"Grassley Works"—a boast, or an indictment?

Herb Strentz scrutinizes U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's record on judicial confirmations and gun safety legislation.

The campaign slogan “Grassley Works" is meant to convey Senator Chuck Grassley's work ethic. But given the news of the day (and likely the news for generations to come), it is more of an indictment of Grassley's legacy.

After all, Iowa's senior senator is among the members of Congress most responsible for the radical U.S. Supreme Court, which in the course of a week in June devastated reproductive rights, shattered the federal government's ability to address climate change, and emboldened hate mongers armed with assault rifles.

Over the four years he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2015 through 2018, Grassley was President Barack Obama’s adversary and President Donald Trump’s obedient servant. Those efforts stacked the Supreme Court and shaped the federal judiciary along right-wing lines for years to come. 

Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law documented Grassley's record in a 2019 Iowa Law Review article, which received little attention from Iowa news organizations (aside from Bleeding Heartland). According to Tobias, he has never received an inquiry about the article from anyone in the Iowa's mainstream media.

The best Iowa assessment of Grassley’s role likely came from Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, who wrote in a recent column, “Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling…overturning Roe v. Wade. Makes sense, considering he played a key role in making it happen.”

One might sarcastically ask Grassley to take a bow for the court’s attack on reproductive health care.

On another front, the National Rifle Association endorsed him with an A+ rating, thanks to his opposition to meaningful gun control legislation. For the same reason, Grassley was the firearm industry trade association's 2021 legislator of the year.

Indeed, Grassley has worked tirelessly to oppose gun safety legislation over the years, sometimes blocking efforts to even discuss such measures on the Senate floor.

Grassley was thrilled to accept Trump's endorsement and bragged about support from the former president and the NRA in television commercials before this year's Republican primary.

However, in early June citizens at a town hall meeting in Columbus Junction (Louisa County) vented their frustration with Grassley and Congress over failure to take up gun control measures. CNN aired one of Iowa Starting Line's video clips from the event, where Iowans told the senator, “The answer is not to do nothing!” and "Quit filibustering it, then!"

It remains to be seen whether such confrontations will occur more frequently during the 99-county tour that has been one of Grassley’s trademarks.

While campaigning to succeed retiring Senator Tom Harkin in 2014, Democrat Bruce Braley warned attorneys at a Texas fundraiser about what would happen if Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate. A recording caught him disparaging Grassley, then in line to chair the Judiciary Committee, as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

Braley later apologized for those remarks, but Republicans and outside groups relentlessly reminded Iowans about the gaffe. Perhaps the Democrat would have lost to Joni Ernst even if he had not focused on Grassley's farming background and lack of a law degree; 2014 was a GOP landslide year.

In any event, Braley’s badly expressed concerns came to fruition after Grassley became head of the Judiciary Committee. He prioritized his ideology, emphasizing the so-called “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution. Those who see the Constitution as a living document have critiqued the way today's Supreme Court cherry-picks history to serve conservatives' political goals.

In service to the NRA, Grassley blocks meaningful gun regulation. He explains it away by saying the laws won’t work, because the criminals will still be able to obtain guns and wreak violence. By that logic, it is folly to pass any legislation on what citizens should rightfully expect of one another. We would need no public policy that articulates our hopes, fears, needs, dreams, common sense—or even speed limits or criminal laws—because the bad guys won’t abide by them.

Under Grassley’s logic, we would do away with the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or any other religious precepts for how we should treat each other. The bad guys abhor such guidance.

Grassley’s not the only Republican senator who bobs and weaves when responding to critics of his fealty to the gun lobby.

U.S. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has declared that easy access to guns is not the “core of the problem” of the recent massacres. Rather, he says addressing mental health issues is the way to stop gun violence.

Tage Rai, a psychologist at the University of California in San Diego who studies ethics, culture, and violence, dealt with and dismissed that view in a 2017 article for the online magazine, Behavioral Scientist. In a recent email exchange, Rai confirmed that his findings in "The Myth That Mental Illness Causes Mass Shootings" still hold true.

Two salient quotes from that article point out that not only are McConnell and his ilk wrong, but their talking points add to the burden of those suffering from mental illness and their families.

Research over the last 30 years has consistently shown that diagnosable mental illness does not underlie most gun violence. [...]

Perpetuating the myth that mental illness is the cause of mass shootings only serves to stigmatize the mentally ill even further. In addition, it distracts from the more difficult conversation that must be had over gun-control in America.

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot, observed in his June 3 editorial,

Every country has people with mental health issues. No country has the problem of gun violence, or fewer restrictions on firearms, than the United States. We should do more about mental health. We should do more with police training. We should increase education and public safety funding. And, we should do something about gun safety — background checks, waiting periods, etc., that the public overwhelmingly demands. But we don’t.

“Grassley Works” sees to that.

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Top photo originally published on Chuck Grassley's political Facebook page.

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