Iowa Public Television

 

Congressman Bruce Braley

posted on March 28, 2008

Glover: In the nations' capitol the 110th Congress continues its work. We get a progress report from Democratic Representative Bruce Braley of Waterloo 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 thinkindependently.com.

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, March 28th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Mike Glover.

Glover: The Iowa delegation of five in the House of Representatives has two freshman congressmen in it. In late January ... Congressman Dave Loebsack of Mount Vernon, from Iowa's second district, joined us for a congressional update. And today we're joined by Representative Bruce Braley of Waterloo, from Iowa's first district, here to review the work of the congressional session of 2008 and his own future. Recently Congressman Braley announced that he intends to run for a second term setting the stage for this November's general election. Representative Braley, welcome to Iowa Press. Good to have you at the table again.

Braley: Thanks, Mike.

Glover: Also with us at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, News Director with Radio Iowa and Jeneane Beck, statehouse reporter with Iowa Public Radio.

Beck: Congressman, when you ran in your primary two years ago one of the most controversial points was when you were at this set you said that you might consider cutting off funding for the troops to end the war in Iraq. You later recanted and said you weren't sure that was the best way to go. But five years into this war with a death toll of more than 4,000 do you think that might be the right thing to do?

Braley: Well, Jeneane, I think my record in the House of Representatives shows my unquestionable support for our troops in Iraq and our troops in Afghanistan. But the fundamental point that I brought up during that taping was that we needed a change of course in our policy in Iraq and that is why I have consistently voted against funding for this war that is not tied to a strict timeline for the withdrawal and redeployment of our troops. And recently we heard General Portrayas admit what many of us have been talking about ever since President Bush announced the surge of troops a year ago last January and that is that the political reality in Iraq has shown very little improvement since the surge was announced and the harsh reality is that there has been very little political progress made in that intervening time period.

Beck: Well, the democratic congress was in part elected to do something about Iraq. Have you done your job? Is it time to look at that? Pull troops out? Consider another troop surge? What needs to be done to cool violence in Basra and with the Shiites saying now they don't even want to be involved? What are you going to do about that?

Braley: Well, General Portrayas is going to be reporting to us in the beginning of April and I'll be very anxious to hear his latest progress report because the reality is we worked very hard in the 110th Congress. I voted five times to provide full funding for this war in Iraq as long as it was conditioned on redeployment of our troops with a fixed timeline for withdrawal. That was vetoed by the President. We worked very hard to override that veto but the harsh reality is we didn't have the votes to override. So, there's some practical limitations with the numbers in the House and the limitation as to how much we can do. But we are consistently bringing this topic up during oversight hearings, talking about the hidden costs of this war which are the enormous medical expenses we're going to be paying far into the future for 19-year-old men and women coming back with life threatening injuries. So, I think it's going to be an ongoing struggle but the harsh reality is until we get a new president who is committed to a firm change in policy it's going to be difficult for Congress to do that on its own.

Henderson: So, given the reality you suggest in that you don't yet have the votes to override presidential action in this regard let's say Bush decides to have another surge given the violence that is occurring in that country right now there's nothing Congress can do, correct?

Braley: I think there is a lot we can do. We can continue to bring the commanding generals in and ask them to explain to us how that type of an increase in troop involvement will make any difference when they've had over a year now to bring about the type of political reconciliation that the surge was intended to accomplish. And that's what is always lost in the military progress on the ground in Iraq over the last year. The whole basis for that surge was to allow political reconciliation to occur and the whole argument we made as democrats about the need for a change in direction was based up on the fact that the Iraqi government was not stepping up.

Henderson: You have been involved in a benefit issue for a group of Iowa and Minnesota National Guard soldiers who spent almost two years on active duty whereby their papers, their military papers were written in such a way that they were five days short of qualifying for full G.I. Bill benefits. You announced recently that had been resolved for the Iowa National Guard folks. Do you suspect that happened in other National Guard units?

Braley: I don't only suspect it, I know it as a result of the investigation I initiated. We met recently with representatives of the Department of Defense and the Army in order to find out what was going on outside of the Iowa and Minnesota National Guard and we learned that there were two additional state National Guards that had been impacted. One of them was in Nevada and the other state escapes me. But one of the concerns I expressed to them, okay thank you very much, we're very pleased that the Iowa National Guard has gotten this benefits problem resolved. What assurances can you provide to us that this isn't going to impact other people in the future? And so they have a very clear mandate from the committee and from me personally to continue to update that progress.

Henderson: What if they jimmied up the records intentionally? What can Congress do to give sort of a hand slap to the department?

Braley: Well, one of the things we can do is hold them accountable at the purse string. One of the things that we know is that the Department of Defense is a very large and sometimes monolithic entity and if you talk to my staff and many members of Congress one of the most frustrating things in dealing with the Department of Defense is negotiating the complicated maze of terminology and bureaucratic delay. And that is why I have been a persistent critic of some of the policies that they have implemented and have been persistent in holding them accountable and I'll continue to do that.

Glover: Congressman, let's bring things back a little bit closer to home if we could. And the fed has moved to bail out Bear Sterns because of this whole subprime credit crisis going on. There is now talk about bailing out the banking system, parts of which are in big trouble. At what point does Congress, the administration and the fed somebody step in and help homeowners, real people?

Braley: We have been talking a lot about that particularly in the finance committee and I have a number of good friends serving on the finance committee. They have been having ongoing hearings about that very crisis and we are waiting for the finance committee to come back to the House with recommendations. But I was very surprised when I was in Davenport earlier this year, Mike, and learned that Davenport is one of the top cities in the country in terms of defaults on subprime mortgages. And I was surprised by that and also surprised that Council Bluffs and Sioux City were also two of the top cities in Iowa who are suffering from that problem. It made me question whether there is some ripple effect from other states in Illinois and Nebraska in terms of lending practices that are causing that adverse effect. And so I'm very interested in getting to the bottom of that.

Beck: Are you also concerned about the government's role in having to bail out the banking system? And if that happens does there need to be greater oversight so that we don't find ourselves in this position again?

Braley: Yes and yes. I'm concerned about it because one of the things that we have not talked a lot about is this concept of corporate welfare and how far the government will go in bailing out people who have made deliberate lending practices that have resulted in very adverse outcomes for the people they have lended to. So, one of the things that I do on a daily basis in my role in the oversight and government reform committee is bring people in and hold them accountable for their conduct. And I'm sure that between our committee and the financial services committee there is going to be a lot of analysis of how far is too far.

Beck: As we look at the economy you sit on the transportation and infrastructure committee. Is there an opportunity to build our way out of this possible recession by sending money back to the states for road funding, for construction funding, things that might buoy jobs temporarily and try to help the country get out of this?

Braley: I think that there is almost universal agreement on the transportation committee across the aisle on the need to invest in infrastructure redevelopment as part of our way to deal with this recession. In fact, when we were talking about this economic stimulus package a lot of us were advocating for just what you're talking about, transferring that money into community development block grants and other projects that governors have lined up and ready to go as a way of creating jobs, infusing money at a local level that will have a multiplier effect and, in fact, when we had our democratic caucus retreat Governor Culver was out there on a panel of governors who made that very pitch and talked, each one of them, about the projects they had ready to go in their state. So, that is something I would be very much in favor of.

Henderson: You recently went to the U.S./Mexico border for an investigation. What did you find? And why did you go?

Braley: The reason I went is because the whole question of immigration and securing our borders has been a very significant concern ever since I ran for Congress. And there's a lot of hype and debate that goes on all the time, much of it very political in nature. I wanted to cut through that and see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears from the people out there on the front lines who are securing our borders, the customs agents and border patrol agents. And I have to tell you, Kay, it was one of the most fascinating experiences since I've been elected to Congress. We saw how personnel, technology and infrastructure investment is making a significant difference in dealing with securing our borders. And it's not just a question of stopping illegal entry even though that's very important. We also saw drugs being intercepted, counterfeit goods, $196 million worth of counterfeit goods, food safety issues and other issues like the Mexican trucking pilot program that I talked about in Congress. I had a chance to talk to the people how are involved in enforcement and see with my own eyes the problems they were encountering, some of the solutions they are implementing that are making a difference.

Henderson: You mentioned that that proposal which allows truckers to start driving a truck in Mexico and then drive on U.S. highways. What is your position on that? And where does that stand?

Braley: Well, when this came up in the transportation committee, again, in a very bipartisan spirit, a lot of us had significant concerns because even though the Mexican trucking companies were supposed to be held to the same standards as U.S. trucking companies the practical reality of enforcing that when there was no testimony from anyone of how you would compare driver qualification files and measure the safety of the occupant of that cab when it drove across the border was a huge concern. And the real sad thing is both the House and the Senate put up road blocks to the administration against the implementation of that program, both the House and Senate voted against it and the DOT under the President's direction immediately went ahead and implemented the program.

Henderson: Back to the border security, you mentioned personnel, equipment, oversight in regards to overflights. Do you think that is the better alternative than a concrete barrier so to speak?

Braley: Well, I saw all types of barriers. We saw the concrete fence erected in and around the port of Nogales. We saw the new tubular steel fencing that they are erecting. And yet, Kay, I also saw with my own eyes the tunnels under the existing border including open, gaping holes, we saw video of people climbing over the new twelve foot tall steel fencing. So, there is nothing you can do to completely stop people from crossing the border. And the border patrol agents I spoke to argue very much in favor of strategic urban fencing to channel people into these ports of entry before they disperse into an urban population. But many of the remote wilderness areas we went to they are more concerned about having the combination of technology, helicopters, remote sensing devices, infrared, radar and the ability to use visual technology to intercept those individuals and they are very effective.

Beck: What can we assume will be done on the issue of immigration if anything? The leading candidates have been sort of hesitant to talk about it in part because John McCain was criticized heavily by his own party when he suggested possibly compromises on immigration. Will anything happen in this Congress or once a new president is elected?

Braley: There is discussion in the House right now about moving forward on this issue. But there was also great frustration when the Senate failed completely to move ahead with comprehensive immigration reform. I don't think anyone questions the need for it. How you carry it out and how it's being politicized are the things that are preventing it from happening. But we get elected to take tough votes and I'm going to be pushing, based upon my experience, to come up with real solutions to the problems that I saw.

Beck: We're in the final months of the Bush administration. Are you concerned when you look at this recent report that there was an accidental shipment of nuclear equipment to Taiwan, when you see the response to Hurricane Katrina, that if something happens in these final months, a natural disaster, an attack they can handle it, that they have the confidence to handle it?

Braley: Well, Jeneane, this is part of an ongoing pattern of concerns I have had about the way this administration conducts its business. Through many oversight hearings where we've seen how corners have been cut, the law has not been followed, I have serious reservations about how policy has been conducted. There was a great Frontline piece on public television this week about the run-up to the war in Iraq and the corners that were cut there. I think this is just an ongoing problem Congress has to be acutely concerned about and that's why we conduct oversight hearings every week.

Glover: And you have to leave it to public television every time, Congressman. But let's go to an issue of yours that you have pushed in Congress. You have a plain language measure that you're pushing in Congress. Tell us a little bit about that.

Braley: Mike, I like to call this the little bill that could because it really has the potential to revolutionize the way the federal government communicates with its constituents. And this is something that I started experiencing in 1983 when I first started practicing law and the Iowa Supreme Court moved to plain language jury instructions. And what it did is it really focused on the audience you're trying to communicate with rather than how you want to write about things in a technical or legal fashion. So, when I got to Congress this became a pet project of mine and I have been amazed at the ground swell of support. It's passed out of subcommittee, it's passed out of the committee and it's on its way to the House floor. And the Senate committee that has oversight responsibility will be voting on this in early April. We had a hearing on this in my small business committee on technology and contracting and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox came and testified. And you would not assume that the SEC would be a committee that would be tailor made for plain language. But he talked about how it had revolutionized the way they communicate with investors and with people who are trying to determine what is going on in the investments they are making. So, I think that it has the potential to be enormously important and I'm very excited about the progress we've made.

Henderson: You are a super delegate.

Braley: No, I'm just Bruce Braley.

Henderson: When the democratic national convention convenes a group of super delegates will get to cast their votes for a particular presidential candidate. You supported John Edwards during the Iowa caucuses. Do you intend to remain a John Edwards backer until the very end?

Braley: No because John Edwards is not going to be one of the two candidates we're choosing from at the convention in Denver and I've had conversations with Senator Edwards since the Iowa caucuses. He has met with both of the candidates and he has kept his own council on who, if anyone, he is planning to endorse. But this has been an exciting year for democrats because in state after state we've seen record turnouts of democrats participating in the caucus and primary process. So, what I'm doing is continuing to assess the situation. We recently had our county conventions in Iowa and I looked very closely at what happened in my district. That is one of the significant factors I'm looking at. But I'm also looking at a lot of different things. I'm looking at which candidate I think is going to be the best candidate on the top of the ticket across the country to allow us to expand our majority in the House of Representatives and I'm working very hard as one of the co-chairs of the Red to Blue program to do that but I'm also looking at who I think is going to be the best candidate for the people I represent in the first district.

Glover: If you look at your district Senator Obama carried your district fairly handily. Does that mean you're leaning his way?

Braley: Well, it's interesting, Mike, because he did on caucus night with about 40% of the votes but there were about 60% of the votes that went to other candidates. One of the reasons I wanted to see what happened at the county conventions is there was even further movement as you know. So, as I said, that's a significant factor to me. It's not the determinative factor but it's one that I am going to use in making my decision.

Beck: Because your own House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that super delegates should follow the will of the pledged delegates, not necessarily the will of their own heart. Do you agree with that?

Braley: I have tremendous respect for Nancy Pelosi but I think the way the process is set up it's clear that we weren't elected by people from our district to make that choice. That's the whole purpose of having a different category of delegate. And that brings up another point, Jeneane, I know when we met Senator Harkin, Congressman Loebsack, Congressman Boswell, we talked about this whole role of the super delegate and I would not be surprised at all that we revisit that in Denver and try to decide whether that is something that makes sense going forward because we all felt uncomfortable with the unique role that it is playing in this election.

Henderson: Speaking of Speaker Pelosi she received a letter this past week from a group of Clinton backers who chided her for what she said in regards to these super delegates and suggested that the well of money they have been donating to democrats such as yourself seeking seats in Congress might dry up. What is your reaction to Clinton backers telling you what to do?

Braley: Well, I have a lot of people who support Senator Clinton and a lot of people who support Senator Obama who talk to me on a daily basis about why I should endorse their candidate. I'm very disturbed, however, when people you suspect are of money as a leverage device to try to influence how you might choose to support a candidate. I think that has no place in politics and I would very much oppose that and speak out against it. Speaker Pelosi is a very gifted and talented woman. She is more than capable of defending herself against any type of attack from any candidate and I just want to make sure that this process remains true to its purpose which is to allow a democratic with a small 'd' nominating process so that when we come out of that convention in Denver we're unified behind our candidate and we pick up this seat in the White House.

Beck: It's become so contentious there has been talk of having a super delegate convention as early as June so that you can get this settled so that the race stops and you stop having this kind of contentious fight. Are you at all concerned that Clinton backers won't support Obama or vice versa and that you'll end up with a McCain presidency because of that?

Braley: Well, it's like I mentioned earlier, Jeneane. I think this has been an enormously successful year for democrats across the country. We have more energized voters than we ever did. We've seen a huge increase in the number of registered democrats in the state of Iowa. My concern is you get to a tipping point where all of that positive good will starts to decline. But listen, I went through a very contentious primary election myself and I worked very hard after I won my primary to build relationships with people who supported my opponent and with my opponents and I consider them my friends and people who have been very helpful to me. I think that's what is going to happen after Denver.

Henderson: But in your primary, you had a primary in June, and you had all those months to November to stitch things back together. If you go to the convention you don't have very many months to stitch things together if this is a raucous convention and it's a food fight between Clinton and Obama. Should this be decided in June or should it be decided at the convention?

Braley: Well, I think that the reason you have a convention, even though this has rarely been true in modern times, Kay, is to nominate your candidate. My preference is we let the system play out and we go to Denver if it hasn't been resolved and it's taken care of there. But the other thing people aren't talking about is what's happening on the other side of the coin because the republicans have their convention even later than the democrats and what are you going to see there. You're going to see a video tribute to a president who is enormously popular being on the stage with the current candidate who has appeared in public and had his arm around the existing president. That is a concern I would have if I was a republican serving in Congress about that lasting image and how it's going to affect the election.

Glover: Congressman, all politics is local as you very well know. As you mentioned the last time around you had a contentious primary and a pretty hot general election. You don't have a primary this time and you are far better known and better positioned than your republican opponent, a member of the state Senate. Are you safe? Why can't the republicans seem to find somebody against a freshman congressman? It seems like this election is one where they're going to get you if they're going to get you.

Braley: Mike, I have 62% of the voters in my district who are not registered democrats. That is never going to be a safe seat. This is not something that you get an automatic entitlement to. You have to earn the trust of the voters every election and that is why I'll be working very hard between now and November 4th to talk about my record of achievement, to talk about my vision going forward and to share with the voters who gave me the privilege of representing them in Congress a good reason to compare and contrast my vision for the future with my opponent's.

Henderson: Mike mentioned a while ago that your colleague, Congressman Loebsack, was a guest on this program in January. When he was we asked him if he was supporting Leonard Boswell or if he was supporting Ed Fallon in a primary battle in this congressional district. Who are you supporting?

Braley: I am supporting Leonard Boswell. Leonard Boswell was an enormous friend to me when I was running for Congress. I've had an opportunity to work with him, to take the measure of the man, to see what type of values he brings to the floor of the House every day and I was supporting Leonard before I even knew he had a primary and because of that I'm going to continue to support him.

Glover: Why do you think he got a primary?

Braley: I think it's because of what happened in 2006. People who became dissatisfied with the way certain members of Congress voted on certain issues found that they could nominate a candidate to ...

Glover: You mean the war?

Braley: Well, the war was a big factor in 2006. I think if you talk to grassroots voters, Mike, a lot of them have concerns about issues other than the war. But I think if you look at Congressman Boswell's voting record in the 110th Congress it's been remarkably similar to my record and Dave Loebsack's record.

Glover: So, he's got the message?

Braley: I have no idea what has motivated him. I think he's more than capable.

Henderson: You mentioned your work on something called a Red to Blue state ... Iowa is a purple state though.

Braley: Iowa is a purple state until November 4th of 2008 but I would argue after the election in 2006 Iowa is a blue state.

Glover: And is Iowa going to be a blue state in the fall for the democratic nominee whether it's Obama or Clinton?

Braley: Yes.

Glover: Tell me why.

Braley: If you saw what happened on caucus night, you see what is happening around the country. There has been an enormous infusion of new blood into the party. I saw it at my precinct caucus in Waterloo. I saw a number of people that I knew were independent voters and republicans who came to a democratic caucus for the first time in their lives and there was a reason why they were doing it.

Glover: So, the conventional wisdom that this is going to be a democratic year is right in your mind?

Braley: I think it is, yes.

Henderson: You are talking about a convention that may be a little raucous and there may be some hard feelings. Do you anticipate that if Clinton is the nominee Obama supporters will support her and vice versa?

Braley: Yes I do.

Henderson: Why?

Braley: What are their options? To support a president or support a candidate who believes we should be in Iraq for 100 years potentially? To support a candidate who doesn't believe in the core values of the Democratic Party? I don't think that's where they're going to go. I think what they're going to do is find a reason to believe in candidates who if you look at their positions on the issues are remarkably similar in many ways. What it boils down to is a lot of nuance that is taking place right now in order to gain a political advantage.

Glover: And those polls that show those people staying home don't mean much to you?

Braley: Well, I think that a lot is going to happen between now and November 4th.

Glover: Congressman Braley, I'm afraid we're out of time. We're going to have to draw a halt to it here. But thank you for being with us on Iowa Press.

Braley: Thank you.

Glover: And that's it for this week's edition of Iowa Press. Dean Borg returns next weekend at our regular Iowa Press airtimes, Friday at 7:30pm and Sunday morning at 11:30. I hope you'll be joining us. I'm Mike Glover of the Associated Press. And thanks for joining us here on statewide Iowa Public Television.

Archive editions of Iowa Press can be accessed on the World Wide Web. Audio and video streaming is available as are transcript at www.iptv.org.

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 thinkindependently.com.


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