# Randy Feenstra



Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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What Iowa's House members said about Biden impeachment inquiry

All four Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House voted on December 13 to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The chamber’s 221 to 212 vote fell entirely along party lines.

House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote in a December 12 op-ed that the vote will allow the House Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees to “continue investigating the role of the president in promoting the alleged influence-peddling schemes of his family and associates […].” He said the formal inquiry “puts us in the strongest legal position to gather the evidence” as the House seeks to enforce subpoenas.

Critics have noted that while focusing on business activities of the president’s son Hunter Biden, House Republicans have yet to uncover evidence of any criminal activity involving Joe Biden, and are using unsubstantiated or false claims to justify their inquiry. Democrats have charged that Republicans are pursuing impeachment at the behest of former President Donald Trump.

None of Iowa’s House members spoke during the floor debate, but three released public comments following the vote.

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For first time, whole Iowa delegation parts ways with House leaders

Quite a few U.S. House Republicans have stirred up trouble for their party’s small majority this year. But the four House members from Iowa—Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—have generally aligned with the preferences of GOP caucus leaders. It has been rare for to even one of the Iowans to vote differently from top Republicans in the chamber, and they have never done so as a group.

That streak ended on December 1, when Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra all voted to expel U.S. Representative George Santos.

Santos is only the sixth U.S. House member ever to be expelled, and the 311 to 114 vote (roll call) divided Republicans. While 105 GOP members joined almost all Democrats to remove Santos from their ranks, 112 Republicans opposed the resolution, including the whole leadership team of House Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, and Republican Policy Chair Gary Palmer.

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Four paths: How Iowa Republicans are navigating House speaker fiasco

UPDATE: All four Iowans voted for Mike Johnson for speaker on October 25. Original post follows.

Iowa’s four U.S. House members didn’t want to be here.

Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) were Kevin McCarthy loyalists from day one of the new Congress. All voted against the motion to vacate the speaker’s position early this month.

Nineteen days after the House of Representatives removed a speaker for the first time in history, the Republican majority is no closer to finding a way out of the morass. A plan to temporarily empower interim Speaker Patrick McHenry collapsed before coming to the floor. House Judiciary chair Jim Jordan was unable to gain a majority in any of the three House votes this past week. Republicans voted by secret ballot on October 20 not to keep Jordan as their nominee for speaker.

At minimum, the House will be without a leader for three weeks. Members went home for the weekend with plans to return for a “candidate forum” on October 23, and a possible House floor vote the following day. More than a half-dozen Republicans are now considering running for speaker; none has a clear path to 217 votes. McCarthy has endorsed Representative Tom Emmer, the current majority whip. But former President Donald Trump, a close ally of Jordan, doesn’t like Emmer, who voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Most Republicans in public life are afraid to become a target for Trump or his devoted followers.

The Iowans have adopted distinct strategies for navigating the embarrassing crisis.

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Iowa political reaction to the crisis in Israel and Gaza

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association. Laura Belin contributed some reporting to this article.

Like all Iowans of good will, I was painfully alerted to the Hamas invasion of Israel on October 7. Many have compared the events to the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attack, in both its surprise and savagery. The scale of deaths and human loss is enormous; Israel’s total population is around 9 million.

The United States and European Union have designated Hamas a terrorist organization because of its armed resistance against Israel. Hamas has sponsored years of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel, claiming Jewish presence in Palestine is illegitimate, which is counter-historical and denied by the United States.

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Hinson, Miller-Meeks back Steve Scalise for House speaker

Two of Iowa’s four U.S. House members laid down their marker early in the battle to elect a new House speaker.

U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-02) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01) announced on October 5 that they will support current House Majority leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana for the chamber’s top job.

The House cannot conduct normal business until members elect a new speaker, following the 216-210 vote on October 3 to declare the office vacant. As expected, all four Iowa Republicans opposed the effort to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but the resolution succeeded as eight Republicans joined all Democrats present to vote yes.

Scalise’s main competition appears to be House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan of Ohio. Others considering the race include Republican Study Committee chair Kevin Hern of Oklahoma. Several House members have vowed to nominate Donald Trump, but the former president told one of his supporters on October 5 that he is endorsing Jordan for speaker.

At this writing, Representatives Zach Nunn (IA-03) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) have not publicly committed to a candidate for speaker. Iowa’s House members have voted in unison on most important matters this year. In a statement to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nunn said, “I’m waiting to make a decision until we have the opportunity to hear from everybody running about their vision to take on the D.C. bureaucracy, balance the budget, secure the border, and support the critical programs — like Medicare and Social Security — that Iowans rely on every day.”

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Four takeaways from Iowa Republicans' latest federal budget votes

Every member of Congress from Iowa voted on September 30 for a last-ditch effort to keep the federal government open until November 17. The continuing resolution will maintain fiscal year 2023 spending levels for the first 47 days of the 2024 federal fiscal year, plus $16 billion in disaster relief funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is the amount the Biden administration requested. In addition, the bill includes “an extension of a federal flood insurance program and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

U.S. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) were among the 126 House Republicans who joined 209 Democrats to approve the measure. (Ninety Republicans and one Democrat voted no.) House leaders brought the funding measure to the floor under a suspension of the rules, which meant it needed a two-thirds majority rather than the usual 50 percent plus one to pass.

Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were part of the 88-9 majority in the upper chamber that voted to send the bill to President Joe Biden just in time to avert a shutdown as the new fiscal year begins on October 1.

House members considered several other federal budget bills this week and dozens of related amendments—far too many to summarize in one article. As I watched how the Iowa delegation approached the most important votes, a few things stood out to me.

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IA-04: Ryan Melton, Jay Brown seeking Democratic nomination

UPDATE: Jay Brown announced in late December 2023 that he was withdrawing from the race and endorsing Melton. Original post follows.

A two-way Democratic primary is shaping up in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ryan Melton, the 2022 Democratic challenger to U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra, announced on July 4 that he plans to seek the office again. And last week, first-time candidate Dr. Jay Brown launched his campaign.

Disclosure: Brown grew up in the house next door to mine in Windsor Heights, and our families have been close friends for decades. Bleeding Heartland will not endorse in this race. As with any competitive Democratic primary, I will welcome guest commentaries by the candidates or by any of their supporters.

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Talkin' Farm Bill Blues

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

These are unhappy days for U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) and his fellow Republican Congresspeople from Iowa (there are no other kind).

Feenstra & co. have essentially one job: to get a Farm Bill passed every five years. The Farm Bill isn’t a radically new thing; Congress has passed them since 1933. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30. On that very day, by a cruel confluence, so do current federal appropriations, which sets up another one of those wearing government shutdown crises.

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How the Iowans explained their votes on debt ceiling deal

Iowa’s four U.S. House members avoided public comment for days after President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed on a deal to suspend the debt ceiling until January 2025, in exchange for some federal budget cuts and other policy changes.

But they all fell in line on May 31. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted with GOP leadership and the majority of their caucus for the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.

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Iowans vote to keep George Santos in Congress

Iowa’s four U.S. House members stuck with the Republican majority by voting on May 17 to refer a motion to expel U.S. Representative George Santos to the House Ethics Committee. The House had already referred the motion to that committee in February. But after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Santos on thirteen felony counts including fraudulent campaign contributions and unemployment insurance fraud, Democratic Representative Robert Garcia used a House rule to force a floor vote on the motion.

A two-thirds vote would have been needed to expel Santos. House members approved the referral instead along party lines, 221 to 204.

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Breaking down the 45 earmarks Iowans in Congress requested for 2024

Three of Iowa’s four U.S. House Republicans submitted the maximum number of fifteen earmark requests for federal funding in fiscal year 2024, which begins on October 1.

U.S. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), and Zach Nunn (IA-03) were among the numerous House Republicans who asked for “Community Project Funding,” which Congress directs in several dozen areas of the federal budget. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported on May 14, “The sum of Nunn’s requests is the highest, at $41.25 million. Miller-Meeks is second with $40.15 million, while Hinson requested $37.06 million.”

For the third straight year, Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) declined to submit any earmark requests. As Bleeding Heartland previously discussed, Feenstra’s staff has said the Republicans “believes it is time for Congress to restore fiscal stability and balance our budget.” But earmarked projects come out of funds the federal government will spend regardless. So when a member makes no requests, that person’s district loses its chance to receive a share of money that has already been allocated for earmarks.

Thanks to transparency rules established in 2021, the funding requests submitted by Miller-Meeks, Hinson, and Nunn are available online. Once the 2024 budget has been finalized, Bleeding Heartland will report on which projects received funding for the coming fiscal year.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch article by Ashley Murray and Ariana Figueroa highlighted an apparent contradiction: many House Republicans who have demanded steep cuts across the federal budget have asked for millions of dollars to support projects in their own districts. That has long been the case with earmarks: one person’s valuable community investment can be portrayed as wasteful pork in someone else’s district.

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Ron DeSantis shows early strength in Iowa

The weekend could hardly have gone better for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Although he has not formally launched his presidential campaign, he landed more Iowa legislative endorsements than any other GOP candidate has had in decades. He drew large crowds in Sioux Center at a fundraiser for U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra and in Cedar Rapids at an event for the Republican Party of Iowa.

Finally, DeSantis made an unscheduled stop in Des Moines, where former President Donald Trump—who had hoped to upstage his leading Republican rival—canceled a rally earlier in the day.

Job number one for DeSantis was to turn the GOP race for the presidency into a two-person contest. At an elite level, he has already accomplished that task, more than six months before the Iowa caucuses.

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Iowans back debt ceiling plan, after winning concession on biofuels

All four Iowans in the U.S. House voted on April 26 for a plan to raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion for the coming year, in exchange for “aggressive caps on federal spending” over the next decade.

The House approved the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 by 217 votes to 215, meaning House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had no votes to spare.

The speaker secured passage of his bill by making concessions on biofuels subsidies on the eve of the vote. McCarthy had previously indicated he was not open to altering the bill, but a group of Republicans from the Midwest—including Iowa’s Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—insisted on changes.

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Republicans use debt ceiling fight to cut safety net

Kay Pence is vice president of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans.

Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is like running up your credit card and punishing yourself by refusing to pay the bill.  It ruins your credit score and costs more in the long run. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, it authorizes borrowing to pay bills already incurred. Paying bills are obligations not negotiations.

MAGA Republicans want to use the debt ceiling fight to force cuts in future unnamed programs. What they want to cut isn’t exactly secret; we have seen and rejected, most of their proposals before.

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On double standards and State of the Union addresses

Political reactions to a president’s State of the Union address are as ritualized as the speech itself. Elected officials typically have nothing but praise when the president belongs to their own party, while finding much to criticize about a leader from the other party.

If President Joe Biden’s remarks to this year’s joint session of Congress are remembered for anything, it will probably be the segment where he turned Republican heckling to his advantage, promising to defend Medicare and Social Security from cuts.

In their public statements about the speech, Iowa’s all-Republican delegation criticized what Biden didn’t say about some of their priorities. It’s clear those standards apply only to Democratic presidents.

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Will Iowans' loyalty to Kevin McCarthy be rewarded?

UPDATE: All four Iowans received coveted committee assignments on January 11, which are discussed here. Original post follows.

The U.S. House spent most of last week mired in the longest-running attempt to elect a speaker since before the Civil War. Iowa’s four Republicans stood behind their caucus leader Kevin McCarthy from the first ballot on January 3 to the fifteenth ballot after midnight on January 7.

Iowa’s House delegation lacks any long-serving members; three are beginning their second terms, and Representative Zach Nunn was elected for the first time in 2022.

As House members receive committee assignments later this month, where the Iowans land could signal how much influence they have with GOP leadership.

Traditionally, members of Congress who publicly oppose their party’s leader are punished. But McCarthy’s team made so many concessions in search of votes for speaker that several Republican holdouts could be rewarded with prime committee assignments—arguably at the expense of those who were loyal to McCarthy throughout.

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Miller-Meeks used proxy voting five times after railing against policy

“[I]t is time for the House to end the mask mandate for fully vaccinated members and bring an end [to] proxy voting,” U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks tweeted in May 2021.

“Now that we are lifting the requirement for fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks, we should bring an end to proxy voting and return in-person work!” the Republican representing Iowa’s second district tweeted in June 2021.

“It’s time for the House to follow the science, lift the mask mandate in chamber, end proxy voting, and return to normal,” Miller-Meeks tweeted in February 2022.

Yet over the past two years Miller-Meeks signed five letters designating Republican colleagues to cast votes on her behalf. Most recently, she used a proxy for the final House floor votes of the year, recorded late last week.

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Feenstra's stance on earmarks costs his district millions

The omnibus budget bill Congress just approved will fund dozens of infrastructure projects or services in Iowa during the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2023.

But none of those earmarks (totaling tens of millions of dollars) will benefit communities or facilities in the fourth Congressional district. That’s because for the second year in a row, U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra declined to ask for specific projects to be included in the federal budget.

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Hinson tries to have it both ways on budget bill

U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson is at it again.

In January 2022, the Republican made news in Iowa and nationally when she took credit for “game-changing” projects in her district, despite having voted against the infrastructure bill that made them possible.

Hinson is closing out the year by bashing the “wasteful spending” in an omnibus budget bill, while boasting about her success in “securing investments for Iowa” through the same legislation.

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Iowans join Congress, Biden in forcing bad contract on rail workers

Every member of Congress from Iowa voted this week to force a five-year contract on the freight rail industry, as President Joe Biden had requested to avert a possible strike on December 9. It was the first time since the 1990s that Congress exercised its power to intervene in national rail disputes.

Four unions representing tens of thousands of rail workers had rejected the tentative agreement, which U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh helped negotiate in September. The main sticking point was the lack of paid sick leave. Instead,

The deal gave workers a 24% raise over five years, an additional personal day and caps on health care costs. It also includes some modifications to the railroads’ strict attendance policies, allowing workers to attend to medical needs without facing penalties for missing work.

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Did low turnout sink Iowa Democratic candidates?

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Many people have asked why Iowa experienced the red wave that didn’t materialize across most of the country. While no one factor can account for the result, early signs point to turnout problems among groups that favor Democratic candidates.

Although this year’s turnout was the second-highest in absolute numbers for an Iowa midterm, participation was down about 8 percent compared to the 2018 general election. The number of Iowans who cast ballots this year (1,230,416) was closer to the 2014 level (1,142,311) than to the high-water mark of 1,334,279, reached four years ago.

My impression is that the decline in turnout was not evenly distributed, but was more pronounced among registered Democrats than among Republicans, who have long been more reliable midterm voters in Iowa.

That alone could account for the narrow defeats of U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (who lost to Zach Nunn in the third Congressional district by 2,145 votes, a margin of 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent), Attorney General Tom Miller (lost to Brenna Bird by 20,542 votes, 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent), and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald (lost to Roby Smith by 30,922 votes, or 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent).

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Does taking a public oath of office mean anything?

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm focused on making Iowa a better place for all. Contact: terriandjohnhale@gmail.com.

It was October 1973. A recent college graduate took the oath of office as an employee of the federal government in Ottumwa, Iowa. He swore to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic….”

He would spend the next 25 years as a public servant focused on Social Security and Medicare, working with colleagues across the nation to make complex laws understandable and to ensure that people were treated fairly and served well.

That young man was one of this column’s authors.

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Iowa media let Grassley, Ernst dodge on nationwide abortion ban

Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate introduced companion bills this week that would ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks, with few exceptions.

The three Republicans representing Iowa in the lower chamber—Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—all co-sponsored the national abortion ban on the day the bill was introduced.

U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst dodged questions about whether they would support their colleague’s bill. And leading Iowa news organizations gave them exactly the coverage they wanted.

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Voters, don't let tv ads mislead you

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Televisions are getting larger, but that does not make it easier to decipher the political ads that are as common these days as gnats at a picnic.

There is one thing we should understand about these ads: Their purpose is not to educate voters or inform them about the finer points of a candidate’s views. Instead, their purpose is to scare us, or mislead us, or just confuse us.

One such example tells Iowa viewers that U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa’s third district, refuses to sign a pledge to support term limits for members of Congress. (Term Limits Action is spending $157,203 to run the ads.)

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Exclusive: Miller-Meeks used taxpayer funds for large radio ad buy

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks spent more than $63,000 from her office budget to pay for radio advertising highlighting top campaign issues for House Republicans. The expenditures, using the “franking privilege” available to all members of Congress, were legal during the five weeks Miller-Weeks bought the ads, taking advantage of a little-noticed provision allowing such taxpayer-funded media promotions.  

Bleeding Heartland’s review of Iowa radio station political files, archived on the Federal Communications Commission’s website, showed Miller-Meeks used franking funds to place 60-second commercials on at least eight Iowa radio stations in August or September.

Staff for Miller-Meeks did not reply to inquiries about the advertising campaign, which marked a departure from how the Republican allocated her office budget during her first year and a half in Congress.

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IA-04: Why won't Randy Feenstra debate Ryan Melton?

Every Iowa candidate seeking a statewide or federal office has agreed to at least one televised debate, with one exception: U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra. The Republican running for a second term in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district rejected an invitation from Iowa PBS without explanation. As a result, “Iowa Press” will interview Feenstra’s Democratic challenger Ryan Melton during the September 23 program, which had been set aside for the IA-04 debate.

Feenstra already backed out of a joint forum planned for the Clay County fair. According to Melton, the only joint appearance the incumbent agreed to was an event the Iowa Corn Growers Association hosted last week, which was not a debate and not open to the public.

In 2020, Feenstra debated his GOP primary opponents and Democrat J.D. Scholten during the general election campaign. What’s he worried about now?

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Polk County Democrats ditch Hy-Vee for Steak Fry

Jason Clayworth had the scoop for Axios Des Moines: the Polk County Democrats have hired Orchestrate Management to cater the 2022 Steak Fry. The grocery chain Hy-Vee “had catered the event since at least 1992,” according to Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski.

Some Democratic activists have wanted to cut ties with Hy-Vee since Gwen Hope reported for Bleeding Heartland three years ago that the grocery chain’s PAC has favored GOP candidates and committees. In particular, the Hy-Vee PAC gave the Republican Party of Iowa $25,000—the PAC’s biggest donation in a decade—shortly before President Donald Trump headlined an Iowa GOP fundraiser at Hy-Vee’s facility in West Des Moines during the summer of 2019.

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Grassley, Hinson bash student loan relief, but not other government handouts

Like their counterparts across the country, top Iowa Republicans howled on August 24 when President Joe Biden rolled out a three-pronged student loan relief program.

Speaking at a town hall meeting, Senator Chuck Grassley asserted that it’s “unfair” to forgive some student loans but not help other people who struggle to repay their obligations.

U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson denounced the plan as a “handout to the wealthy and a total slap in the face” to working people who didn’t go to college or already paid off their student loans.

The outrage over student debt relief was striking, since Grassley and Hinson have not objected to some other federal government handouts, which benefited their own families.

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Iowa GOP candidates love state fair, shun DM Register Soapbox

Politicians love spending time at the Iowa State Fair, and many candidates for state and federal offices made multiple visits this year. But in a break with a long-running practice, Republicans seeking statewide and federal offices mostly shunned the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox.

Just three of the eleven GOP candidates invited to the Soapbox were willing to devote 20 minutes of their state fair visit to a public speech outlining their agenda. Every elected Republican official steered clear.

Avoiding the Register’s platform is another sign of growing Republican hostility toward traditional Iowa media. Other recent examples: some GOP candidates refused to meet with high-profile editorial boards in 2018 and 2020, and Iowa Senate leaders abandoned more than a century of tradition to kick reporters off the chamber’s press bench this year.

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Iowa Republicans go quiet on Trump search

Iowa’s Republican members of Congress were quick to cast doubt on the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Representatives Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra demanded more information from the Justice Department about the reasons for the “unprecedented” action. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks suggested that investigating Trump was a waste of taxpayer money.

But those GOP officials had nothing to say publicly after an inventory released on August 12 showed the former president had been keeping classified, secret, and top secret documents at the Mar-a-Lago resort.

Multiple news outlets published the search and seizure warrant for Trump’s residence, as well as the receipt listing property FBI agents took on August 8. Four items were described as “Miscellaneous Top Secret Documents,” and one was listed as “Various classified/TS/SCI documents.” Those are high levels of classification, used for material that “could cause ‘exceptionally grave danger’ to national security.”

SCI stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, which “may be an electronic intercept or information provided by a human informant in a foreign country.” The Washington Post reported on August 11 that “Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought” in the search.

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Iowa media help Hinson, Miller-Meeks hide the ball on birth control access

All three U.S. House Republicans from Iowa voted this week against a bill that would provide a federal guarantee of access to contraception.

But if Iowans encounter any mainstream news coverage of the issue, they may come away with the mistaken impression that GOP Representatives Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks took a stand for contraception access.

The episode illustrates an ongoing problem in the Iowa media landscape: members of Congress have great influence over how their work is covered.

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Three Iowans in Congress support federal guarantee of marriage equality

Three of Iowa’s four U.S. House members were part of the bipartisan majority that voted to guarantee same-sex marriage rights across the country.

Every House Democrat, including Iowa’s Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed on July 19 by 267 votes to 157 (roll call). So did 47 Republicans, including Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) joined the majority of House Republicans in opposing the legislation.

The bill repeals the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996 to protect states from having to recognize same-sex marriages, and to define marriage in federal laws and regulations as between a husband and wife. The Respect for Marriage Act also prohibits states from refusing to recognize any marriage due to the “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” of the individuals involved.

House leaders brought the bill to the floor in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a concurring opinion to the Dobbs case that having overturned Roe v. Wade, the court should reverse other precedents. Among other cases, Thomas mentioned the 1965 Griswold opinion establishing a right to contraception and the 2015 Obergefell ruling on marriage equality. Like the Roe and Griswold decisions, the Obergefell majority relied on a legal analysis that recognizes some liberty interests (like privacy and the right to marry), even though the Constitution does not specifically mention those rights.

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Chuck Grassley absent from Russia's expanded sanctions list

The Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry announced on May 21 that it was expanding the list of U.S. citizens who are permanently banned from entering Russia.

In addition to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other Biden administration officials, Russia has sanctioned hundreds of members of Congress. All four Iowans who serve in the U.S. House were on the initial sanctions list, which Russia released last month. The expanded “stop list” also includes U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, who welcomed the news.

Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley is absent from Russia’s updated list. His communications staff did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry about the matter.

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Environmental scorecard for the Iowans in Congress

Sheri Albrecht is a member of Indivisible Cedar Rapids Metro and on the executive committees of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter and Cedar-Wapsie Group.

EcoFest 2022 was held on April 23 at the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids in celebration of Earth Day.

Our local Indivisible CR Metro group hosted a table. We had three goals: 1) Find out what issues were most important to the people who visited our table; 2) In keeping with the ecological theme of the event, provide data showing attendees how their legislative representatives voted on environmental issues; and 3) Encourage ordinary citizens to engage with their elected representatives.

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Iowa women deserve better representation

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

As a state legislator from 2007 through 2010, I was honored to represent 30,000 Cedar Valley constituents. I represented Iowa’s 3 million citizens while in a leadership position with the Board of Parole from 2011 to 2014. To me, people always came before party.

It perplexed many of my fellow legislators when I supported my constituents’ values and went against the party line. Now, I’m perplexed by the actions of Iowa Republicans who are supposed to represent our wishes in Washington, D.C.

In 1972, then State Representative Chuck Grassley voted for Iowa to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). But as a U.S. senator, he’s not carried that banner forward.

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Russia sanctions Iowa members of Congress

All four Iowans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives were among 398 members of Congress the Russian Federation sanctioned on April 13. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the move as a reaction to the Biden administration’s sanctions against hundreds of Russian parliamentarians.

U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), Cindy Axne (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) have all voted for military assistance to Ukraine in recent weeks. And it’s unlikely any are bothered by the prospect of being denied entry to Russia.

In fact, Hinson tweeted that the sanctions were a “badge of honor,” adding,

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Violence Against Women Act reauthorized in big spending bill

President Joe Biden has signed into law a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill, which funds the federal government through September 30. The president’s action on March 15 ends a cycle of short-term continuing spending resolutions that kept the government operating on spending levels approved during Donald Trump’s administration.

The enormous package combines twelve appropriations bills covering portions of the federal government, as well as an additional $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine and several unrelated pieces of legislation. One of those reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act through 2027, a task that had remained unfinished for years. Congress last reauthorized the 1994 legislation addressing violence against women in 2013, and that authorization expired in 2019.

Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst was a key negotiator of the final deal on the Violence Against Women Act and celebrated its passage this week.

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Iowa reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Like many, I’ve been consumed this week by the horrifying news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although Vladimir Putin and his hostility to democracy occupied a lot of my head space in my “past life” covering Russian politics, I never imagined all those years ago that he would go so far as to annex Crimea, let alone launch a full-scale assault on Ukraine.

Foreign policy and military strategy are not my areas of expertise, so I have no insight on how Putin imagines he could benefit from this invasion. Even if he manages to install a puppet government in Kyiv, how will Russian forces maintain control of Ukraine, and how will the Russian economy weather the crushing sanctions? What’s his endgame?

I reported extensively on Putin’s rise to power in late 1999. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had appointed the virtually unknown security official as prime minister that August. But Putin didn’t become popular until a few months later, through a military campaign in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya. The Russian people broadly supported that war, in part due to slanted media coverage, and also because of apartment bombings (that may have been instigated by Russian security forces) and widespread racist attitudes toward Chechens.

Perhaps Putin hopes to replicate that formula for his political benefit. But I find it hard to believe that any significant share of the Russian population support all-out war against Ukraine. Who really believes that a country with a democratically-elected Jewish president needs to be “denazified” by force?

It’s been more than 30 years since I visited Ukraine’s beautiful capital city and the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. For that matter, I haven’t visited Russia in more than two decades. Even so, I’m heartbroken to see the avoidable loss of life on both sides. Please spare a thought for the citizens of Ukraine—whether they are Ukrainian- or Russian-speaking—because I don’t think anyone outside the Kremlin wants this war.

Most of Iowa’s leading politicians reacted to the invasion on February 24. I’ve compiled their comments after the jump.

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How forecasters see Iowa's 2022 Congressional races

As election year approaches, the leading national political forecasters have updated their analysis of the coming U.S. Senate and House elections. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball revised its House ratings on December 16, while Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales and the Cook Political Report did so on December 28 and December 29, respectively.

The consensus is that Republicans are favored to win most of Iowa’s Congressional races, but the one House district held by a Democrat is a toss-up.

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Iowa Republicans say little about voting to shut down government

The federal government will stay open until at least February 18, after the U.S. House and Senate passed a continuing funding resolution on December 2. Only one House Republican crossed party lines to support the resolution, which mostly maintains spending levels agreed during the Trump administration. Iowa’s Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) opposed the bill.

In the upper chamber, nineteen GOP senators joined Democrats to send the legislation to President Joe Biden. Notably, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the bill, even though they had supported resolutions setting federal spending at these levels while Donald Trump was president.

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Grassley blocks bill on universal background checks

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on December 2 blocked Senate debate on a bill that would require background checks on all firearms sales. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut requested unanimous consent to proceed with debating the bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, following the latest horrific mass shooting at a school, which ended the lives of four Michigan high school students.

Everytown for Gun Safety explains that current federal law “requires a background check on a prospective gun buyer only when the seller is a licensed gun dealer, leaving all other sales—such as unlicensed gun sales negotiated over the internet—unregulated and with no background check required.” Under this proposal, “unlicensed sellers would meet their buyers at a licensed gun dealer, who would run a background check using exactly the same process already used for sales from their own inventory.”

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John Deere could have offered workers more

Only a week after United Auto Workers members ratified a new six-year contract with John Deere, the company announced record profits of $5.96 billion during the fiscal year that ended on November 1.

Tyler Jett reported for the Des Moines Register on November 24,

The company announced Wednesday that the new contract with the UAW will cost $250 million to $300 million. J.P. Morgan analyst Ann Duignan wrote in a note that she expects Deere to increase prices by 1.5% to offset its higher pay to workers.

That cost estimate appears to cover the immediate 10 percent raises and $8,500 ratification bonuses for each of Deere’s approximately 10,000 employees represented by UAW. The range of $250 million to $300 million would work out to between 4 percent and 5 percent of the company’s profits for the fiscal year that just ended.

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Murder fantasy video not a bridge too far for Iowa Republicans

Republicans talk a good game about running government like a business. But almost every U.S. House Republican balked when asked to punish conduct that would be a firing offense at just about any private company.

Like all but two of their GOP colleagues, Iowa’s Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted against censuring Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and removing him from the House Oversight and Natural Resources committees.

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What the bipartisan infrastructure bill will spend in Iowa

The state of Iowa will receive approximately $5 billion from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill headed to President Joe Biden’s desk, according to calculations published by U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03). Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, was among the 215 Democrats and thirteen Republicans who approved the bill late in the evening on November 5. (Procedural matters earlier in the day led to the two longest votes in U.S. House history.)

Iowa’s three Republicans in the chamber—Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—opposed the infrastructure legislation.

When the Senate approved the same bill in August, Iowa’s Republicans landed on opposite sides, with Senator Chuck Grassley supporting the infrastructure package and Senator Joni Ernst voting against it.

HOW FUNDS WILL BE SPENT IN IOWA

The bill involves about $550 billion in spending not previously approved by Congress. Axne’s news release estimated Iowa’s share of several large pieces. Our state stands to receive:

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First look at finalized Iowa maps, with incumbent match-ups

Iowa lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Legislative Services Agency’s second redistricting plan on October 28, by 48 votes to 1 in the Iowa Senate and 93 votes to 2 in the House. Democrats had already committed to approving any nonpartisan maps. Republicans liked that this plan (unlike the first LSA proposal) creates four U.S. House districts that Donald Trump carried. It also gives the party an excellent chance to maintain their Iowa House and Senate majorities.

Republican State Senator Ken Rozenboom cast the only vote against the maps in the upper chamber. The plan puts him in the same district as his GOP colleague Adrian Dickey.

In the lower chamber, only GOP State Representatives Tom Jeneary and Jon Jacobsen voted against the redistricting plan. Both are placed in House districts with other Republican incumbents, but Jacobsen told Bleeding Heartland in a telephone interview that’s not why he opposed the plan. Rather, he said the legislative maps carve up Pottawattamie County outside Council Bluffs into several districts represented by incumbents who live elsewhere.

I’ll have more to say about some legislative districts in forthcoming posts. For now, here are the basics about the plan Governor Kim Reynolds will soon sign into law. UPDATE: The governor signed the bill on November 4.

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Delayed map didn't hurt Iowa Congressional 3Q fundraising

Candidates running for U.S. House in Iowa raised a surprising amount of money from July through September, given that we have no idea what their districts will look like in 2022.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from the latest quarterly filings to the Federal Election Commission. Notable numbers from Congressional candidates’ fundraising and spending during the first half of 2021 can be found here.

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Iowa Democrats back Deere workers, Republicans mostly silent

Prominent Iowa Democrats were quick to express solidarity with United Auto Workers members who went on strike at midnight on October 14. But Republican officials were mostly silent as Iowa’s largest strike in decades began.

The work stoppage affects some 10,000 UAW members, of whom about 6,500 are employed at John Deere facilities in Waterloo, Ankeny, Davenport, Dubuque, and Ottumwa. Earlier this week, about 90 percent of UAW members voted to reject the company’s contract offer—a remarkable consensus, given that more than 90 percent of workers participated in the vote. Although Deere’s profits have increased by 61 percent in recent years, and CEO John May’s salary increased by about 160 percent from 2019 to 2020, the company offered workers only a 5 percent to 6 percent raise, with additional 3 percent raises in 2023 and 2025. Proposed changes to pensions also weren’t acceptable to most workers.

The last strike at John Deere plants began in 1986 and lasted for about five months. According to the Des Moines Register, the largest strikes anywhere in Iowa during the past three decades were a 1995 stoppage at Amana Refrigeration in Cedar Rapids, which involved about 2,000 workers, and a 2004 strike at Newton-based Maytag, involving about 1,600 workers.

The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the Deere workers a few minutes after midnight, and many well-known Democrats added their voices throughout the day. I’ve enclosed many of those comments below.

Meanwhile, Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst, and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) said nothing about the event directly affecting thousands of their constituents. Staff for Reynolds, Hinson, and Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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Ethics complaint a hard lesson for Axne, warning for Miller-Meeks

The non-profit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed ethics complaints on September 22 against seven members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03). The complaints ask the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate four U.S. House Democrats and three Republicans, who did not disclose stock trades within the time frame required by the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. That 2012 law was designed to prevent members of Congress from turning inside knowledge into profit.

For Axne, it was the worst way to find out about a disclosure problem. The ethics complaint generated extensive Iowa media coverage, all of which included quotes from delighted Republicans. For U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), the episode was a heads up to get her own financial disclosures in order before she faces similar scrutiny next year.

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Republicans send Trump's Afghanistan policy down memory hole

As the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan in recent days, every Iowa Republican in Congress condemned President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out the last remaining U.S. military personnel.

None acknowledged that former President Donald Trump committed to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops when his administration signed a deal with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, in February 2020. In fact, Baradar–the next leader of Afghanistan–was released from a jail in Pakistan in 2018 “at the request of the Trump administration as part of their ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, on the understanding that he could help broker peace.”

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Iowans in Congress report big 2Q fundraising numbers

Candidates for federal offices are raising more money than ever, and that trend was noticeable in the second-quarter Federal Election Commission filings for Iowa’s four U.S. House incumbents. Most of them reported fundraising numbers that would have attracted national attention just a few cycles ago. Many large donors live outside Iowa, a sign that national committees are driving contributions to candidates perceived to be in competitive districts.

The cash on hand totals may seem daunting for challengers who recently launched their campaigns or are still considering it. On the other hand, war chests are less important than they used to be, given the massive growth in outside spending on battleground U.S. House races. A fundraising advantage for an incumbent in 2021 may not be a major factor by next summer.

With that caveat, let’s review where things stand for the three Republicans and one Democrat who represent Iowa in the lower chamber of Congress.

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J.D. Scholten to help Democrats "up our game in rural America"

“Right now, Democratic policies are very popular,” said J.D. Scholten in a video revealing his future plans. “However, they’re being drowned [out] by mis- and disinformation. We have to remember that we’re just a handful of states and under 100,000 votes from a Donald Trump second term and a Republican-controlled House and Senate.”

Many Iowa Democrats–including Scholten’s own parents–saw the two-time Congressional candidate as a possible 2022 contender for U.S. Senate. Others encouraged him to run for governor. But Scholten announced on July 13 that he won’t run for any elected office next year. Instead, he will serve as the executive director of RuralVote.org, a super-PAC with a mission “to improve the Democratic brand in rural communities and empower local advocates to battle misinformation in their communities.”

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Where Iowans in Congress stand on COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers

The battle to contain COVID-19 “is in many ways a race between vaccines and variants,” in the words of Canadian Dr. Christopher Labos. Every infected person gives the coronavirus another opportunity to mutate, and some of those mutations are especially dangerous, either because they spread more easily or cause more severe illness.

In the United States, where vaccine supplies are plentiful, low vaccination rates are increasingly linked to hesitancy rather than access problems. But COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply across much of the world. While the U.S. and some other wealthy countries are donating vaccines to poorer countries, the donation program will cover shots for at most 20 percent of the population in recipient countries.

The highly transmissible Delta variant, which is becoming dominant in the U.S. and Iowa and prompted Israel to reintroduce some mask mandates, was first identified in India, where vaccines are not widely available. Uncontrolled outbreaks anywhere will cause preventable loss of life and increase the risk of a variant emerging that can defeat current vaccines.

For that reason, more than 100 developing countries have asked the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for “health products and technologies” related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccines. The Trump administration opposed the waiver, but the Biden administration endorsed the proposal in early May. The pharmaceutical industry has been running an advertising campaign against the policy.

Iowa’s members of Congress have split along party lines.

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Two Iowans opposed removing Confederate statues from Capitol

The U.S. House voted on June 29 to remove Confederate statues on public display at the Capitol and to replace a bust of Roger Taney with one of Thurgood Marshall. All 218 Democrats voted in favor, including Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03). Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-01) was among the 67 Republicans who also supported the bill. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) were among the 120 Republicans who voted against the legislation.

Feenstra’s predecessor Steve King opposed a similar bill in 2020; all three Democrats who represented Iowa in the House last year voted to replace the bust of Taney and Confederate statues.

As chief justice in 1857, Taney authored the Dred Scott decision, widely regarded as the worst ever U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Marshall litigated important civil rights cases and eventually became the first Black Supreme Court justice in 1967.

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Axne, Feenstra vote to repeal Iraq war authorization

Democratic Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Republican Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted on June 17 to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. House members approved the legislation by 268 votes to 161, with 49 Republicans joining all but one Democrat to support the repeal.

Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) were among the 160 Republicans to vote no.

None of Iowa’s representatives released a statement about this vote or mentioned it on their social media feeds. Bleeding Heartland sought comment from staff for all four members on the morning of June 18, but none replied. I will update this post as needed if anyone explains their reasons for voting yes or no on this effort to “rein in presidential war-making powers for the first time in a generation.” Jennifer Steinhauer reported for the New York Times,

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Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

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Iowa Republicans opposed bill on pay equity for women

Every U.S. Senate Republican, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, blocked debate last week on a bill designed “to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex.”

Like most Senate actions, a motion to proceed with debate on a bill requires at least 60 votes to pass. The 49 to 50 party-line vote on June 8 was Republicans’ second formal use of a filibuster this year. The first blocked a bill authorizing a bipartisan investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

The Paycheck Fairness Act “has been on the Democratic wish list since 1997,” Jonathan Weisman reported for the New York Times. When Democrats controlled the U.S. House, they approved similar legislation in 2008, 2009, and 2019.

For nearly 60 years, federal law has banned employers from paying men and women differently for “substantially equal jobs.” But the Equal Pay Act of 1963 has failed to adequately address gender-based wage discrimination. A 2019 study found “Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations.”

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Iowa delegation tries again to address military suicides (updated)

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate passed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 by unanimous consent on June 24, and President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 30. Original post follows.

From the earliest Memorial Day observances organized by freed slaves following the Civil War, this holiday has focused on remembering military service members who died in wars. More than 26,700 Iowans have died in wartime service, with the Civil War accounting for nearly half of the fatalities.

Far too many Americans with military backgrounds die by their own hands. Hundreds of active-duty troops and more than 6,000 veterans take their own lives every year. That death toll exceeds the total U.S. military fatalities in Iraq from 2003 to 2020.

Iowa’s members of Congress have tried again this spring to improve mental health services for veterans. Unlike in previous years, legislation named after Sergeant Brandon Ketchum made it through the U.S. House and now awaits action in the Senate.

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Iowa Republicans split on January 6 commission, Asian hate resolution

The three Republicans now representing Iowa in the U.S. House rarely land on opposite sides in a floor vote. But Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) parted ways with most of her GOP colleagues in March by voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

That wasn’t an isolated incident. Miller-Meeks joined Democrats in two more closely watched House votes on May 19, while Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) stuck with the majority of the Republican caucus.

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Upside Down week for Iowa Republicans in Congress

In the natural order of things, members of Congress brag about the federal assistance they fought to obtain for their constituents.

The Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House and Senate turned that formula on its head this week. Every one cheered the news that tens of thousands of Iowans will soon lose the federal government support they depend on.

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IA-Sen: Matt Whitaker bolsters Trumpworld credentials

Although Senator Chuck Grassley is in no hurry to announce his future plans, former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker continues to lay the groundwork for a possible U.S. Senate bid in 2022.

He speaks at GOP gatherings around Iowa, most recently the Johnson County Republican fundraiser on May 5. And perhaps more important for his future prospects, Whitaker helped create the America First Legal organization, which will regularly engage the Biden administration in fights sure to please the Republican base.

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Lessons from Bessemer

Buzz Malone is organizing director of Teamsters Local 238. -promoted by Laura Belin

Regardless of the outcome of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, the efforts of workers there have delivered a powerful message to the nation.

Enacted 86 years ago, the National Labor Relations Act sent an equally powerful message to companies large and small: that workers have inalienable rights of free speech, legally protected concerted activity for economic improvements, and the right to form, join, and assist a union of their choosing.

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Randy Feenstra wants to disenfranchise DC voters

With Steve King no longer serving in Congress, I rarely find an Iowan’s name on a short list of U.S. House Republicans doing something outrageous–like the twelve who voted this week against awarding Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police, the D.C. police, and the Smithsonian Institution for their work on January 6.

But Representative Randy Feenstra, who defeated King in last year’s fourth district GOP primary, has quietly signed on to a Republican project that is just as offensive to democracy.

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Axne, Miller-Meeks support Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. House voted 244 to 172 on March 17 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with some new provisions. All Democrats present, including Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), were joined by 29 Republicans, including Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), to send the bill to the U.S. Senate. Republican Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) opposed the legislation.

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Ashley Hinson didn't walk her talk on LGBTQ equality

“No person should be discriminated against, no person should be bullied because of who they are, and no person should be discriminated against in the workplace, for any reason,” Republican Congressional candidate Ashley Hinson told an eastern Iowa magazine geared toward LGBTQ readers last fall.

Hinson had a chance to put her stated beliefs into action on February 25, when the U.S. House considered the Equality Act. The bill would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of employment, education, housing, public accommodations, jury service, and access to credit or federal funding. But the new member of Congress from Iowa’s first district voted against it, as did all but three House Republicans (roll call).

Representative Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, co-sponsored the Equality Act and was part of the 224 to 206 majority that approved it.

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Randy Feenstra's selective concern for farmers

Andy Kopsa: Iowa’s new member of Congress from the fourth district brags that he “delivers for farmers.” Unless you are a Black farmer, that is. -promoted by Laura Belin

Politicians love farmers. Every caucus season they prove it: they throw a foot up on a hay bale and stump to a crowd at the Iowa State Fair, shove a pork chop into their mouth, use the term “heartland” and “kitchen table” a minimum of 400 times.

Vice President Mike Pence and the Iowa GOP love farmers so much that he came to town just after the August 2020 derecho to launch the Farmers and Ranchers for Trump Coalition. Senator Joni Ernst and Governor Kim Reynolds took time out of their disaster recovery schedule to accompany Pence to Living History [not a real] Farms. Pence didn’t visit a single farm, but he found time to host an exclusive fundraiser in Urbandale before flying away home.

U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) also loves farmers a lot. He introduced an amendment to allocate more aid to Iowans impacted by the derecho last year during a House Agriculture Committee markup of the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Feenstra’s amendment passed by a single vote.

That vote came from Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), the lone Democrat to cross the aisle.

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Iowans in Congress comment on Trump's second impeachment

Iowa’s delegation split along party lines as the U.S. House voted 232 to 197 on January 13 to impeach President Donald Trump on one count of “incitement to insurrection.”

Ten Republicans, including the third-ranking member of the GOP caucus, joined every Democrat in voting to impeach. I’ve enclosed below the lengthy House Judiciary Committee report supporting impeachment and the full text of the article, which argued that Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government.”

Iowa’s Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) said in a written statement,

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Iowa Republicans condemn mob violence but still feed the lie that incited it

Iowa Republican leaders universally denounced the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters. But not one of them has condemned Trump’s continued lies about a “stolen” victory, nor have any unequivocally said that Joe Biden won a free and fair election.

On the contrary, Iowa’s top Republican officials have acknowledged Biden will be president while validating the fantasy of widespread irregularities or “illegal” votes in key states that delivered Biden’s electoral college win.

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Jim Nussle renounces Republican Party

A longtime Republican member of Congress from Iowa has renounced his party following the attempts by elected officials and a violent mob to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“I will no longer claim I am a Republican tonight,” Jim Nussle tweeted on January 6, “as I am outraged and devastated by the actions of too many elected Republicans (some I know and served with) and supporters. Today a final line was crossed that I will not excuse. The GOP is NO more and left me and others behind.”

Later that evening, 121 House Republicans–more than half the GOP caucus–voted to reject Arizona’s electoral votes for Joe Biden, as did six GOP senators.

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Iowa Republicans acknowledge Biden will be president, without admitting he won

Most of the Republicans who will represent Iowa in Congress next year are on record saying Joe Biden will be president of the United States.

But none have stated publicly that Biden legitimately won every state that cast its electoral votes for him on December 14.

With President Donald Trump and many of his supporters spreading false allegations of election fraud every day, it’s critically important for Republicans to state unambiguously that Biden won both the national popular vote and more votes than Trump in states that account for 306 electoral votes. Few prominent Iowa Republicans are up to that task.

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How many Iowa candidates "won" under rules Republicans forced on unions?

Sixth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad set out to cripple public sector unions in 2017 by enacting a law that eviscerated bargaining rights and established new barriers to union representation. Under that law, public employees must vote to recertify their union in each contract period (in most cases, every two or three years). Anyone not participating in the election is considered to have voted against the union. So a successful recertification requires yes votes from a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit.

The law hasn’t accomplished its goal of destroying large unions that typically support Democratic candidates. The vast majority of bargaining units have voted to recertify in each of the past four years. This fall, all 64 locals affiliated with the Iowa State Education Association voted to keep having that union negotiate their contracts. AFSCME Council 61, which represents most Iowa state and local government workers, was nearly as successful, with 64 out of 67 units voting to recertify.

I decided to return to a question Bleeding Heartland first pondered in 2017: how many candidates for other Iowa offices could declare victory under the system Republicans forced on labor unions?

I found that even after Iowa’s highest-turnout election in decades, our state would have no representation in Congress if contenders needed a majority vote among all constituents. “Winners” could be declared in about a third of state legislative races.

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First thoughts on another disastrous election for Iowa Democrats

Bleeding Heartland will analyze the Iowa election results from many perspectives in the coming weeks. For now, let’s review the big picture: just like in 2016, the outcome was more devastating than any Democrat’s worst nightmare.

Turnout set a new record: Iowans cast at least 1,697,102 ballots, roughly 107,000 more than the high water mark of 1,589,951 people voting in the 2012 presidential election.

But as we learned in November 2018, high turnout doesn’t only help Democrats.

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The art of showing up: J.D. Scholten in Iowa's fourth district

Susan Nelson: If J.D. Scholten goes to Washington, he will carry with him thousands of stories told by rural people struggling to keep their heads above water. -promoted by Laura Belin

The conventional wisdom about the congressional race in Iowa’s fourth district is that Republican Randy Feenstra is going to win, not because he’s Randy Feenstra, but because he’s a Republican. That conventional wisdom about IA-04 was nearly proved wrong in 2018, when Democrat J.D. Scholten lost to Representative Steve King by a little more than three percentage points. The near-miss helped the Republican congressional leadership decide to defenestrate King from congressional committees because he was a little too obvious about being a white supremacist. Four conservative candidates went after him in the primary, and Feenstra won.

Is IA-04 still a rural red district where Democratic ambitions go to die, or is Scholten going to finish the job he started two years ago? Without King on the ballot, will he still attract 25,000 Republican crossover votes? We will not know the answer until at least election night, or later. But Scholten has a lot going for him.

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Top Iowa Republicans dare not distance themselves from Trump

President Donald Trump’s unhinged and at times frightening behavior during his first televised debate “worried” and “alarmed” some of his most influential allies. The next day, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Washington Republicans criticized the president’s failure to condemn white supremacists. Former Republican National Committee chair Marc Racicot even revealed that he had decided to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, after concluding Trump is “dangerous to the existence of the republic as we know it.”

True to form, Iowa Republicans offered no hint of dissent from the president this week. They either said nothing about Trump’s debate performance or put a positive spin on it.

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Kim Reynolds set young people up to fail. Now she's setting them up to blame

“Much of the spread that we’re seeing in Iowa continues to be tied back to young adults” between the ages of 19 and 24, Governor Kim Reynolds said during an August 27 news conference, where she announced a new proclamation closing bars in Polk, Dallas, Linn, Johnson, Story, and Black Hawk counties.

Reynolds noted that young adults are spreading coronavirus to classmates, co-workers, and others “by socializing in large groups” and “not social distancing.” She added, “While we still know that this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community, and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population.”

The official narrative seems designed to conceal three inconvenient facts. Reynolds didn’t follow expert advice that could have prevented this summer’s explosive growth in cases. For months, she discouraged young, healthy Iowans from worrying about the virus. And despite her “#StepUpMaskUp” public relations campaign, Reynolds has failed to practice what she preaches when attending large gatherings herself.

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Randy Feenstra is at the center of Iowa's failed policies

This commentary is the collective work of three Iowa Democratic Party county chairs: Brett W. Copeland in Dickinson County, Mitch Day in Clay County, and Laura Hoffman in Emmet County. -promoted by Laura Belin

State Senator Randy Feenstra has promised Iowans that he will be riding shotgun to President Donald Trump’s second term agenda. His devastating legislative record on health care and mental health shows that he will make the perfect Congressional lackey.

Feenstra has been at the center of the worst ideas in the Iowa Senate. He voted against bills to improve oversight of Iowa’s Medicaid program and helped orchestrate a plan to allow Iowans to buy junk health insurance policies. He pushed to end block grants that ensured counties could provide decent mental health services, fund law enforcement, and keep taxes low.

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Deep dive on Iowa's record-setting 2020 primary turnout

More Iowans than ever participated in the 2020 primary, and the event changed some features of the Iowa electorate. For the first time in at least 20 years, people who choose not to affiliate with any party don’t comprise a plurality of registered voters. Democrats and Republicans both outnumber no-party voters now.

In other ways, the 529,586 Iowans who cast ballots in the June 2 election resembled past primary voters. For instance, nearly three-quarters of them were at least 50 years old, while about 13 percent were under age 35. Those proportions by age group are remarkably close to corresponding figures from the 2018 primary, when only 288,749 Iowans voted.

Follow me after the jump for a closer look at this year’s expanded voter universe by party, gender, and age.

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Now she tells us

More than four months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health are finally acknowledging that slowing the spread of COVID-19 will require many more Iowans to routinely cover their faces in public.

Their “#StepUpMaskUpIA” campaign might have been more successful if state officials had pushed the message before reopening businesses and lifting other COVID-19 mitigation strategies in May and June. Instead, top officials waited until new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths had been trending upward in Iowa for weeks.

Public health experts at the University of Iowa urged state leaders months ago to call for universal use of face coverings. But at her televised news conferences, Reynolds repeatedly asserted that expanded testing would allow the state to “manage” and “control” the virus. At the same events, the governor regularly portrayed face masks as something vulnerable Iowans might need, or a precaution people could bring with them in case they found themselves in a crowded setting.

As recently as last week, Reynolds was photographed in close proximity to others, with no one’s face covered. Even now, she refuses to delegate authority so local governments can issue enforceable mask orders.

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Iowa Republicans fail to uphold promises of Older Americans Act

Mike McCarthy is president of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans. -promoted by Laura Belin

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Older Americans Act into law on July 14, 1965. It responded to the need for community services, evidence-based health promotion, disease prevention programs, civic engagement, and elder justice for senior citizens. America’s seniors require a similar response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans believes that seniors must have relevant and accurate information about preventing and treating the coronavirus. Seniors and retirees are becoming more desperate looking for security and a cure. We should be able to trust President Donald Trump’s pronouncements. However, he repeatedly shows us that we cannot believe his statements.

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Iowa SOS will need permission for future emergency election changes

Secretary of State Paul Pate will need approval from the Legislative Council in order to use his emergency powers to alter election procedures, under a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed on June 25.

While Republicans have a majority on that legislative body, it’s not clear they would use that power to prevent Pate from repeating steps that led to record-breaking turnout for the June 2 primary.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2020

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2020 session on January 13 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. Eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber before the 2018 elections.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. A few committees have new Republican leaders. On the Democratic side, Eric Giddens now represents the Senate district where Jeff Danielson resigned last year.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, and Tom.

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Bleeding Heartland's coverage of U.S. Senate, House races in 2019

After the wipeout of 2016, I questioned whether Iowa’s top races of 2018 and 2020 would be foregone conclusions for the Republican incumbents. But amid unusually high turnout for a midterm election, Democratic challengers flipped two U.S. House seats and fell only a few points short against Governor Kim Reynolds and Representative Steve King.

One of my goals for 2019 was to provide in-depth reporting on Iowa’s federal and state legislative races. Thanks to our nonpartisan redistricting system, none of our four Congressional districts are considered safe for either party in 2020. While U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is still favored to win a second term, she is increasingly seen as a vulnerable GOP incumbent.

Follow me after the jump for a review of Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the campaigns for U.S. Senate and House, with links to all relevant posts. A separate post will cover the year’s stories about battleground legislative districts.

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Iowa reaction to Trump impeachment

For the third time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives impeached a president. Following nearly ten hours of debate, House members voted 230 to 197 (roll call) to impeach President Donald Trump for abusing his power, and by 229 votes to 198 (roll call) to approve the second article, on Trump’s obstruction of Congress. (Read the full text of the articles here.)

As they had indicated in statements the previous day, Democratic Representatives Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Cindy Axne (IA-03) voted for both articles of impeachment. None gave a speech during the floor debate. Only two House Democrats voted against the first article, and three voted against the second, while Representative Tulsi Gabbard voted “present” in what she called a “stand for the center.”

No Republicans voted for either article, and Representative Steve King (IA-04) was among many GOP members who thundered against the drive to impeach Trump during the floor debate. I’ve enclosed below the video and transcript of his remarks, along with new statements from Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and comments from some Iowa Congressional candidates. You can read comments released before the House votes here.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced after the impeachment that she won’t immediately refer the articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate. House leaders hope to influence the Senate to agree to procedures that would allow for a “fair trial.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he is working closely with White House counsel and hopes to dispose of the impeachment articles quickly.

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IA-04: Randy Feenstra hits Steve King over impeachment

U.S. Representative Steve King has been a loyal defender of President Donald Trump this fall, repeatedly attacking Democrats for pursuing impeachment and even disrupting a House Intelligence Committee hearing in a secure facility.

But he wasn’t able to participate in the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings, having lost his committee assignments in January.

State Senator Randy Feenstra, the Republican establishment’s favorite among four GOP challengers in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, seized on the impeachment saga as proof that King can’t do his job well.

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IA-04: Cash-poor Steve King banks on Donald Trump

U.S. Representative Steve King has raised a shockingly small amount of money for his re-election and could be outspent by multiple Republican challengers before next year’s primary to represent Iowa’s fourth district.

But while King lacks the fundraising ability of many Congressional colleagues, he has invested his political capital wisely, aligning closely with Donald Trump in the president’s hour of need.

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Where things stand in Iowa's Senate, Congressional races

Labor Day traditionally marks the beginning of the most intense phase of campaigning in election years. This holiday is also a good time to review the state of play in races for federal offices in odd-numbered years. Though new candidates could emerge at any time before Iowa’s March 2020 filing deadline–Patty Judge was a late arrival to the Democratic U.S. Senate field in 2016–it’s more typical for federal candidates here to kick off their campaigns by the end of summer the year before the election.

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting system, all four U.S. House races here could be competitive in 2020, and our Senate race is on the map–in contrast to 2016, when Senator Chuck Grassley’s re-election was almost a foregone conclusion.

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IA-04: Don't be so sure the latest uproar will hurt Steve King

When U.S. Representative Steve King thinks out loud, national headlines often follow.

The Des Moines Register’s Robin Opsahl was first to report on King’s musings at the August 14 Westside Conservative Club breakfast in Urbandale.

“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” […]

“Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? I know I can’t certify that I’m not a part of a product of that.”

To many, the comments seem indefensible. But I suspect many conservative Republicans in Iowa approve of King’s uncompromising stance on abortion, even if they don’t like how he talked about the issue.

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What needs to happen for J.D. Scholten to beat Steve King (2020 edition)

UPDATE: Scholten launched his campaign on August 5.

Art Cullen reported in the Storm Lake Times on July 31 that while J.D. Scholten “has not formally announced whether he will run” for Congress again in Iowa’s fourth district,

He is running.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “Last cycle we hoped to win. This cycle we intend to win.”

I assume that means Scholten is in.

He swore off running against Sen. Joni Ernst.

It’s time to revisit Bleeding Heartland’s 2018 analysis of what it would take for Scholten to win a district with a partisan voting index of R+11. I see six essential elements to an upset victory:

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IA-04: Joni Ernst's neutrality hurts Randy Feenstra more than Steve King

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst made headlines in Iowa and national media this week when she told reporters on a conference call she “will not be endorsing anyone” for the Republican nomination in the fourth Congressional district.

Strictly speaking, her announcement wasn’t news. Within days of State Senator Randy Feenstra’s campaign launch in January, Ernst said she didn’t plan to endorse in the IA-04 primary, Bret Hayworth reported for the Sioux City Journal at the time.

Many commentators have viewed Ernst’s distancing as a political blow to King, whom she enthusiastically endorsed the first time he faced a GOP primary challenger. Similarly, Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Chuck Grassley backed King in that 2016 race but have vowed to stay neutral before next June’s primary.

While King would surely welcome the backing of Republican heavyweights for what may be the toughest race of his career, Feenstra likely needs that boost more.

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