When Iowa's Republicans overturned rule on gun checks for mentally ill

After yet another mass murder involving an assault weapon made national news, Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on February 15, “we have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that.” Similarly, Senator Joni Ernst said today that the U.S. needs more “focus” on mental illness, not gun control. (Not that she has any ideas on how to address that problem.)

The talking point is bogus, because people with mental illness aren’t more likely than others to commit violent crimes, and mental illness isn’t any more prevalent in the U.S. than in other countries that experience far fewer mass shootings.

But let’s leave that aside for the moment. A year ago, all of Iowa’s Republicans in Congress voted with their GOP colleagues to overturn “a sensible Obama administration rule designed to stop people with severe mental problems from buying guns.”

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Weekend thread: Big Iowa problems

A majority of Iowans think mental health services, student loan debt, child welfare services, state university tuition, and the state budget are either a “crisis” or a “big problem” for Iowa, according to the latest Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Among nine issues tested in the survey of 801 Iowa adults in late January, mental health services registered as the top concern: 35 percent of respondents described the situation as a crisis, 38 percent as a big problem. No other topic registered above 20 percent for “crisis.”

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Senate rejects 20-week abortion ban despite Iowans' support

A ban on almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on January 29, as a motion to proceed with debating the bill gained only 51 votes, short of the 60 required under Senate rules. Three Democrats (Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia) voted for cloture on the misleadingly-named Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, joining most Senate Republicans, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted no, as did most of the Democratic caucus. Two Democrats facing potentially tough re-election campaigns this year–Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri–opposed the bill.

The U.S. House approved the same legislation in October on a mostly party-line vote of 237 to 189. Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) supported the legislation, while pro-choice Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed it.

Nineteen states already ban most abortions after 20 weeks; Iowa joined their ranks in May 2017. Most terminations at that stage of pregnancy happen either because the mother has a serious health problem or because of a severe (often unsurvivable) fetal anomaly. Five women who have faced those difficult circumstances allowed Bleeding Heartland to share their stories last year.

I enclose below statements from some of the Iowans in Congress and background on the bill, which uses a faulty premise as an excuse to restrict women’s ability to make decisions about their own medical care.

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Loebsack joins Republicans on vote ending shutdown

All Iowans in Congress approved a resolution today to fund the federal government through February 8, with a six-year extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. President Donald Trump signed the legislation this evening, ending the partial government shutdown after three days. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were part of the bipartisan majority that approved the deal by 81 votes to 18 (two Republicans and sixteen Democrats opposed). The U.S. House vote was not quite as lopsided: 266 votes in favor (241 Republicans and 25 Democrats) and 150 against (six Republicans and 144 Democrats). Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the bill.

The lone Democrat in Iowa’s delegation, Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), opposed last week’s short-term funding bill, saying “it is now past time for gimmicks that will only lead to another manufactured crisis in February. I remain prepared to stay in Washington and work until a long-term plan is in place.” Following today’s vote, he said in a statement enclosed in full below, “While I remain deeply skeptical that today’s agreement will actually lead to the change that is needed, it at least provides a framework to begin dealing with issues Iowans tell me they want addressed. I will support the effort in hopes that Congress can somehow do better.”

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