IA-02: First Loebsack and Miller-Meeks debate live-blog and discussion thread (updated)

Four-term Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack and his three-time Republican challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks are debating in Iowa City tonight, starting at 7 pm. Iowa Public TV is live-streaming the event here. I’ll post updates after the jump.

Any comments about the race in Iowa’s second Congressional district are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The archived video is now available at IPTV’s site. My comments are below.  

First Q from Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson is to Loebsack: people say your list of accomplishments is short. What’s one thing you could tell people that you’ve done? Loebsack says there are many examples. This summer he helped Senator Tom Harkin get jobs provisions into a workforce training bill. He’s proud he worked to get key provisions into that bill.

Henderson’s first Q to Miller-Meeks: She brings up Affordable Care Act, which isn’t affordable, as we’ve seen in Iowa. She’s well-positioned to lead on this issue. People want to know, who’s going to be most effective? DM Register has rated Loebsack least-effective member of Iowa delegation. Voters want people who are problem solvers, who have the skill set to lead, not afraid to part with party positions.

Cedar Rapids Gazette’s James Lynch asks Loebsack’s for people’s low regard for Congress. Isn’t he part of problem? Loebsack says MMM talks about problem-solving, but he’s been working to solve problems for eight years. He’s part of “No Labels” group trying to reach across party lines. His jobs bill was originally passed unanimously. We need to expand/restore the middle class. He agrees Congress is dysfunctional but he’s tried to be part of the solution.

Miller-Meeks interrupts near end of question to repeat that DMR has rated Loebsack as least effective, and there’s no bill with his name on it that has passed. She was part of a state government administration that got things done despite divided government.

Loebsack says he’s been in minority for last four years. Hard to get stuff done in U.S. House as part of minority. But this year he led charge on bipartisan basis to get Meals on Wheels funding, and he was able to get that done. Elderly people don’t care whether you’re D or R, they need Meals on Wheels. He got award from National Guard Association for a bill that included funding.

Dean Borg asks about DMR’s rating of Loebsack as least effective. He doesn’t pay attention to what pundits say. He pays attention to constituents and people he meets in the district. by the way, Loebsack notes, the DMR had a story about Miller-Meeks when she stepped down as director of Iowa Dept of Public Health, and it was “scathing.” Not a favorable evaluation of her work.

Ed Tibbetts of Quad-City Times asks both candidates about unaccompanied kids who entered the U.S. Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba convened group to help shelter some of these children. Loebsack says we need resources to take care of needs at the border. Borg focuses Loebsack on Q: does he support humanitarian efforts to shelter some of these kids in IA-02? Loebsack pivots back to House failure to pass bipartisan immigration reform bill that Senate approved last week.

Miller-Meeks says this is an extraordinarily complex issue. She comes at this as a mother. Hard to imagine the circumstances that exist that would compel parents to send children to U.S. What does that say about U.S.? We’re a nation of laws and nation of immigrants. We are compassionate, loving people. We need to look at what in our policy has created this problem? Borg tries to focus MMM on answering question: does she support local efforts to shelter these children? She says there’s a big processing problem, raises some of the public health needs (like vaccinations for the kids). She doesn’t agree with fed govt sending kids to cities without informing governors.

Henderson asks Loebsacks whether he would support executive action by President Obama to deal with immigration reform. Loebsack says it’s a great question. He’s not sure what Obama is going to do. He’s going to watch closely and consider what the president does. What we don’t need is people like Steve King threatening to shut down government over what Obama may do.

Miller-Meeks thinks that Congress as a whole needs to look at balance of powers in federal government. Because of the use of executive orders, many on both sides of aisle are concerned about precedent Obama is setting. Balance of power issue, not political party issue. What do we do going forward? Will we like a president of the opposite party doing the same thing?

Henderson follows up: would MMM vote to impeach president over this issue? She would have to look at specifics of what president does.

Loebsack interjects that people threatening to impeach or shut down government contributes to the dysfunctional nature of Congress. Boehner is wasting money suing the president.

Miller-Meeks defends the lawsuit. A Georgetown law prof who used to support Obama says the lawsuit makes sense. The issue isn’t what party president is, it’s what precedent is being set.

Lynch asks next question, about ISIS and situation in Middle East. MMM says no one seems to know what our foreign policy strategy is. No clarity for our allies in the region either. She has a difficult time finding a coherent foreign policy strategy. Congressional members have important role in helping to determine what’s in US best interest. This goes beyond the Middle East. It relates to Russia, not negotiating agreement on status of forces when we withdrew from Iraq [note from desmoinesdem: I think it was the Bush administration that dropped the ball on that].

Loebsack says it’s complicated. ISIS is potentially a threat to our country. He’s on the Armed Services Committee. Unfortunately, since Boehner sent them home on summer recess, he hasn’t been able to read intelligence reports during last three weeks. He thinks Congress should reconvene so that people can consider strategy Obama will propose for dealing with ISIS. Loebsack currently doesn’t support boots on the ground in Syria. We should hold open all possibilities, but American people are war-weary.

Borg: are you saying as member of Congress, you want a voice in this? Loebsack says yes, it’s a balance of power. How he feels will depend on what Obama proposes.

Miller-Meeks criticizes Loebsack for leveling a charge at Boehner when Obama has been on vacation, no response to journalilst being beheaded and a general being killed in Afghanistan. Alleges that no one from administration went to that general’s funeral. She agrees that people are war-weary. She’s a 24-year veteran, her husband is 30-year veteran. You never send troops in without having a strategy. President has not made clear what our strategy is. Up to the president to make his case.

Loebsack says, I think we came to an agreement at the end–Congress should go back into session so we can evaluate the decision and consider what President Obama proposes.

Tibbetts asks Loebsack whether administration was asleep at the switch regarding danger posed by ISIS. Were you in Congress asleep at the switch? Loebsack says that’s a question American people will have to answer. Miller-Meeks says, did you really have no information about this during the past year? I find it hard to believe no information was available about growing threat of ISIS until just now.

Loebsack says that for the record, Congress gets info that administration provides.

Tibbetts asks MMM–do you think we should have left troops on ground in Iraq after 2012? She says look at after WWII, we left troops on the ground in Germany and Japan, and that helped provide security and stability. [note from desmoinesdem: Those countries are quite different from Iraq.]

How long would she have left US troops there? The time frame is, until there’s an indigenous force. it’s not wise for US to announce specific timetable for withdrawing and let enemies know. It wasn’t good US policy.

Loebsack says if you want to be in Congress, you can’t rely on historical analogies that are not analogies. Iraq is not WWII. Iraq is not North and South Korea. I you’re suggesting that we keep tens of thousands of troops i Iraq like we did in Korea, or hundreds of thousands like we did in Europe, that’s not realistic.

Next question is about situation in Ukraine, possible Russian invasion. MMM takes it back to criticizing lack of American foreign policy strategy. Doesn’t really answer the question of whether she would go beyond economic sanctions against Russia. Claims we allowed Russia to become more aggressive. She alludes to earlier problem with Russian intervention in Georgia.

Borg asks MMM if she’s running against Obama administration, or is she running against Loebsack? She says he’s a puppet of this administration and of Nancy Pelosi. He votes with them in lockstep. Loebsack says DMR cited study showing that Democratic delegation in U.S. House is quite independent of president. [note from desmoinesdem: Loebsack frequently votes with Republicans against the majority of House Democrats. The analysis Loebsack was referring to indicated that he has voted with Obama 71 percent of the time and against the president 29 percent of the time. ]

Next question is about problems at VA hospitals. Should Loebsack have done more as member of Armed Services Committee? He tells story about going to VA facility in district. Notes that Armed Services Cmte doesn’t have jurisdiction over veterans issues, but he has regularly visited VA hospital in Iowa City. Says MMM visited the VA facility recently and found that conditions are good in Iowa City. Loebsack says he worked with Congressman Latham (R) to address conditions in VA hospitals.

Miller-Meeks criticizes Obama admin’s handling of VA. You have to look at where funding goes. There are bureaucratic and regulatory burdens. Funding increases go to VA administrative staff rather than doctor’s and nurses. It’s repulsive to have separate waiting lists at VA hospitals.

Next Q: should veterans be allowed to go outside VA system for care? Loebsack says that’s something we should consider.

MMM says we should have dealt with these problems proactively. Members of Congress who have access to more info than general public should have done more sooner. On follow-up she agrees that veterans should be able to go outside VA.

Next Q is about Affordable Care Act. What’s working, what needs to be improved? Loebsack says we have about 4,500 young adults in Iowa on their parents’ health insurance. Thousands living in IA-03 were able to get quality health insurance through exchange at a reasonable price. Tens of thousands of people in Iowa have pre-existing conditions. They can’t get kicked off plan for pre-existing conditions. Women can’t be charged more for health insurance. There are any number of things happening that are good. If we repeal the law, we’re looking those people in the eye and telling them the insurance company can kick them off.

[I missed part of the exchange here, will have to fill in later]. UPDATE: Loebsack asked if anything could be done better with the law. He says the rollout was “nothing short of disastrous,” and he criticized that. Borg says that’s over now, what needs to happen going forward? Loebsack says we need to provide flexibility for people to stay on their old plans. (note from desmoinesdem: he has voted for legislation to do that).

Tibbetts asks Miller-Meeks how Republicans should proceed with this law. She says first we have to decide whether you want to have access to health insurance or whether you want it to be affordable. Affordability has not resulted from this bill. Tells story of young woman she met in Newton who lost full-time job, now has two part-time jobs with no insurance coverage. Mentions 63-year-old woman who had catastrophic health insurance that used to cover five doctor’s visits per year at no cost to her. That was covered. That plan was eliminated, she had to go through the exchange and could only find a plan that cost more. She has to pay higher premiums, higher deductible, and pay out of pocket for doctor’s visits. She alludes to young man she mentioned before, who was paralyzed from neck down at age 3, went through school and was living independently, but lost his insurance and no longer has home care coverage. He also has some Medicaid coverage, but after losing his private insurance, he found we would cover $540 for him to go into a nursing home but not $600 for a home-care aide. She also mentions businesses that have 48 employees and don’t want to hire anyone else because of uncertainty with how this law would affect their business.

Borg follows up: Tibbetts was asking what should be done now about the law. She says you have to change things in the law that are hurting business and the economy. Then you have to transition to plan that puts patients first. Health care needs to be affordable. That was the main issue. We haven’t done that. Cost of generics is skyrocketing, premiums are going up, young people are paying higher premiums, some companies may go out of business. [She ignores the fact that tens of millions of people had no access to insurance before the law passed.]

Borg interjects again: Dr. Miller-Meeks, the basic question is, would you repeal this law or change the existing law? She says health care needs to be affordable, portable, personal, and preserve the doctor-patient relationship. [doesn’t answer question]. Henderson asks if she would vote to do away with the employer mandate. MMM says president has waived it once, are we going to keep waiving it?

MMM cites many problems with law and its implementation. MMM dodges question of whether she would repeal Obamacare or fix it. She says health care has to be affordable, accessible, quality. She thinks marketplaces put power back in people’s hands. She supports letting people buy catastrophic health insurance policies, tort reform, going across state lines to buy health insurance, personal medical saving accounts.

Loebsack says those things sound good in theory but would they work in practice? He notes that years ago Miller-Meeks says she supported the mandate. Then she said we should repeal health care reform. Now he’s not sure where she stands, but we need to work together across the aisle to improve the bill.

MMM says her position has always been very clear. If you make health insurance affordable people will buy it.

Next question is about medical marijuana. MMM is open to considering decriminalizing of medical use of marijuana at federal level. Looking at other states that have legalized either medical marijuana or recreational use, there are many things we need to consider. We need to protect people’s safety. Henderson asks question about whether marijuana can help glaucoma patients. MMM says there are many other medications that can help with glaucoma. Marijuana rarely used in that regard.

Loebsack says his answer is very short: I’m in favor of medical marijuana use.

Next Q is about debt ceiling. Would you vote to do it again? Loebsack says he has voted for it. It was wrong to hold America’s credit rating hostage. He would like to see changes made and he would like to reduce federal debt, which is why he joined with Republican from Michigan to support balanced budget amendment [he’s referring to Justin Amash version of bill]. It was important for us to have this conversation. Loebsack goes onto a tangent.

MMM dodges question about whether she’d sign debt ceiling increase. What about having a real budget process? We don’t have a real budget or budgeting practices. We can’t tackle the debt until we start having a real budget. She says Loebsack talks about balanced budget amendment but he’s been part of a “spending spree” ever since he’s been in Congress.

Follow-up Q: would she vote to raise the debt ceiling? MMM dodges again.She says we should get a budget in place and grow our economy so we can reduce the debt.

Loebsack says we do have a two-year budget in place, he supported Senator Patti Murray’s efforts late last year.

Next question is about ebola virus. MMM supports US helping with crisis in Africa. With global travel making it easy for viruses to spread, it’s beneficial to us as a nation to  

Loebsack says Congress will be having oversight hearings on this, keeping ear to the ground. It’s appropriate to have global strategy to fight these diseases. He will defer to experts at the Centers for Disease Control. He’s traveled overseas many times as a member of Congress, primarily to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next question is about farm bill. Does Miller-Meeks agree with splitting nutrition programs/food stamps from farm bill? She would look at poverty in general. How do we help people get out of poverty and fulfill their potential? We want all children to reach their potential. We want people to get out of poverty. Borg tries to refocus her on question: should food stamps stay in the farm bill? She says whether it’s in the Farm Bill or not, the issue is how to get people out of poverty.

Loebsack says the good news is that we passed a long-term farm Bill so this won’t be an issue for the next few years. He says he voted for Republican version of farm bill just to move ball forward, but that bill didn’t pass. He notes that Chuck Grassley opposed separating food stamps from farm bill.

Last question from Lynch has to do with corporate tax rates and punishing companies that take profits overseas. Loebsack says we have to keep this economic recovery going, and we can’t incentivize taking jobs overseas. That’s a major area of difference between us.

MMM says she’s never taken jobs overseas and Loebsack’s never done a thing to reduce corporate tax rate. We need to make it economically viable for companies to stay in this country. Affordable Care Act is a tax on businesses. She talks about Governor Branstad’s efforts to create jobs.

Out of time. Next IPTV debate will be IA-03 debate in Council Bluffs on September 11.

It’s too bad they don’t let the candidates make closing statements.

My immediate impression is that neither candidate did badly. Both tried to answer the question they wanted, rather than the question asked. Miller-Meeks stayed on message and handled herself well but also dodged more direct questions. She speaks with a lot of confidence, so I don’t know whether listeners would necessarily pick up on the evasions.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich posted the link to this May 5, 2012 article about clout in the Iowa Congressional delegation. Senator Chuck Grassley was ranked as most effective, followed by Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Tom Latham (the most senior member of Iowa’s U.S. House delegation), Representative Bruce Braley, Representative Steve King, Representative Leonard Boswell, and Loebsack. Here’s the relevant portion.

Democrats Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell leapfrogged each other in the journalists’ rankings, but Boswell ultimately gained the upper hand.

Insiders said they’re both perfectly fine congressmen, but they don’t distinguish themselves from other federal lawmakers, who are expected to perform solid constituent service and keep abreast of issues of the day.

Combined, Iowa’s delegation is one of the most centrist in the country, according to the National Journal’s analysis of their votes on conservative and liberal issues in 2011. (Hawaii’s and Massachusetts’ delegations are the most liberal, and Florida’s and Arizona’s the most conservative.)

Some people interviewed said it’s hard to weigh an individual congressman’s effectiveness in a body they consider ineffective.

UPDATE: The Republican Party of Iowa issued this press release shortly after the debate.


WILTON, Iowa-Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann issued the following statement on tonight’s IPTV debate between 2nd District GOP nominee Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Dave Loebsack.

“After watching the first debate in Iowa’s Second Congressional District, Iowans saw Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ competence, deep knowledge on health care and military issues, and specific solutions to reign in Washington, D.C.-dysfunction,” said Kaufmann, a seventh-generation ​livestock farmer and community college professor from Wilton.

“Southeastern Iowans have clear choice in this election. I’m voting for Dr. Miller-Meeks, an independent problem solver, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, a former director of the state public health agency and an experienced physician,” said Kaufmann, who lives in the Second District. “Americans desperately need citizen legislators like Dr. Miller-Meeks.”

“Congressman Dave Loebsack has spent eight years failing to solve problems in Washington. Loebsack has an abysmal record of ​wasteful spending. He votes in lockstep with the Obama administration on issues such as health care, and he lacks vision on America’s foreign policy and reforming veterans’ health care.”

During the summer of 2013, before Miller-Meeks decided to run for Congress again, Kaufmann endorsed State Representative Mark Lofgren for the GOP nomination in IA-02.

THIRD UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich’s analysis of of the debate struck me as odd. “Miller-Meeks came off as a credible challenger to Loebsack tonight, which gives her the win in this debate.” Well, of course she is a credible challenger, we saw that when she came close to beating Loebsack in 2010. Obradovich also noted,

Miller-Meeks was energetic and aggressive. She went on the attack immediately, repeatedly bringing up a 2012 Des Moines Register article in which Loebsack was rated the least effective member of the Iowa delegation. She called Loebsack a “puppet” of the Obama administration and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. However, when asked for a new argument for why she should be considered, she repeated the criticism she had just offered rather than raise anything new.

Loebsack was slow-talking and low-key, which made him seem tired next to his animated opponent. […]

Miller-Meeks, while quick to attack Loebsack, seemed reluctant to take strong stands on some issues.

Anyone who’s ever heard Loebsack speak knows he is slow-talking and low-key. Miller-Meeks has always run energetic and aggressive campaigns. You can’t completely change your personality in the middle of your fifth campaign. Loebsack would look like a phony if he tried to reinvent his speaking style for an event like this.

In the next debate, scheduled for October 11, I think Loebsack should try to pin Miller-Meeks down on some of the questions she refused to answer this time. Would she vote to raise the debt ceiling, or would she risk the country’s credit rating? Would she try to fix Obamacare (as Loebsack has voted to do several times), or would she repeal it entirely?

I was disappointed no one asked about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in connection with Obamacare. Miller-Meeks declined several of my requests for comment on that issue, even though it was the second-most important court ruling about the 2010 health care reform law (after the high court refused to strike it down). Almost all of the other Iowa candidates for Congress made some public comment on the Hobby Lobby ruling.

LATE UPDATE: John Deeth reported on September 1,

Dave Loebsack said he’s been accused of pulling punches in his Thursday debate with opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, but the congressman told a Labor Day crowd at the Iowa City Federation of Labor picnic, “If you were wondering why I was holding back, that’s not gonna happen anymore.”

I don’t think Loebsack needs to be particularly aggressive in his two remaining debates with Miller-Meeks. That’s not his natural style anyway.

  • A General criticism of Loebsack

    I’ve been dismayed at loebsack’s slide into corporate soft money and changing support for pro-business legislation. Still better than MMM, but I was initially excited to have a representative that wasn’t from the business wing of the Democratic Party.  

  • Ooh giminy

    I couldn’t stay for more than five minutes or so and had to stop it.

    Not the fault of the candidates nor the moderators – me. I am totally tuned out this cycle. Maybe burned out?

    I will vote for the Democrat no matter what he says or no matter what the Republican candidate says. I don’t care what either of them says. I’m already muting the tv at every Branstad/Braley/Joni/Rauner/anti-Joni/anti-Braley/anti-Quinn/anti/Rauner/ad-infinitum commercial and we still have over two months to go.

  • Thoughts

    Miller Meeks scored her best points on foreign policy, where Loebsack tends to be very strong.  I don’t think she would have more inside information on how ISIS may gain further control.

    Miller Meeks dropped the ball on the food stamp question.  She has gotten past the primary, doesn’t she realize that she seeks a seat in Iowa City and bunch of blue collar communities.  Jim McDermott, Mike Quigley, Hank Johnson are not going to start voting against the farm bill if it not tied to food stamps, so regardless you might as well say yes they should be tied together.

    Loeback has been anti-free trade in recent years, actually earning my vote because of it over Archer.  

    The corporate income tax rate will be changed, it will be decreased overall.  The ball is in the court of these global companies, to criticize the business wing of the Democratic Party for supporting tax changes that were triggered by globalization is perplexing.  Loebsack’s support for corporate ag is not surprising to anyone, as someone who rejects a lot of the anti-GMO commentary out there I kind of salute Loebsack for doing so as well.

    Miller Meeks dropped the ball on healthcare.  She could have cited hundreds of pieces of legislation that have been sponsored by people across the spectrum to reform the ACA,  

  • Loebsack MMM

    I think DL might be in a little trouble given the party breakdown of the District and the fact that Dem and NP turnout will be low, even tho Dems are slogging away at it.

    Barring a major gaffe, I don’t think the debates have much to do with the ultimate result. MMM didn’t hurt herself here by being very aggressive and DL was just kinda there for this one. But it will be quickly forgotten.

    conservative dem: I’m right there with ya. The mute button is really getting a workout.  Two months to go officially but I will fill out my ballot on the first day it is available, and then do a total tuneout.  

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