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Congressman Leonard Boswell

posted on February 29, 2008

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Borg: Primary hurdle. Iowa's Third District Congressman Leonard Boswell wants a seventh term. But fellow Democrat Ed Fallon wants Boswell's seat in Congress. We're questioning Congressman Boswell on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

On statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, February 29th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Big issues confronting the 110th U.S. Congress are sharing attention with another set of challenges. All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election this year and that includes our guest today, Third District Congressman Leonard Boswell. Along with decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan, stabilizing a wobbly economy and trade issues, Congressman Boswell is thinking about fellow Democrat Ed Fallon who says Mr. Boswell should call it quits instead of seeking a seventh term. Welcome back to Iowa Press Congressman Boswell.

Boswell: Thank you, Dean, it's good to be here.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson and Lee Newspapers' Capitol Bureau Chief Charlotte Eby.

Eby: Congressman, your primary opponent, Ed Fallon, has said you don't have a right to your seat, you have to earn it. What can you point to in your last term that shows you have earned the right to re-gain that seat or keep that seat?

Boswell: Well, thank you for that question, that's a very good question, Charlotte. I think that I should be retained there for a number of reasons. We're in a perilous time in this world we live in and I bring things to the table because I've been out there and been around the world, if you will, and very much involved. I am very concerned about the future for our children, education a big issue of mine and I've always been on it and I'll stay on it. We have increased the opportunities for education, the Pell grant has gone up, we've done a number of things to help education since we just took over the 110th Congress. The 110th Congress, the House of Representatives have done a number of things. We've passed the minimum wage, I was very much involved in that. We have passed an energy bill, very much involved in that. We passed a water resources bill. We passed a 9-11 commission recommendation which makes us a lot more safer. We've done a number of things, there's a couple of them there that we've been very, very active and there's lots more to do. We've got to pick up a few years where a lot of things have not gone too well.

Eby: As Democrats make the decision of whom they will nominate is there anything that you can point to that disqualifies Ed Fallon?

Boswell: Well, I don't think that Ed is too genuine in some of the things he says. You know, he has supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, a lot of us feel we would have had Gore for a president if that hadn't have happened and a lot of these things we're dealing with now whether it's the economy, the war or something, it's very possible it wouldn't have happened. So, he supported him and made a number of comments about we should go that way which I certainly disagree with and I think most Iowans feel the same way.

Henderson: What other instances do you believe that Mr. Fallon has been not so genuine with Iowans?

Boswell: Well, he's talked about that I support the war. Well, it was presented by the Commander in Chief of the United States of America that there was weapons of mass destruction that would be used against Americans and I was misrepresented on that as were a number of others, as you know, in both the House and the Senate. And it should not have happened but we listened to the Chief Executive who had more information than anybody else and that should not have happened. A number of times I have voted for us to bring our troops out of there and, of course, he says I don't but I do.

Borg: I'm going to ask, we'll get back to Kay here in just a second, but would you say that -- you seem to imply by the Ralph Nader inference here that Mr. Fallon is not a mainstream Democrat?

Boswell: Well, I think well said, Dean. I think that's correct. He did that in 2000 as an indication to me that he's not so and a lot of others feel the same way.

Henderson: You took a term limit pledge. By the end of this year you will have served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Why wasn't that term limit adhered to?

Boswell: Well, we discussed that before, Kay, right here, in fact, a couple of elections back. And my grandfather told me one time a thinking person can change their mind with new information. The information I got there, you know, the place with lots to be done, didn't get done what I'd like to get done in the period of time and seniority prevails quite a bit there and that is important to Iowa to get things done that we need to have done as we represent our constituents, our state, our district and so like many others I said well that was an error so I'm not going to do that. And I think it's helped our state quite a bit with me not doing it.

Henderson: Well, speaking of seniority, Senators Harkin and Grassley, they have been the leaders, chairmen of committees in the Senate. Jim Nussle had been in the U.S. House for less time than you and he was already the chairman of the budget committee. Why aren't you, if you have all this seniority, the chairman of a committee?

Boswell: Well, I am the chairman of a committee. I'm chair of the Livestock/Poultry committee ...

Henderson: A subcommittee, not a committee.

Boswell: That's true and, again, it's seniority. So, the chairman of the committee is Mr. Peterson from Minnesota and he went to Congress before me. So, he's chairman and I'm down the line. But I do have a subcommittee and a very important subcommittee for Iowa I might add.

Henderson: You are 74, correct?

Boswell: I am.

Henderson: Will this be your last term if you win?

Boswell: I would not say that at all. I'm feeling good, I've got a lot of fight left in me and am concerned for my children and my grandchildren and I am never more prepared for this situation than I am right now.

Borg: As you say that voters are going to recall -- and I just want to clear it up -- they are going to recall that during recent years you have had some very serious health challenges. Is all that resolved?

Boswell: It is. I'm doing really good. I had a very serious health challenge a couple of years ago, as you know, and after a long surgery and recovery I'm back, I'm skiing, I'm flying airplanes, I'm putting in fifteen, sixteen hour days like I did yesterday and I've got a lot of fight left in me to carry on things that I think are very, very important to the welfare of not only our district, our state, our country but I'm thinking about my grandkids.

Eby: Congressman, some have suggested that you are doing your party a disservice by not stepping aside before re-districting re-draws the map here in Iowa. What do you say to them?

Boswell: Well, nobody talks to me about that, nobody. Nobody brings it up at all so I don't think it's an issue. I'm doing a good job. I'm healthy, I feel good. There is a host of members of Congress that are older than I so it's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned.

Henderson: This is a year in which at the presidential level you have a candidate in Hillary Clinton who is the experienced, sort of mainstream candidate who is in some instances getting shellacked by the newcomer, the younger candidate. Why won't we see that happen in your race, an elder statesman as yourself running against this newcomer, Ed Fallon?

Boswell: Well, I think we just look at our records. You look at his record, look at mine and there is quite a contrast, a big contrast. Go up to the state legislature, Kay, you know a lot of people up there, and see what they have to tell you about working with Mr. Fallon or not working with him I might say. And his reputation up there is speakers talk to me, the majority leader of both houses, the caucuses and so someone that they never got any support out of and if there was one red light on the board it would likely be his and the different things that he didn't support. He thought ethanol was a myth. In Iowa ethanol is a myth? Come on, give me a break. And things like that, didn't support it and non-supportive tax incentives for reservist, for guards coming back, things that he's voted on. His record, I've learned a lot I didn't know about him because of this very situation.

Borg: I have a couple of questions about this fall's general election. If you are the Democratic nominee for this congressional district you've already endorsed Hillary Clinton to be at the top of the ticket. Can you run just as well and will he carry the coattails just as well as you think Hillary Clinton would down the ticket?

Boswell: Well, I don't know, he was supporting Edwards and he's no longer in the race and I guess he's made a shift, I understand he has so I don't know if coattails really makes that much difference.

Borg: But what about your own self?

Boswell: My own self? Well, I think that Hillary Clinton is qualified and a very capable, good person but the main thing is I'm a Democrat and I'll support whoever gets the nomination.

Borg: Well, but then at the convention you are a super delegate. Still going to cast that ballot for Hillary Clinton?

Boswell: Well, will she be there? We don't know yet so we'll maybe ask this question a couple of weeks down the road, we'll know better. But I think it's hypothetical at this point ...

Borg: If it were just today?

Boswell: Well, that's my opinion, Dean, come on, it's my opinion that it's not resolved to that point yet. So, it will be in due time and then we'll deal with it. But I would guess we'll go into the August, we'll have a candidate and taht won't be an issue.

Borg: But what I hear you saying then as you don't give a direct answer to that is that you may not, that is, you may be waivering in your support of Hillary Clinton?

Boswell: No, I support Hillary Clinton and I feel that if it comes to that, if she's not the nominee she will have conversation and we'll see what happens at that point. But it's all hypothetical, we're not there.

Borg: In other words, you could as a super delegate feel just fine casting your ballot for Barack Obama?

Boswell: Well, I may do that, yeah, we may do that. If he's the nominee when we get there I think you'll find all of us will.

Eby: Congressman, let's get back to your voting record. Some have labeled you a Bush Democrat and they say your votes in favor of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and the bankruptcy reform, what do you say to those folks?

Boswell: I think that's pretty silly. It wasn't too many months ago that Air Force One came here, brought President Bush here to campaign against me and did that and was very adamant about doing that and so to say that is kind of silly talk to me. So many things that I support he doesn't. SCHIP, health care for children, I supported it, he vetoed it. The water resource bill, I supported, he vetoed. Just up and down the lines with many, many things and I would guess that you'd find if you took the time to do it you could check the Washington Post, they had an article on it, that my unity with supporting the party and this situation is much like many of the Democrats that you would never even think of saying such a thing. So, I think it's silly talk.

Henderson: You were one of a few Democrats who voted against a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq a few months back. Why did you do that?

Boswell: Well, that was a number of months back, that's last year. Five times I voted for it because the way it's structured. Immediate withdrawal with out preparation and leading into it because of my background, where I've been and what I know about tactics and so on would be a lot of losses of life and we need to have a plan. And so when a plan is offered I have supported that a number of times. And I would say both of our presidential candidates are saying the same thing, a plan to start bringing our troops out of there I would support that and I have.

Henderson: Back to the original vote to go to war, which you say you were misled in regards to intelligence. Hillary Clinton has continued to say she was misled, if she knew now what she knew then she wouldn't have voted for it. John Edwards has apologized and said, I made a mistake. Where are you in that continuum?

Boswell: I've said a mistake as well because if I knew what I know now I wouldn't have voted for it. But I didn't know what I know now. Listen, Kay, I've been to war, I know something about it. I've also been trained years back. I have had to sit and assemble a mass destruction and I've been trained to do it, I know a lot about it. And it is very sobering and so when my president looks me right in the face and says that there is a threat of mass destruction weapons -- I said to him in return if you have hard intelligence on that then you've got to do something and he nodded they had hard intelligence. That's a serious matter so are you saying to me, are any of you saying to me that in those conditions Mr. Fallon would say no? I don't think so. I don't think so.

Henderson: What about the Patriot Act? Do you regret voting for the Patriot Act?

Boswell: Patriot Act came about after 9-11 and a number of us, you know, the Senate, the House, everywhere was a pretty strong vote, very concerned about being safe for Americans and so we went back and revisited to upgrade it, to make sure that if there was an intentional civil liberties problem there we could try to correct that. But if that was a mistake there was a lot of people that made a mistake, 97 in the Senate, almost 400 in the House. So, a lot of concern about that. So, I think I have shown time and time again that I'm very supportive of the Constitution, I always will be. And, of course, if you want to talk to people and verify I can arrange that for you. It's not a question about Leonard Boswell supporting the Constitution. But I want to be sure the Americans are safe and so under pressure you try to learn hard to not violate that, I don't think we have but at the same time you've got to be sure that something disastrous doesn't happen to one of our cities, communities. I wouldn't want it to happen and neither would you.

Henderson: Back to Charlotte's discussion about the label of Bush Democrat, one of the reasons folks in your party have put that label on you is because of your vote for the Bankruptcy Reform Act. Was that a wise move, that Bankruptcy Reform Act?

Boswell: Well, again Kay, you know something about where we come from and the farm crisis and so on and I think if people sign a promissory note they're going to pay, sign your name you're going to pay and you have the ability to pay you should. I don't think it should be a financial management tool. So, I feel we have to be very careful with that and pursue that carefully. But I think we ought to be putting more time on how we can help people prepare so they don't get caught in that situation. I was one of the fortunate ones that was able to go to my banker in those very trying times and got restructured because I had time to counsel and work through it and we ought to be providing for that. And I work hard to do that with FHA, Fannie Mae and these different institutions to give a chance for people to go in and talk to their lender. The lenders welcome that as well and that is what we ought to be doing.

Eby: When we look at the way you are financing your campaign and Ed Fallon is financing his we see PACS that have contributed to you and a candidate, Ed Fallon, has seen a lot of donations from individuals. Are you that corporate Democrat in this race as some would like to label you?

Boswell: No, I'm not. I tell you what, again, going back to when I started doing something I never intended to do, you know, would you want to deny nurses from contributing to their associations so they could have a little bit of a say? Would you want to deny teachers? Would you want to deny farmers? Would you want to deny anybody, labor workers, who want to do something like that? And so if it's legal and it gives them a chance to have a voice by participating in a small amount as an individual I think it's alright. They do it legally and that's the way I look at it.

Borg: How do you reconcile, though, and speak to voters especially in this election when Barack Obama, particularly, is campaigning against the influence of lobbyists and PACS and things like that? How do you present yourself to voters who ask that question?

Boswell: I just did. If the nurses, the teachers, the different groups that we just mentioned, you know, the farmers and realtors, if they want to put a portion of their resource together to do that I think that is their right, this is America.

Borg: Those are appealing groups. Let's say that there are others.

Boswell: Who do you have in mind?

Borg: Drug companies, I'm not saying that they have unions, you might name others, but you're talking about very specific demographic groups that are appealing, nurses, farmers and so on.

Boswell: They're real people.

Borg: Yes, but you also get my point.

Boswell: That's who I represent.

Borg: But in an election when the other candidate at the top of the ticket, who may be at the top of the ticket is saying just the opposite how does Leonard Boswell reconcile that?

Boswell: Well, I think I've just answered you, Dean, and I feel that if we do what we've done to allow these people that I've talked about to put what resource they want in together to represent their needs and so on, to work together, that's okay. Now, if you want to get that answer from Senator Obama you have to ask him.

Henderson: One of the issues that your opponent has brought up is your environmental record and your support of the coal industry and in particular a vote a few years ago you took against raising the fuel efficiency standards for American made automobiles and vehicles. What is your environmental record in regards to those two issues?

Boswell: That's really good, that's real good. We just recently raised the fuel efficiency standard as you well know.

Henderson: That's a year ago.

Boswell: If you don't want to put people out of work, you want to create problems that's bigger than the problem you've got, you've got to go a step at a time and move along and you've got to apply the science to it. We've been doing that. Science brought us ethanol. Science brought us biodiesel. Science is bringing us cellulosic. Science is bringing us switch grass use. Science has brought us the wind turbines and so on. And I feel that we can apply science to the coal and situations and clean it up. If we can then we shouldn't use it. But if we can we have vast resources right here in the state of Iowa and we ought to at least ask science to see what they can come up with, see what they can do and I say we go to all alternatives, not just some.

Borg: I want to go back to the 2006 election in which your margin of victory in a Democratic sweep election wasn't as great as some of the other Democratic candidates. You had stiff opposition in Jeff Lamberti, of course. Are you going to take this campaign differently?

Boswell: Well, go ahead and tell the rest of the story, Dean. I also had a Swift Co. guy out of Texas that put an extra million dollars in here, the same person that went against Kerry and so that was a very unusual situation and he put up five million dollars against five people and I was one of those that got one of the million dollars put against me. And it didn't work but it made life pretty miserable by doing that, a lot of misrepresentation and so on just like you did with Kerry. I got Swift voted but it didn't work and that had a lot of impact.

Borg: You intend to cater this campaign any differently either in the primary or if you win that in the general election?

Boswell: What do you mean?

Borg: Well, differently from 2006?

Boswell: Well, I think each campaign has a different personality, people talk about change and I can say if you vote seriously, carefully look at what we've done in the House of Representatives. We have responded to that, strong leadership, we work on our leadership and we've done the things I've named, you know, minimum wage, energy, 9-11 commission, just a number of things we've done, Pell grant up, tuition less cost for kids in the interest rate on their loans and so on, a number of things that we've been able to do. We've got a different set of rules in the Senate so it's gone slower there and then we've got a President that has found his veto pen and so he's using it. So, it looks like not much is happening but actually quite a bit is happening but a lot has been happening in the House because we have responded well.

Eby: Congressman, in the Democratic primary your positions on trade come into focus. Can you tell us why you voted for the Peru re-trade agreement?

Boswell: Peru trade agreement was a good agreement. Our speaker went and talked to the White House about it, Chairman Wangle, Sandy Levins from Michigan, work on environmental labor issues and it's a new deal. And labor agreed with it, it's just a new deal and it's an opportunity for us to open markets and they raise their standards of what we'd like to see happen and it's a good trade.

Henderson: Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of a freeze on trade agreements and for a full scale review, particularly in regards to NAFTA. Do you agree that NAFTA should perhaps be reviewed and maybe talked out?

Boswell: There's no reason not to. I think to go back and review if the trade deal is not working why not go back and review it? And so I have no quarrel with that whatsoever.

Henderson: Do you think NAFTA is working?

Boswell: Not too well, not too well at all and I see what happened to some of our communities right here in Iowa. You know, what happened over at Newton, we worked our heart out trying to stop that from happening but it happened and many other examples. And so I think it's okay to review it, nothing wrong with that. Why would we say no?

Eby: Do you think it should be repealed?

Boswell: We ought to review it and if it needs to be repealed, repeal it. I don't think it's working very well.

Borg: What do you think about the state of the nation's economy right now, the weakening dollar, what some are calling stagflation, that is inflation, particularly the cost of oil driving many goods and prices up against also the weakening dollar and declining interest rates, stagflation? What can Congress do or should be done?

Boswell: You look at the cost, for example, of the Iraq war, that money going there that could be doing things for economy, education, research and all these things is even a factor as well, a other reason why I would like to see us withdrawn from there in an orderly manner and I hope that it will happen. But, you know, we're in a very challenging time and I think that Congress rightfully so ought to be doing things like the stimulus package which I support. I don't think it was perfect but it was something we ought to do.

Borg: Should more have been done?

Boswell: Well, I think more very likely will be done.

Borg: What?

Boswell: Well, I think you might see more done for unemployment. You might see more done for food stamps and I think there's opportunities to do some things I'd like to see done in the infrastructure area. If we can put some stimulus into infrastructure, roads and bridges right now that would be very good paying jobs and they're not exportable, they're jobs that would be right here in our own economy and they tell me that every dollar spent on the street is going to turn at least three times, sometimes seven times and so if we could have those infrastructure jobs which I would be very involved, I have been and will continue to do so. And I think I'll have a big role to play as I have in the past and I will have in the days ahead.

Henderson: What should be the federal response in regards to the home mortgage crisis?

Boswell: Well, in fact, we've taken some response, we've talked very closely with the chairman of the finance committee, Mr. Frank and a lot of things are happening, taking a close look at it to see if we can't do some things to assist. And I think you're seeing some of that happen.

Eby: Do you think these tax rebates that Congress voted for are a good way to stimulate the economy?

Boswell: The tax rebates, in what sense are you talking about, Charlotte?

Eby: The ones that were recently passed in Congress, do you think these are a good way to stimulate the economy?

Boswell: Yes, I think it will because the people are going to receive -- the idea is to be temporary, that they'll spend it and be quick to fuse it back into the economy. But, yes, we voted for it so we think it will help.

Borg: Thank you, Congressman Boswell, for taking time to be with us today.

Boswell: It's too short, I'm just getting warmed up.

Borg: I noticed that. In fact, we'll have you back soon.

Boswell: Well, I hope so. Thanks so very much.

Borg: Thanks so much. Well, that's it for this week's edition of Iowa Press. Because of special Festival programming next weekend Iowa Press airs on Friday only and that will be only at 6:30 Friday night. Note taht time change and I hope you'll watch Iowa Press at that time and then settle in for outstanding programs and guests during our 2008 Friends Festival. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

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