IA-01: Rod Blum distancing himself from Chuck Grassley on Supreme Court nominee? (updated)

First-term Representative Rod Blum received unflattering attention last week in Iowa and nationally for opining on social media that Washington, DC “needs a recession,” because various construction projects in the city are “Being built on the backs of US taxpayers.” Blum hasn’t backed down from those comments, despite intense criticism.

However, little-noticed remarks he made in his district over the weekend suggest that Blum wants to avoid political fallout from the ongoing controversy over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

While Congress is in recess, members are meeting with constituents around Iowa. The Supreme Court has been a hot topic at Senator Chuck Grassley’s events, because as Judiciary Committee chair, he plays a key role in the unprecedented decision by GOP senators not to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. A post in progress will cover highlights from Grassley’s town halls in northwest Iowa this week. Even some Republicans have suggested the Senate should hold hearings to avoid giving the GOP a reputation for doing nothing besides saying “no.”

Since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died last month, I have not seen any public statement from Blum on whether Senate Republicans should consider Garland’s nomination to the high court. But according to State Representative Chuck Isenhart, Blum addressed the issue during a March 26 meeting with Iowa Farm Bureau members:

Congressman Rod Blum to Dubuque County Farm Bureau: Senator Grassley should hold hearings on Supreme Court nominee, vote him down if he’s not qualified. “Everything in Washington is political; it’s gone from crazy to insane.”

Blum posted about that event on social media but did not mention any comments related to the Supreme Court. At this writing, his office has not responded to my request for further details on his position regarding Garland’s nomination.

UPDATE: Blum’s communications director e-mailed this response.

Here is a quote from our District Director John Ferland who was at the event.

“The report from Chuck Isenhart was taken out of context. The Congressman said the political environment in Washington has gone from crazy to insane during this Presidential election year. Also, the Congressman said that he has heard some Iowans say that they think hearings should be held and if the nominee doesn’t pass muster, then vote the nominee down. Congressman Blum emphatically said that this is a US Senate issue and has nothing to do with the US House. In fact he said this two or three times.”

Among the most vulnerable U.S. House incumbents this year, Blum will face either Pat Murphy or Monica Vernon in Iowa’s first Congressional district, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 20,000. Although a plurality of voters in IA-01 align with neither party, the district has a partisan voting index of D+5, meaning it leans about 5 points more Democratic than the country as a whole. Presidential year turnout is expected to favor the Democratic nominee, compared to the 2014 midterm election, in which Blum defeated Murphy by a small margin. On the other hand, Blum will enjoy some incumbency advantages this year, unlike during the last election cycle.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- One Washington, DC bar owner who was incensed by Blum wishing for a recession in the nation’s capital is holding a fundraiser for Vernon’s campaign next month. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is supporting her, as are numerous Democratic insiders in Iowa. I haven’t seen any recent polling on this race. Last July, Murphy’s campaign released partial results from an internal poll showing him ahead of Vernon. His campaign has touted a November 2015 poll commissioned by the SMART Transportation Division’s Iowa State Legislative Board, which indicated that in a hypothetical match-up, Blum leads Murphy by 45 percent to 42 percent but leads Vernon by 46 percent to 38 percent. Last October, Vernon’s campaign released partial results from an internal poll showing her ahead of Murphy by 40 percent to 38 percent among all likely Democratic primary voters (with 6 percent supporting Gary Kroeger, who has since dropped out and endorsed Vernon). That same internal poll showed Vernon leading Murphy by 53 percent to 39 percent among voters who were familiar with both candidates.

UPDATE: Should have mentioned that Dr. Chris Peters, the Republican challenger to Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second district, has said the Senate should hold hearings on Garland and has praised Obama’s choice as “someone who is in the middle of the pack,” Quentin Misiag reported for the Daily Iowan.

SECOND UPDATE: State Representative Nancy Dunkel, who also attended the March 26 meeting with Dubuque Farm Bureau members, did not respond to my request for comment. Isenhart clarified,

To be more precise, Congressman Blum said the Senate should “vote him (Garland) down if you don’t like him.” He did not use the word “qualified.” I guess, personally, I just presume that a senator’s vote is based on the nominee’s qualifications, not on their political liking. But, as the congressman subsequently noted, DC politics have gone from “crazy to insane.”

I would like to hear from others who were present and can recall Blum’s remarks.

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