris were French citizens.

UPDATE: King’s office provided the following statement: "I voted against the American SAFE Act because it fails to restore Congress’ Article 1 authority over admissions of migrants to the United States. How can we trust this Obama Administration who will not utter the words ‘radical Islamic jihad’ to accurately screen Syrian and Iraqi refugees as required in this bill? For that reason, I submitted an amendment to rules, which was ultimately not adopted, that would create international safe zones for refugees in their homeland. The safety and security of the American people is paramount. I respect the House trying to find a solution but I do not believe this was the right or strong enough one."

The Iowa GOP issued a corrected press release, blaming "incorrect press reports of a unanimous Republican vote" for their error. Always wait for the official roll call. I’ve added the new statement below, along with a screen shot of a tweet (since deleted) from state party co-chair Cody Hoefert thanking all three Iowa Republicans "for voting to strengthen our national security."

SECOND UPDATE: Blum’s statement is below as well.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Loebsack’s official comment on the vote. When I asked whether Loebsack would vote to override a presidential veto of this bill, his communications director Joe Hand responded, "Will have to see what happens in the Senate before we talk overriding any possible veto."

FOURTH UPDATE: I’ve seen lots of progressives criticize Loebsack’s vote on social media, and some of that feedback must be getting through. On Friday afternoon, Loebsack for Congress sent out an e-mail blast with the subject line "my vote." Scroll to the end of this post to read the full text. Most of the commenters on Loebsack’s Facebook status update about this vote criticized his stance. As of November 21, neither Loebsack nor his staff had responded publicly to the comments.

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Iowa reaction to Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline

President Barack Obama announced yesterday that he is rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Earlier in the week, TransCanada had asked the Obama administration to suspend its review of the pipeline project, presumably hoping to "delay the review process in hopes that a more sympathetic Republican administration will move into the White House in 2017."

I enclose below the full text of the president’s statement on Keystone and reaction from members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sharply criticized the decision, as did Republican Representative David Young (IA-03). I have not seen any comment from GOP Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) or Steve King (IA-04) but will update this post as needed. King is currently visiting the Middle East. Both he and Blum have consistently backed the Keystone XL project.

Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) refrained from criticizing the president’s decision, instead calling on politicians to "focus on the issues that are important to the American people." Loebsack’s voting record on Keystone XL is mixed, but earlier this year he twice supported a bill that would have authorized the pipeline. (Obama vetoed that legislation.)

All three Democratic presidential candidates welcomed the news about Keystone’s demise, while most of the GOP field denounced Obama’s decision.

The USA Today reported that Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "The critical factor in my determination was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change." Kerry’s outstanding lifelong voting record on environmental issues was a major reason I became a precinct captain for him before the 2004 Iowa caucuses and continued to volunteer during that year’s general election campaign. I wish he had acted much sooner on Keystone XL, but better late than never. He doesn’t seem to have entirely convinced the president, though; speaking yesterday, Obama asserted that the pipeline would not have been "the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed" by climate hawks.

I enclose at the end of this post a joint statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, which called on "all the other pipelines proposed from the Tar Sands of Canada and the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota" to be rejected on the same grounds as Keystone XL. Energy analyst Aurelien Windenberger published an interesting commentary this week questioning whether the Dakota Access (Bakken) Pipeline even makes "economic sense" anymore for parent company Energy Transfer Partners. Click here for more background on the Bakken proposal.

UPDATE: Added below a statement from Pat Murphy, one of the Democratic candidates in Iowa’s first Congressional district.

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Thoughts on the Iowa Democratic Party's final Jefferson-Jackson dinner

The Iowa Democratic Party held its final Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night, drawing some 6,000 activists to hear three presidential candidates speak in Des Moines. Last night’s spectacle won’t loom as large over the Iowa caucus campaign as the JJ did in 2007, when it took place in November and the caucuses were scheduled for early January, rather than February. But some new tactics emerged during the speeches by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton. My thoughts on the evening’s highlights are after the jump.

I am a sucker for hand-made political signs, so I also enclose below my favorite pictures from the crowds in the bleachers. I put "Feel the Bern" in lights up top because I’ve never seen electrified signs at the JJ before.

While I see the value in supporters waving signs (or glow sticks, as many did last night) at a big rally, the "sign wars" some campaigns stage before multi-candidate events have always struck me as pointless. How does it demonstrate "organizational strength" to send a few staffers to put up printed materials in windows or along a road? Why would anyone want their volunteers to stand around yelling for hours before the dinner, rather than saving their energy and voices to show that enthusiasm inside the hall? For those who disagree with me and love the show, Pat Rynard chronicled the morning and afternoon activities by all three campaigns at Iowa Starting Line.

As for why I called it the "final" JJ, the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser will continue under a to-be-determined name honoring icons considered more inclusive. You can send your suggestion to the state party using this form through February 15, 2016.

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