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Drawing a Bright Line: Rep. Steve King (R)

posted on April 24, 2009

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Borg: Drawing a bright line. Iowa Fifth District Congressman Steve King isn't shy about his generally conservative political views. We'll explore those perspectives in a conversation with Congressman King on this edition of Iowa Press.


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On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, April 24th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.


Borg: There's no denying that the political spotlight is on the democrats in these early months of the Obama administration and the democratic majorities in Congress but that doesn't mean conservative views aren't being voiced and in some cases prominently voiced. Among those most prominent in those conservative voices is Iowa's Fifth District Congressman Steve King. And the role isn't new for him. He was getting the same attention when republicans held the White House and congressional majorities and when he served in the Iowa legislature. Backed by the heavily republican western Iowa fifth district, Steve King is now in the early months of a fourth term in the House of Representatives. Welcome back to Iowa Press.

King: Thanks a lot, Dean, I appreciate being here again.

Borg: Nice to have you. Across the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and James Lynch, Political Writer for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids.

Glover: Congressman, let's start with the edge of the news if we could, probably the biggest news event of the past several years happened in this state this month, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. I think I know where you are on that issue. What can conservatives like you do about that ruling?

King: Well, we look at the ruling and I think it's an outrageous decision, it is judge-made law and I have read through that case thoroughly, it has set a precedent, I think that case turned on something that was a large misconception when they argue that the same sex couples are similarly situated with opposite sex couples, they are not and the whole case rule is from that but the people in this state are going to have to rise up and amend the constitution if they are to preserve marriage between a man and a woman, the legislature is still seated as we speak and they have a few alternatives, not many, and the clock is ticking down by the hour. So, the bottom line it's a constitutional amendment and I believe that this legislature might be able to yet in these waning hours pass a residency requirement which would shut off 95% of the same sex marriages that will take place in this state. And we already see that there is a tour that's lined up to come in from Missouri, those folks would go back home to a state that has an amendment that prohibits same sex marriage and the litigation would start there and many other states.

Glover: And as Dean mentioned you are considered a leader of the conservative movement in this state, what is your role in whatever happens after this decision? What do you plan to do? And how does it affect your plans?

King: I'll continue to work on this issue. I brought the pro-family groups together right after this decision, which was August 30, 2007 by the district court judge Robert B. Hanson, pulled them together and we started an effort, that effort wasn't big enough or broad enough or strong enough to get us to the point where we need to be today. I'll continue to do that, I'll bring national leaders in and I have been engaged in that over the last three weeks bringing a national voice to this. We've got to build a coalition that is in it for the long haul. And, by the way, the people in this state and across the country that think that they should turn their efforts against someone within the pro-family group need to understand that drains energy away, we've got to come together like a family if we're going to defend the families in the state and really line up against the efforts that have been undermining families ...

Glover: Are you saying there are divisions with some of the conservative movement on this issue?

King: There are always divisions in politics and it just happens that way and there are divisions within the democratic caucus, in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate and there are separations that exist between the statehouse and the state senate among republicans as well. This is so important we've got to put aside anything that might look like a difference, pool our resources and work together like a team.

Lynch: Congressman, you've been going around the state talking about running for governor. How does this affect those plans? Will this be the issue that gets you into the race? You're polling in eastern Iowa on this issue. Is this the deciding factor?

King: Honestly I've never brought the subject up about running for governor but I have answered a lot of questions. And I answered a question that I believe it was April 3rd, the day that this Supreme Court decision came out and the question was directly does this make it more likely that you run for governor? The answer is just an analytical answer, yes by degree. But the question then becomes how much of a degree? And I will just say that which has unfolded in the last three weeks makes me neither more nor less likely to run for governor. I want to see this legislature get to adjournment and then assess all of the things we need to do but policy is more important than anything that I might want to do personally and, in fact, I've long ago been satisfied with my personal ambitions.

Lynch: What are you doing though to make the decision? Are you raising money? Are you talking to people about whether or not they're looking for you to be the candidate? Are you doing more polling?

King: We haven't done any polling in the state, I do have some messages from other polling out there about name ID that actually informs us a little bit. I have been active for the last four or more years raising money across the state to have a broader footprint and I'm finding that there are a lot of people in eastern Iowa that are paying attention to what actually is going on out in the fifth district of Iowa but I don't go to bed at night thinking about it nor getting up in the morning thinking about it. I have a lot of work ahead of me, I enjoy it all and appreciate the challenges that I've had the privilege to meet as an elected member of congress and as an Iowa senator in the past.

Borg: What is the purpose then for you, the telephone calls that are being made in the second congressional district mentioning your name and it is a poll?

King: Well, I'm wanting to mobilize Iowans, I'm wanting to work with the national organization for marriage and other pro-family group that will bring this together. Part of it is bringing resources together, part is mobilizing people and my voice is a voice that is recognized across the state as a pro-family conservative leader and so that's just part of teamwork that is going on across the state. I couldn't hardly confine that just to the fifth district, most of them know what I think out there and you mentioned earlier a strong republican district, I think that actually it is about an average republican district as far as congressional districts in America are concerned.

Borg: Senator Grassley is going to be running for re-election here now on the same ballot, the same election as Governor Culver. How much of an advantage does that give republicans in having Grassley at the top of the republican ticket?

King: Well, I'd have to think it helps. Senator Grassley is the most popular politician in the history of the state of Iowa by the measure I would have which is memory and what little history I've read about the previous people and republicans broadly support Chuck Grassley, he doesn't have very many enemies in the political world, he has support across the aisle so I would think that leading the ticket would be helpful for a republican that might be nominee for governor.

Borg: Have you been satisfied with Senator Grassley and the way that he has reacted to the same sex marriage decision in Iowa?

King: I think that Senator Grassley answered the first questions from the status of he'd like to take a look and understand the alternatives that are there before he'd speak too directly on it. I don't have any doubt about where Senator Grassley stands on marriage or where his faith is or where his convictions are. Iowans shouldn't either. Often we're being parsed for a phrase that comes out of our mouths as if that is the one thing that reflects our philosophy, that's incorrect. I put a lot of words into the congressional record and I think people should read it, Chuck Grassley puts a lot of words into the congressional record, he has a broad understanding and he's a good supporter of families.

Glover: I'd like you to step back and take a look at the Republican Party in this state. There are those who suggest the Republican Party in this state faces some challenges. Democrats have about 111,000 more registered voters than you do, they have even succeeded until this quarter with raising more money than you, they have both chambers of the legislature and they have the governor's office. What is your take on the health of the Republican Party in this state?

King: A year and a half or two years ago it was pretty weak and I think it showed up in the elections last fall but it's not something that is unique to Iowa, across the country you'll see a lot of these same trends. What I'm seeing is that, for example, when the republicans stood together and voted against the stimulus bill, 178-0, that was a rejection of President Obama's economic policy that was universal in our conference, that put a spring in the step of congressional republicans and I think that there is an extra spring in the step of republicans in this state too. They are starting to see what happens if you elect a President Obama and you take a lurch to the left on many things, they're starting to see what happens when you have democratic majorities in the Iowa House and Senate and a democratic governor who said one thing and then takes an opposite position on marriage just a little over a year later. That is mobilizing -- I'm having young people come to me saying I really wanted to raise my family first, now I'm ready to engage in public service and public policy. You'll see a lot more energy out of republicans into the 2010 election than we saw in 2008.

Glover: What is your role in whatever needs to be done to make the Republican Party healthier? What do you plan to do?

King: I look to the chairman, Matt Strawn, and I think we have an outstanding chairman of the Republican Party. His work in coordination with the elected leaders in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate, that bring Kraig Paulsen and Paul McKinley, they're both doing a great job there. They have really slowed down a lot of the democratic juggernaut that might have steamrolled over this state and I am working with them, I'm working with candidates for the state house and the state senate and also working to recruit candidates to run in the congressional seats so that we get a bigger and better team out into the field. I will say this, I anticipate that we will pick up seats in November of 2010 and I think any political analysis will agree with that. The question is will it be enough to win a majority?

Glover: That is in the state legislature? In Congress?

King: It's in the state and in Congress. I will say in the statehouse I anticipate we will pick up seats, I think we'll pick up seats in the state senate and we'll pick up seats in the United States House of Representatives and I expect that will also happen in the Senate. I'll make that prediction here and come back and challenge me if I'm wrong but that will be the historical trend and we have the energy now to pick this thing up and bring the right candidates forward and follow through.

Borg: Is that based on what has already happened or what you anticipate is going to happen between now and November 2010?

King: Dean, a lot of it is what has already happened, it's the candidates that come to me, it's the candidates that I meet that are flowing through our conference, that come out to Washington to get to know us, it's the people on the ground here in the state that are presenting themselves as candidates, there is a lot of interest. The conservative movement is not going to take a pass on this, they don't want to check out of this contest and I'd say this to them, that people get the government that they earn, it's hard work, we're going to have to raise money, we've got to have good candidates but we'll have the government that we earn, republicans haven't earned it well enough in the last few elections but we need to do that in 2010.

Glover: Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell, which one of those do you get?

King: I don't want to make a prediction on either one or any of the three, Mike, and until a candidate might emerge and we can start to handicap those races particularly I'm thinking more about some more vulnerable seats across the country but I wouldn't say that none of those are vulnerable, we need to take a look at all three of those seats and make a run at them.

Lynch: Congressman, given what you've just said about republicans at the national level and the state level what issues can republicans win on in 2010? Is it enough to just say no and we stopped a lot of bad things from the Obama administration and the Culver administration? Or do they need to have a more coherent forward looking message?

King: Well, we need a more coherent forward looking message and we need a leader. This always happens when you lose your chief executive officer. The President of the United States George Bush has retired and so yes, we need a strong message, I would not say that we can reconstruct a contract with America or something that looks like it with a different name necessarily but we need to lay out an inspiration. There is a lot that is going to be gained just by taking on what I consider to be a hugely fatal economic policy that has been proposed and ruled out here by President Obama. They actually won seats by just attacking republicans without really pitching an alternative and the people, I think the voters understood. But I'd go another step forward on this and say let's do a couple of things that are transformational because this society by the end of the Obama administration will have gone down more nationalization of our private sector businesses and we'll see more erosion of the social values in this country. We need to do things transformational. Fair tax is transformational, school choice is transformational, those are two subjects that I've been talking about and will talk about.

Lynch: Transformational change takes a transformational leader. Who is the republican Obama?

King: I can't name one at this point nor the republican -- who is the new Ronald Reagan I'd be more comfortable answering -- I don't think that person has emerged yet. Hopefully there will be some new faces that will emerge that bring the vigor and the charisma that can head up against Obama.

Glover: Let's bring it back home if I could to build on Jim's question, you were talking about defeating a Bruce Braley, a Dave Loebsack or a Leonard Boswell, who do you have that can beat those people? If you're going to challenge one of those people, they're sitting members of Congress you better have somebody out there right now pulling it together.

King: I would give my phone number over this show just to have them call me but I think they know how to get a hold of me, Mike, and I'm talking to a few people and will be doing more of that and when it's time to announce those candidacies we'll do that when they're ready but we need to do this all across the country.

Glover: It comes back to the questions we asked you earlier about running for governor, I know where Governor Culver is in his re-election campaign, he's pretty far down the path, he's raising money, he's getting the organization together, he's doing all of the field kind of things you need to do. Aren't republicans behind times?

King: Republicans can always use a lot more money and we need to raise a lot more money, we need to do that in every arena that we can for our state house, state senate races, for our statewide races that we have as well as for the governor's race and we're anticipating that there will be a primary in the state for governor, that drains some republican energy away prior to the time that we can go forward in the general election so we will be behind on the fundraising and will have to work awfully hard to catch up, a significant point, I agree.

Borg: You talked about the waning days of the Iowa general assembly, it appears in these waning days that there will be a bonding proposal probably around $700 million for infrastructure and economic stimulus. Does that give republicans a campaign issue?

King: It does for me. It animates me. I would think it would give us a campaign issue. It seems to me that that was President Obama asked for $750 billion in his stimulus plan and about the same time Governor Culver asked for $750 million in his plan. I don't think either one of them threw a dart at the dartboard and that's how they came up with their number but I think there's a certain amount of symmetry involved in that number. Iowa should be pay as you go as a state. We are uncompetitive from a tax and a regulatory perspective. We need to become far more competitive and I have talked before about a disadvantage we have in Iowa, corporate income tax is higher than that of the average of our neighboring states, higher yet than the national average, that's also true to personal income tax, property tax and the sales tax. All of those things need to be more competitive. We have more regulators per thousand than the average of our neighboring states or the national average. Iowa needs to look at this comprehensively. If we're going to be an economic player, and we are a very good one with renewable energy, today we produce enough that we could replace all that is coming from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela out of say ethanol, for example, but we need to have a tax and a regulatory structure that attracts businesses here and lets the entrepreneurs thrive. Right now we're starving them out, it's an anti-business climate and that $750 million is that.

Glover: What do you say to people who look at the recession and say we want government to do something, even if it's wrong, just do something?

King: I heard that argument, you accused me of that, that I'm not for something. I introduced legislation that suspends the capital gains tax for rescue capital that would come in here to pick up toxic debt, will suspend capital gains tax on U.S. capital, the $13 trillion that is stranded overseas facing capital gains tax. Many democrats, I'm convinced of this, many democrats drew a conclusion that they would vote for the stimulus plan because they needed to do something and the only thing they could vote for or against was the irresponsible stimulus plan. So, just because it's wrong isn't a good enough reason. We have to do the right things or nothing is better.

Glover: Another big issue that has been fought about on the hill is an overhaul of the state's income tax system, eliminating federal deductibility and using that money to lower rates. The studies we've seen on that said that about 75% of the taxpayers in this state will either see a tax cut or no increase. Why is that a bad deal?

King: I am opposed to it, I have defended federal deductibility. The first principle, the only principle that you need to argue is that it's a tax on a tax to deny federal deductibility to Iowans and it is. So, I oppose it on that basis alone. The next answer is if we're interested in that seriously we would just publish the effective tax rate rather than the chart tax rate and that would be a more legitimate way to do this. This raises the tax on higher income Iowans and it may lower it on lower income Iowans, that sounds suspiciously like President Obama's proposal that 95% of the people get a tax cut. I talked to a lady just yesterday that said she saw her taxes go up $20 a week even though she's not making $200,000 a year and this mess that goes on is a tax increase on balance, it grows government just like the $750 million borrowed money does and then you end up with programs that you can't afford down the line and they don't have a plan on how they're going to shut programs down, they have a plan on how they're going to continue to raise taxes and grow government. That starves the goose that lays the golden egg.

Lynch: Congressman, speaking of some of those promises the president made, we're coming up on the 100-day mark of his administration, what sort of a grade would you give him on those 100 days and why? What has he done right? What has he done wrong?

King: The number one right thing President Obama did was gave the order so that those Navy Seals could fire on the pirates off of Somalia. That is the best thing we've seen happen in America in President Obama's first 100 days, it gives us all a lift, it gives us pride in who we are again. That's the best thing.

Borg: What about releasing the papers, the memos about interrogation?

King: It's a disaster, it's a disaster that starts us down the path of second guessing decisions made by the previous administration, opens up -- the task for that he's talked about, the truth task force -- it opens it up so that past administrations could end up being -- actually it could happen right away -- end up being prosecuted for something that the legal analysis said was a legal act. And, by the way, President Obama has redefined torture and he's gone to the rest of the world and by implicitly accusing President Bush of approving torture redefined it and then said our administration does not and will not after he redefined it and I've been engaged in this in the middle of it all along as a member of the judiciary committee and I don't think they want to go down this path. Nancy Pelosi will end up being subpoenaed for what she knew and what she failed to do as well. I think they'll back off in the end, Dean.

Glover: Congressman, just last week on this program Charles Grassley said that he thinks this is the year that national healthcare will happen, that they're shaping a plan in the senate, he thinks a plan will get through the house and he thinks the president will have one. Is this the time for national healthcare?

King: There will never a time for national healthcare, it's an appropriate policy in my view. Politically the scenario is a tougher one to fight off than it was back in '93 because you have a president that has a lot of political capital and you have majorities that have a significant inertia in the house, there's not much we can stop in the house if Nancy Pelosi decides she'll shut down the committee process, the rules process and bring a bill through the floor with no amendments allowed and a short debate. That might happen. I hope and I expect Chuck Grassley will use all of the political capital and energy he has to fight off socialized medicine in the United States. The people spoke back in 1993 and defeated that idea and I have sympathy for the Canadians, Mike, if we adopt socialized medicine here in the United States where will they go to get quality healthcare?

Glover: What do you say to polls which show that healthcare is among the top concerns of every voter in this country and want something done about the healthcare system?

King: Doing something because that’s the thing that you have in front of you to go yes or no on doesn't make it right. Doing the wrong thing because something needs to be done doesn't make it right. Here's what I would do, I would refurbish the doctor-patient relationship, I would expand health savings accounts, allow them to increase their deductibility so they can have lower premiums, I'd let them build health savings accounts up to the point where when they reach retirement they could buy a Medicare replacement policy with the cash and keep the change untaxed and we can look at a lot of different ways to restructure our insurance in this country, to not be able to buy health insurance across state lines really disenfranchises a lot of people in places like New Jersey. There's much we can do, socialized medicine is not what we should do, we have high quality healthcare in this country, everyone has access to high quality healthcare but we need to fix this thing prudently and hold together what we've built.

Lynch: Congressman, let's talk about foreign policy. The focus on the war on terrorism seems to be shifting to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan where the insurgency is rising. Is it going to be tougher to win the war there? What do we have to do to be successful?

King: It is a lot tougher to win the war in Afghanistan. I have said for years that we will be in Afghanistan a lot longer than we'll be in Iraq because they are closer to the Stone Age is a short version of that. First I want to say we have achieved a definable victory in Iraq by every metric that we put out there, 17 of 18 benchmarks, three successful elections, a constitution, American casualties there due to accidents equal to those due to the enemy. But when you go to Afghanistan and Pakistan that is a growing mess, it's getting more and more complicated with the Taliban within 60 miles of the nerve center and with them being a nuclear powered country. I'm hopeful that President Obama sees this thing with the totality that he spoke of during the campaign, that it is a state department issue, an economic issue, a geopolitical negotiating issue and a military tactical issue all put together in the best combination and even then it's very hard.

Glover: And did he make the right decision when he decided to send troops into Afghanistan? You're starting down the path into a very difficult part of the world, a very difficult part of the world. Did he make the right decision?

King: I supported the movement of additional troops, around 17,000 if I recall the number going into Afghanistan. I had been there and last September is the most recent that I've been into Afghanistan, we had troops that were out on the end of the line that didn't have the kind of cover that they needed. So, yes, we should send the troops in but he needs to ask himself many of the questions that he asked. Is there an exit strategy? Is there a victory strategy? How do you go about doing this? I don't want him talking to the world about that strategy, I want this chess game going on behind the scenes so that we can maintain the kind of confidentiality necessary, that the enemy is surprised by the things that we do.

Glover: And there's been an up kick in violence in Iraq in recent days as American prepares to leave. As we leave is that going to fall apart?

King: It depends on how they set this up. I still haven't received the definitions that I've asked for -- Obama has said that he's going to pull all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, that the agreement that we have actually. What is a combat troop? Support troops? Trained troops? Logistics? Communications? Intelligence? Are they combat troops? If they are not then I think we can hold this together. But for every American to come out of Iraq that is there today engaged in this battle I don't think they hold that together past 2011 without us being there to support the institutions that have been established in Iraq. They're doing a great job and they want to do this and I believe that we have achieved a definable victory there. It's up to President Obama to maintain that and expand on it.

Borg: I'm sorry that we're out of time, we didn't even get to Pakistan and that is a whole discussion in itself. Thanks for being with us today.

King: Thank you, Dean.

Borg: We'll be back next weekend at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg and 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 ... enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at The Iowa Hospital Association ... supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa's health.


Tags: civil rights families gays and lesbians gender government Iowa Iowa legislature marriage politics same-sex marriage Steve King