Grassley Continues to Stand Firm

GRASSLEY FARMFloor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
The Pressure Strategy
Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mr. President,

We have a unique opportunity for the American people to have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court.  The American people should be afforded the opportunity to weigh in on this matter.

Our side believes very strongly that the people deserve to be heard and they should be allowed to decide, through their vote for the next President, the type of person who should be on the Supreme Court.

As I’ve stated previously, this is a reasonable approach, it is a fair approach and it is the historical approach – one echoed by then-chairman Biden and Senators Schumer and other senators.

The other side has been talking a great deal about a so-called “pressure campaign” to try to get members to change positions.

It’s no secret that the White House strategy is to put pressure on me and other Republicans in the hopes that we can be worn down and ultimately agree to hold hearings on the nominee.

This “pressure campaign,” which is targeted at me and a handful of my colleagues, is based on the supposition that I will “crack” and move forward on consideration of President Obama’s pick.

This strategy has failed to recognize that I’m no stranger to political pressure and strong-arm tactics.  Not necessarily from Democrat presidents, probably more from Republican presidents.

When I make a decision based on sound principle, I’m not about to flip-flop because the left has organized a “pressure campaign.”

As many of my colleagues and constituents know, I’ve done battle with administrations of both parties.

I’ve fought over irresponsible budgets, waste and fraud, and policy disagreements.

I’ve made tough decisions, and stuck with them, regardless of whatever pressure was applied.

The so-called pressure being applied to me now is nothing compared to what I’ve withstood from heavy-handed White House political operations in the past.  Let me say, by the way, most of that has come from Republican White Houses.

Just to give you a few examples –

In 1981, as a new member of the Senate, I voted against some of President Reagan’s first budget proposals, because they failed to balance.

I recall very specifically a Budget Committee mark-up of President Reagan’s first budget in April of 1981.

I was one of three Republicans to vote against that resolution because it did not put us on a path to a balanced budget.

You can imagine when a budget has to come out on a party-line vote, you can’t lose three Republicans. And three Republicans who were elected in 1980 on a promise to balance the budget did not go along with it. And what a loss it was for this new President Reagan that his budget might not get adopted by the Budget Committee.

We were under immense pressure to act on the President’s budget, regardless of the deficits it would cause.  But, we stood on principle and didn’t succumb to the pressure.

Just as an example, right after that vote, when it wasn’t voted out of the Budget Committee, I was home on a spring recess.  I remember calls from the White House.  I remember threats from the Chamber of Commerce-even interrupting my town meetings.

I also led the charge to freeze spending and end the Reagan defense build-up as a way to get the federal budget deficit under control.

In 1984, I teamed up with Senator Biden and Senator Kassebaum of Kansas to propose a freeze of the defense budget that would have cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the annual deficits.

At the time, it was known as the Kassebaum, Grassley, Biden, or KGB defense freeze.

We were going to make sure that across the board the budget was defensible.

For months, I endured pressure from the Reagan administration and Republican colleagues that argued a freeze on defense spending would constitute unilateral disarmament.

President Reagan had put together a less-aggressive deficit reduction plan.  We didn’t think it went far enough.

My bipartisan plan was attacked for being dangerous and causing draconian cuts to the defense budget.

I knew it was realistic and responsible.

I didn’t back down.  We forced a vote in the Budget Committee and on May 2, 1984, we forced a vote on the Senate floor.

Although we weren’t successful, this effort required the Senate and the nation to have a debate about the growing defense budget, including waste and inefficiencies at the Pentagon, and the growing federal fiscal deficits.

Despite the weeks-long pressure from conservatives and the Reagan Administration, I did not back down, because I knew the policy was on my side.

In this process, I stood up to pressure from President Reagan, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator John Tower, and many others.

I remember a meeting at the White House where I reminded the President that he had been talking through the campaign about the Welfare queens fraudulently on the budget. It happens that I reminded him that there were Defense queens as well.

I started doing oversight of the Defense Department.  It wasn’t long before evidence of waste and fraud began appearing.

We uncovered contractors that billed the defense department $435 for a claw hammer, $750 for toilet seats, $695 for an ash tray.

We found coffee pots that cost $7,600.

I had no problem finding Democrats to join my oversight efforts back then.

But, it’s interesting how hard it is to find bipartisan help when doing oversight of the current Democrat administration.

Nevertheless, on May 2, 1985, after a year of work to make the case that the defense department needed structural reforms and slower spending growth, I was successful.

My amendment to freeze the defense budget and allow for increases based on inflation was agreed to when a motion to table failed by a 48-51 vote.

A majority of Republicans opposed me, and a majority of Democrats were with me.  That didn’t matter, because I knew we were doing the right thing.

I went against my own party, and my own President to hold the Pentagon accountable, and I never backed off.

I had a similar experience with President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

In January of 1991, the Senate debated a resolution to authorize the use of U.S. Armed Forces to remove Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

I opposed it because I felt the economic and diplomatic sanctions that I voted for should have been given more time to work.

I was not ready to give up on sanctions in favor of war.

In the end, I was one of just two Republicans, along with Senator Hatfield, who opposed the resolution.

I was under pressure from President Bush, Vice President Quayle and White House chief of staff John Sununu.

I was even pressured by Iowa’s Governor, Terry Branstad.

I heard from a lot of Iowans, particular Republicans, who were disappointed, and even angry with my position.

Some were even considering a public rebuke because of my vote.

Being one of just two Republicans, it was difficult to differ with a Republican President on such a major issue.

But, as I stated at the time, my decision was above any partisanship.

It was a decision of conscience rather than a matter of Republican versus Democrat.

After a tremendous amount of soul-searching, I did what I thought was right, regardless of the political pressure.

The same is true today with regard to the Supreme Court vacancy.

Under President George W. Bush, I faced another dilemma.

The President and the Republican congressional leadership determined that they wanted to provide $1.6 trillion in tax relief in 2001.

I was the chairman of the Finance Committee.  The problem is, we had a 50-50 Senate at the time. The parties’ numbers were equal in the Senate and on the Finance Committee.

I had two members on my side who were reluctant to support a huge tax cut because they had concerns about deficits and the debt.

And, as we saw a few years later, their concerns were not totally unwarranted.  But, at the time, the administration and leadership would have nothing to do with it.

Except that the President wanted $1.6 trillion of tax decreases.  But obviously the President and the White House weren’t thinking anything about what Republicans might vote against it. And when you have a 50-50 Senate, you can’t lose a lot of Republicans.

After very difficult negotiations, I finally rounded up enough votes to support $1.3 trillion in tax relief.

A hailstorm of criticism followed.  There were Republican House members who held press conferences denouncing the fact that we weren’t able to achieve the whole $1.6 trillion.

Now, those House members were more professional in their criticism than we witness almost every day from the current Minority Leader.

But, it was still a very contentious and difficult period that included both the budget and reconciliation process.

Minority Leader Reid has also recently brought up the pressure I came under in regard to Obamacare back in 2009.

Of course, his version is his usual attempt to rewrite the actual history.

As the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee at the time, I was involved in very in-depth negotiations to try to come up with a healthcare solution.

We started in November 2008. We had negotiations between three Republicans and three Democrats on the Finance Committee. We met hours and hours, almost totally time consuming. So we met in November 2008, through mid-September 2009, and then they decided that they — the other side — decided they ought to go political and not worry about Republicans.

The Minority Leader, in his usual inaccurate statement of the facts, has tried to say Republicans walked out of those negotiations.

The fact is, we were given a deadline and told if we didn’t agree to the latest draft of the bill, then the Democrats would have to move on.

And I would ask anybody in the Senate who wants some reference on this to talk to Senator Snowe or Senator Enzi.  I was the other Republican.  Talk to Senator Baucus. Talk to Senator Conrad. And the then-Senator from New Mexico. The President called six of us down to the White House in early August 2009.

The first question I got was, would you, Senator Grassley, be willing to go along with two or three Republicans to have a bipartisan bill with Obamacare.  And I said, Mr. President, the answer is no because, what do you think we have been working on for nine months?  We have been working trying to get a broad bipartisan agreement. It’s something like 70-75 votes that we’re trying to get if you really want to change social policy and have it stick. We didn’t abandon this until 2009, but my idea is that probably it was that meeting at the White House in early August 2009, where this President decided we don’t want to mess around with those Republicans any more, we’ve got 60 votes, we’re going to move ahead.

Well, that happened in September. The fact is we were given that deadline and we were shoved out of the room.

So, when we didn’t bow to this pressure and agree to their demands, it ended up being a partisan document, and that’s why it still doesn’t have majority support of the American people. I want the Minority Leader to know that’s what happened, not what he described a couple of weeks ago.

Eventually, as we all know, the former Majority Leader, now Minority Leader, had his staff rewrite the bill in secret in the backrooms of his leadership offices.

And, we ended up with the disaster called Obamacare we have today.

The Senate Minority leader also recently proclaimed that rather than follow Leader McConnell, “Republicans are sprinting in the opposite direction.”

He also wishfully claimed that the Republican façade was cracking on the issue.

Senator Schumer fancifully stated, “Because of the pressure, Republicans are beginning to change.”

You can almost hear the ruby slippers on the other side clicking while they wish this narrative were true.

The fact is, the pressure they’ve applied thus far has had no impact on this Senator’s principled position.

Our side knows and believes that what we’re doing is right, and when that’s the case, it’s not hard to withstand the outrage and pressure they’ve manufactured.

This pressure pales in comparison to what I’ve endured and withstood from both Democrats and Republicans in the past.

It’s the Conservatives’ Turn to Advance the Idea of Separation of Church and State


If you asked most Americans where the concept of the separation of church and state is rooted, most of them would likely point to one of the nation’s founding documents. If you didn’t already know, you won’t find that phrase anywhere in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the even the Bill of Rights.

Despite that fact, liberals in America have used the separation of church and state to rip down Christian crosses on public lands, remove prayer from schools, and manger scenes from city parks. Even though most school children don’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance any more, it’s is still under attack because of the words, “Under God,” and sadly, there is a similar effort to remove, “In God We Trust,” from our currency.

In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court Ruling that recognized same-sex marriage, it dawned on me that religious conservatives will now be the ones clinging to the notion of separation of church and state. Before modern agnostics hijacked the idea of separation of church and state, President Thomas Jefferson used the expression to reassure the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut that the new federal government would, “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The concerns over religious liberty the Danbury Baptists shared with President Jefferson in the fall of 1801 are exactly the same concerns that religious conservatives have today. The Danbury Baptists wrote, “Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.”

Jefferson’s response was clear, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

More than ever before, our country needs a leader, who like Jefferson, will clearly stand by the First Amendment and will reassure religious believers that the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges will do nothing to limit or impose restrictions on their personal religious beliefs. While the First Amendment is abundantly clear, it is understandable why millions of religious Americans fear what the Supreme Court could say on the matter if it ever got to that point.

Some Quick Thoughts on the Marriage Decision

  1. I have avoided social media like it’s a plague for the past week. I’ve had enough of rainbow and confederate flags for a while. I actually wrote an entire piece on what I was doing Friday morning. Since I doubt it is of much interest to any of my readers let me just say that I was happy to be unplugged for most of the weekend.
  1. The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges gives same-sex couples in America what they have desired for years – acceptance and validation. I’m sure that many same-sex couples wanted marriage rights and the benefits that come with that, but deep down, they wanted approval for their chosen lifestyle. As a Christian, I do not need nor do I seek government approval for my chosen lifestyle or Biblical beliefs.
  1. I’m disturbed how five Supreme Court Justices could find (and manipulate) legal precedent to issues such a ruling. Perhaps because the Iowa Supreme Court ruled to legalize gay marriage in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday wasn’t all that upsetting to me. Sure is was disappointing, but I can’t remember the last time the Supreme Court issued a ruling that I was excited about. Instead, it was like finally getting the news you had dreaded, but knew would eventually come.
  1. While the White House was bathed in the colors of the rainbow on Friday night, deep down some of the most vocal proponents of same-sex marriage rights know that they are cowards. Not all that long ago Democrats controlled the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, and controlled the Governor’s office. They did nothing legislatively to advance same sex marriage rights. The same is true of our federal government.   Instead, these liberal “leaders” sat back and waited for the life-tenured justices to do their dirty work for them.

    I agree with Chief Justice John Roberts when he wrote in his dissent, “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

    That is exactly what happened in Iowa back after the court recognized gay marriage here. Since neither the people nor their representatives in the legislature actually passed legislation to bring about this change, voters looked for an outlet to channel their frustrations. The retention vote of 2010 took out three Iowa Supreme Court Justices. While it’s not possible to do that sort of thing on a national level, the presidential race might provide voters that outlet.

  1. While I do think this issue may help Iowans pick which of the 16 potential Republican presidential candidates fits them best, I don’t think the landscape has really changed all that much. More on that later this week.

Dowling v. Valley – Is the Next Big Religious Liberty Debate in Our Own Backyard?

ReligiousLibertyStudents at Valley High School have petitioned the West Des Moines school board to stop renting out the district’s facilities to organizations that they believe discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals.

The petition is in response to an incident involving Dowling Catholic High School not offering a full-time teaching position to Tyler McCubbin, a substitute teacher, because his openly gay lifestyle was in conflict with the church’s teachings. Dowling currently rents Valley High Schools athletic facilities to host sporting events and to conduct practices.

Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines explained the school’s position in an April 7th statement following the news of the school’s decision not to offer full time employment to this substitute teacher who happened to be gay. “Catholic schools are an extension of the church and are committed to following the church’s teachings and doctrine in employment matters, Bishop Pates explained. “Our contracts contain specific language that outline the expected code of conduct in accord with long accepted Church teaching.”

The statement also explained that, during the hiring process, the school discovered via social media that the applicant was in a same-sex relationship and engaged. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for us to accept those with same-sex tendencies ‘with respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ Such an approach has guided the school’s relationship with the applicant in question. We wish him only well,” Pates added.

Last week, Dowling approved a request from its students to form a gay-straight alliance at the school called “One Human Family.” “Pope Francis has challenged us to be sensitive and provide a caring, compassionate, respectful environment for all of our students on their faith journey,” wrote Jerry Deegan, Dowling’s President.

“Some will believe that One Human Family will not be progressive enough while others may believe the formation of this club is misguided,” the letter continued. “As the president of Dowling Catholic, I will always strive, along with our faculty, to make certain all students are given support, respect, and guidance during their formative years. This club will add to that effort in a positive way.”

Even though the privately funded Catholic School is well within its legal rights to make hiring decisions based on its publically stated Christian beliefs, some Valley High School students want their school district to end a standing agreement that allows Dowling to rent its facilities. Officials with the West Des Moines school district commended the students for being “on the right side of history.”

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. While Indiana’s new religious liberty law generated national attention and sparked outrage among the liberal left and the LGBTQ community, a public school not allowing its facilities to be used or rented by organizations that happen not to support same-sex marriage creates an interesting dilemma. While the intent of the students is to prevent Dowling Catholic from using it’s athletic fields, such a policy would also mean that Republicans couldn’t rent their facilities to hold District Conventions, as has been done in the past, and that school facilities couldn’t be used for Republican presidential caucuses.

A policy that wouldn’t allow a person or organization that publicly supports traditional or Biblical marriage could also mean that a congressman or governor who doesn’t support same-sex marriage also couldn’t rent or use its facilities. The church I attend used to meet every Sunday in a public school gymnasium. Other churches in the Des Moines metro still meet at public school facilities. Such a policy change would have more far-reaching ramifications than just keeping a Catholic high school from using the football field.

PrintValley, a public school, is funded by public tax dollars. And while not all of Dowling’s students live in the West Des Moines School District, there are many parents who live in and pay taxes to the public school district, but who send their kids to Dowling. In essence, a parent who is funding the public schools by paying their property taxes could see their kids be forbidden to use the facilities that they helped build and upkeep.

Religious liberty protections for bakers, photographers, and florists are one thing, but a potential dispute between a public school like Valley and a private school like Dowling Catholic takes the debate to an entirely different level.

Gay marriage proponents have long said that allowing gay marriages would have no impact on religious marriage or religion. In fact, in 2010, One Iowa ran ads following the Varnum decision stating, “This will not change religious marriage, or how each religion defines that. It does protect civil marriage for same-sex couples and protects the freedoms of all committed couples.”

dowlinglogoIf a private Catholic high school can’t rent facilities at a publicly funded venue, such as a school or city owned property, then how long will it really be until the tax exempt status of churches and religious organizations is abolished? What used to be a slippery slope argument suddenly seems to be closer to reality.

While this debate is beginning on the pages of our local newspapers and is being talked about in our local homes and churches, don’t be surprised if it is the U.S. Supreme Court who ultimately decides this issue. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that a closely held, for-profit company didn’t have to follow regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services that were in violation of the owners’ religious beliefs.

If public schools are suddenly going to limit who and what organizations can use their property, then why should parents who choose to send their children to a religious school be forced to pay for a public school they do not use and are not even allowed to use?

I think the West Des Moines school board, parents, and students really need to stop and think about what they are really doing here. Once again, instead of tolerance, people are actually advocating intolerance.   They are openly advocating for religious discrimination. I also think it would be a good teaching moment for the history and government instructors at Valley High School to remind the students about the free speech and free exercise provisions of the First Amendment.

Gronstal is a Hypocrite on Corporate Contributions

gronstalDemocrats around the country are up in arms over last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a major component of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

The Court’s ruling does not allow corporations to the ability to make contributions to candidates, political parties, or political action committees. What it does is allow corporations to do is directly advocate for or against specific legislation or candidates. Corporations are still prohibited from coordinating their spending with candidates and political parties.

Democrats in all levels of elected office have voiced their opposition to the ruling. Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell quickly introduced legislation amending the U.S. Constitution to restrict corporations and labor unions from running political ads. Senator Tom Harkin said that the ruling would funnel corporate money to Republicans.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich that he feared for the survival of democracy following the Supreme Court’s ruling on corporate contributions. Gronstal’s comments are ironic considering that Gronstal is the largest corporate fundraiser in the state. He has solicited corporate contributions for the Des Moines based Midwest Enterprise Group, a 527 group that is run by a former Gronstal aide, which focuses exclusively helping Democrats in the Iowa Senate.

Since its inception before the 2008 general election, the Midwest Enterprise Group has received $431,000 in corporate contributions. Almost every casino operation in the state has made large contributions to the Midwest Enterprise Group. Harrahs, Ameristar, Isle of Capri, Riverside Casino, and Penn National Gaming have all made corporate contributions of $5000 or more to Gronstal’s group. Gary Kirke, who operates Wilde Rose Casinos, has made personal contributions to the Midwest Enterprise Group. Other highly regulated businesses have also made large contributions, including ethanol companies, hospitals, phone companies, payday loan businesses, and energy companies.

If Gronstal really believes that corporate contributions will destroy our form of government, why does he ask for them and use them to help further his political agenda? Gronstal isn’t the only Democrat soliciting corporate contributions either. Speaker Pat Murphy does the same thing. House Democrats funnel money through a 527 group called Responsibility and Integrity Now Fund.

For better or worse, Republican leaders in the House and Senate don’t have front groups that allow them to take corporate contributions. Current gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants used corporate funds in his 527 group called the Iowa Leadership Council, but he is no longer in a leadership position that would allow him to solicit corporate funds.

The Supreme Court’s decision now allows individual businesses the ability to engage politically in a direct manner rather than making them route their money through groups like Gronstal’s Midwest Enterprise Group or Murphy’s Responsibility and Integrity Now Fund. That’s a good thing for the people of the United States and of Iowa. If a business like Iowa Health Systems, which operates Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Iowa Lutheran Hospital, Blank Children’s Hospital, and Methodist West Hospital wants to get involved politically involved, they should do so openly.

If Iowa Health Systems, who gave Gronstal’s 527 group $50,000, wants to advocate for the election of particular Democrat state senate candidates they should do so. They also should face the consequences of their political involvement. Forcing corporations to funnel money to ambiguous groups not only lets them hide their political agenda, but protects them from any fallout their political activity could bring.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could also open the door for additional challenges to campaign finance laws. Now that the Court has granted corporations political free speech rights by allowing them to advocate for or against legislation or particular candidates, it is only a matter of time before a corporation will challenge the part of the law that says that they cannot contribute directly to candidates.