Political resilience. Iowa fifth district Congressman Steve King will be representing the new fourth congressional district. A conversation with newly re-elected Congressman Steve King on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Steve King is going back to Washington, D.C., instead of representing through Iowa's fifth congressional district, he'll take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as the fourth district's congressman. That is because Iowa lost a congressional seat but King's district now largely remains west central, northwest and north central counties but it is adding Ames and Mason City. Voters in the new fourth district are sending King back for a sixth term, giving him 53% of last Tuesday's congressional election. That is nearly 8 percentage points better than democrat Christie Vilsack. But it was his most spirited campaign and closest election yet. Congratulations.
King: Thanks very much, Dean.
Borg: It's nice to have you back on Iowa Press.
King: It's a real privilege to be here and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to serve Iowans in Congress again.
Borg: Privilege to be re-elected is what you're saying.
Borg: Across the Iowa Press table, James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Congressman, you won in your race by 7.6%. Tom Latham won in his race against Congressman Boswell by 7.6%. Latham had a 9,000 voter registration edge with republicans. You had a 50,000 voter registration edge with republicans. Do you have some fence-mending to do? Your margin should have been larger.
King: Well, you look at this, I was in a three-way race. There is another two plus percent that you could probably add most of that onto me and my numbers were a little bit higher than that. But not to quibble. I said from the beginning that I would learn things about myself that I don't yet know and that they'll spend between $5 and $10 million against me. They did. And the people in the west half of the district that know me the best, that I have served for the last ten years stuck with me very, very strongly and that dissipated a little bit going east but we always knew that there was some democrat strongholds in the eastern part of the district.
Lynch: On Tuesday night, Christie Vilsack in her remarks, said that you should be held accountable for the things you say. Do you have any regrets about anything you said during this campaign? Any apologies you want to make at this point?
King: Not at all. The positions that I have taken over the last ten years have been clear. And statements that I have made have been true. They were true the day I said them and most of them are even more true today. Most of that was political rhetoric and it's time to put that behind us and get on with doing the best we can for our country.
Henderson: There were some folks in New Jersey who sort of raised their eyebrows when you said that FEMA funding for Hurricane Katrina had been used for Gucci bags and for I think you said massages. In the context of how you'll make your decision about funding for Hurricane Sandy relief, do you have any regrets about making those comments? And in general, how will you decide to forward federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims?
King: If the full context of my statement had been delivered I said, I want to get the people in the east and particularly in the northeast the help they need to get them out of their hurricane, out of the water and out of the ashes and out of the death that is there. It was a tragedy in the northeast. I said I wanted to get them that kind of help but not in one big chunk. They need to have a plan to utilize that money, a plan to spend it correctly. That is what they didn't have at Katrina and that is why I brought up the point because I want to send a message to my colleagues that we should not rush into this but we should make sure they get the resources they need spent in the right way. And by the way, that money that went to Katrina got spent for a lot more than Gucci bags and massage parlors. It got spent on divorce attorneys, vacations to Punta Cana, the list of the waste goes up to about $1.4 billion and I think we need to be prudent with the taxpayer dollars while we're doing the best we can for the people that are suffering.
Borg: Have you been at all influenced by -- it's two weeks out now since the hurricane hit out in the East Coast and we have another Nor’easter out there right now -- have you at all been influenced in your attitude toward relief toward that area by what you've seen since it hit?
King: Well, I've been into these disaster areas. I haven't been to the northeast but I was one of the first members of Congress to be down to Katrina. I flew over to eastern Iowa in the 2008 flood. We've been under ourselves in floods and we have had tornadoes. So I think it's the same -- they're suffering a lot in the northeast and there are certain things infrastructure wise especially that they can't put together with the resources that they have. Governor Chris Christie is a good friend. I think that is clear. And so we are wired in, in such a way that I want to prudently help the people in the northeast.
Henderson: Do you think Chris Christie made a mistake by saying nice things about President Obama?
King: You know, this is Monday morning and I think Chris Christie was very worried about New Jersey. He made that very clear even before the storm hit. And so I think that he separated the politics from the policy that he needed in New Jersey and did what a governor does.
Borg: And speaking about diplomacy, I want to go back to the campaign and your remarks about that and running against Christie Vilsack. Was that campaign at all modified on your part or maybe even made a little bit easier by the perceived glass ceiling, apparently, among Iowa voters? They have never sent a woman to Congress. Was that at all modified and built into your campaign that there is a perceived glass ceiling?
King: You know, Dean, I didn't think about it as a glass ceiling at all but I was aware that Christie Vilsack was running as a woman, wanting to be re-elected or wanting to be elected as the first woman to go to Congress from Iowa. And sometimes she postured herself that way and sometimes she didn't, whatever was convenient. But I just kept putting the issues out there. We ran a campaign on issues. We ran only positive campaigns and hers was almost the exact opposite of that. I said during the campaign and I think I said so in the Iowa Press Debate in Carroll that I supported the last woman to run for Congress, that was Mariannette Miller-Meeks. I contributed to her campaign. I went over there to help her. Christie Vilsack worked against her. So I don't think that we should be pigeon holing ourselves or thinking about it in the terms of what gender the candidate is. Who is going to best represent the values of Iowa?
Henderson: Did you really run a positive campaign? That ad you ran comparing her to Nancy Pelosi, do you think that is a positive ad?
King: I think that it's a comparison ad and not a negative ad and we just put out Christie Vilsack's first vote would have been for Nancy Pelosi, that is just a fact. And so the other side of that was the people on my side were Terry Branstad, Chuck Grassley and the list goes on -- that is a comparison ad. I don't think it's negative at all.
Henderson: You think that would pass the sniff test with voters that that's a comparative ad, not a negative ad?
King: Let's ask them but if I can't say that Nancy Pelosi has put hundreds of thousands of dollars behind Christie Vilsack and that Christie Vilsack's first vote would be for Nancy Pelosi that is a pretty simple statement to make. I don't think you can characterize that as negative unless you infer something with Nancy Pelosi and a lot of voters may have done that.
Lynch: Congressman, what do you think the message was in this election? Someone described it as a throw the bums back in election. Do you think voters are telling you to go back to Washington and get things fixed? Or are they saying they appreciate the gridlock and the stalemate?
King: Well, James, there is a case to be made that the voters voted for gridlock. They didn't change the majorities in the Senate, the House and they didn't change the President. But I don't think they willfully go to the polls and pull the gridlock lever. I think they vote for the person they want to represent them in Congress and in the White House. And so now because the voters didn't solve the stalemate, so to speak, we have to figure out how to do that and I think that's going to take leadership from the White House. We can't resolve it from the House and the Senate unless we have leadership from the White House and we're going to have to see how that emerges.
Borg: And that really represents how deeply divided the nation is but if you look at Iowa it strikes me a democratic congressman representing the eastern side of Iowa, republican congressman the western side. Did you notice that? And why?
King: Well, it has long been the configuration of Iowa in that way. There has been a stronger democratic group within -- Polk County might now be a bit of an exception drifting more towards the republican side but Johnson County, Iowa City, up along the Mississippi River, that has always been that way. And, you know, it's awfully hard to turn that from the registration. I think we saw that in the challenger races on both sides. So in the end Iowa values really are more about the heart of the heartland and the things that we believe in. But we also, we like our incumbents and we are very reluctant to replace an incumbent with a challenger.
Lynch: That raises the question, are we permanently blue? I mean, from the Civil War up until the 1980s democratic presidential candidates carried Iowa only about five times. But five of the last six elections the democrats have carried Iowa. Are we a blue state now?
King: I don't think so but we had higher anticipations for better results than we got and so when you saw the wave election two years ago, came very close to winning the majority in the Iowa Senate that time, lost a little bit of ground this time. I think it's always going to be a state, a bell weather state that we're going to fight over and you look at the presidential races you have Bush re-elected in 2004, you have Reagan's re-elect in 1984 but Iowa, I think it's a very good thing for us to be here in the middle of the political spectrum, first-in-the-nation caucus. If we hold that all together we can long make recommendations on Iowa values to the rest of the country.
Borg: Speaking about the political spectrum, we have a couple of clips of videotape here that represent now post-election statements. The election is over now and there is a lot of work to do in Washington and President Obama already listing the agenda.
President Obama - November 6, 2012: You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together -- reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do.
Borg: I saw you smile when he said immigration. That has long been a priority for you. Are you happy?
King: Well, we'll see how this works out, Dean. We're just watching some of the republicans and democrats across the country start to come forward on this immigration piece. Really I was smiling because I think that's a really good statement on the part of President Obama. I think he covered a lot of territory and if I could take that statement that he has delivered and write the policy that fits within that language I would be very happy. What I expect is going to come on the immigration side of this is that we will see open borders republicans team up with democrats to try to do some things to resolve what they call comprehensive immigration reform. We know that always includes a component of amnesty so we'll be back to discussing this again about the rule of law and I'll be fighting to defend the rule of law and they'll be seeking to --
Borg: I think you're saying that I agree with the priorities, the devil is in the details.
King: Absolutely. But it would be really nice to write that policy for the President and get him to sign off on it.
Henderson: In the Monday morning quarterbacking that has been going on among republicans, though, they have been arguing that you need to reach out to immigrants and immigration reform could just be the vehicle for that.
King: Immigration reform has, though, it has emerged as a code word for suspending the rule of law. So I think this -- we need to market ourselves to the whole country on republican values across the full spectrum of our values. And this election, even though we didn't win across the country it doesn't mean that our values aren't sound. We need to go back to the table, reassess these things and stand on the same principles and they should be very attractive especially to Hispanic families who are strong on faith, they're strong pro-life, they're strong on marriage, they're strong on the work ethic and there are a whole lot of good Hispanic entrepreneurs that I think should naturally migrate towards the republican party.
Henderson: When are you filing your lawsuit?
King: That is going to be sometime, you know, hopefully this month but it is something that I had to suspend for the last three weeks or so because we couldn't get it together before the election. So I need to get back to Washington and get those pieces back together and see where we are.
Henderson: And just in case viewers aren't aware, you have threatened to file a lawsuit about the so-called Dream Act that President Obama is implementing through administrative policy. That was announced in July.
King: The President of the United States has violated the Constitution and I don't know that there is an argument there because he has made the argument himself that he didn't have the authority to do what he subsequently did. And if the President can suspend immigration law and then out of thin air create a work permit and direct the U.S. citizenship and immigration services to deliver that work permit then there is no reason for a Congress. The President can unilaterally by edict do anything he wants to do. So we all take an oath to uphold the Constitution and that is what this is about. I've got an obligation to do that.
Borg: Republicans are retaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Speaker John Boehner is striking what seems to be willingness to work with democrats, the White House and the Senate. Let's take a look at that.
Speaker Boehner - November 7, 2012: If there is a mandate in yesterday's results, it is a mandate for us to find a way to work together on the solutions to the challenges that we all face as a nation. Mr. President, this is your moment. We're ready to be led, not as democrats or republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as President of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let's challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us. Let's rise above the dysfunction and do the right thing together for our country.
Borg: That seems to be very conciliatory. We want you to succeed, we want you to lead. Are you joining that?
King: We'll see what the agenda is when it comes out in front of us but I think --
Borg: You're saying that you're not going along with Speaker John Boehner leading your party yet?
King: I have an obligation -- I owe everyone here in this district and the state and the country my best effort and my best judgment and part of that is to listen to them, of course. We have to see what the policy is before I could embrace it. I would just call that an olive branch speech that John Boehner gave. I think it is the right tone. I think the President's acceptance speech was the right tone. And we are going to have disagreements, there's no doubt about it and this will be a long, difficult and grueling lame duck session. My best hope out of this is not that we'll end up with good policy because I don't think we will but maybe we can forge from it the kind of leadership to allow us to move this country forward after the lame duck session and into the next Congress and beyond.
Lynch: In John Boehner's remarks talking about not as democrats and republicans, not as liberals and conservatives, it sounds like he is taking a page from the President and he is going post-partisan.
King: I hope that is the case. It sounds like it is and the two of them listening to them talk it looks like they could sit down and do business. But they haven't talked much in the last two years. I think it has been six conversations is all they have had during the past Congress. So that needs to happen more. There needs to be more meetings at the leadership level of this. And I'd sure like to see the White House incorporate more republicans within the discussion. There haven't been very many invitations to have a discussion with the President or the White House.
Henderson: So let's say they strike a grand bargain, Boehner comes to you and says, Congressman, you need to vote for this. Will you vote for a grand bargain?
King: I have to look at the grand bargain. If it is grand enough I'll be the first one in line to vote for it.
Henderson: So you'd vote for a combination of cuts and tax increases?
King: I wouldn't say that. I'd want to see what they are. What John Boehner talked about was eliminating tax loopholes. Let's see the list of loopholes because one person's loophole is another person's necessary credit. So let's see what that is, let's see what it does to revenue and let's see what kind of agreement we get on extending the Bush tax brackets, the wind production tax credit for wind, a whole series of these things. There is so much to evaluate, it's going to come down to some pieces of it in the end.
Henderson: So is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in taxes the right combination, which is what is often talked about?
King: Kay, I just, I'm very cautious about that as well. Each time there has been an agreement made between democrats and republicans in my memory there has been a tax increases traded off for spending cuts. We have always gotten the tax increase but we've never gotten the spending cuts. So bring me the cuts first. I'll be happy to vote for them and then let's come back and negotiate. That might be another way to approach this.
Borg: Speaker Boehner has been in contact with since the election?
King: We had a conference call yesterday.
Borg: And what was the reason for that?
King: To essentially talk about, first, lament the people that we lost, make a commitment to go forward, we're going to need 218 votes to accomplish the things we need to do in the House of Representatives and then he let us know that he was offering the olive branch speech that he gave about an hour and a half later that is, the component of it is a part of the clip that you have run. So it was a fairly short conversation. I think it lasted about fifteen minutes and there were only about three questions and they were mostly comments not questions. So we go back next week and I'm really looking forward to being where you can do a lot of business fast and that is in Washington, D.C.
Borg: All 435 representatives were in on that conference call?
King: I don't have any way of knowing how many but I would say not. I would guess it's a significantly smaller number than that. But a number approaching half would be my guess.
Lynch: In the past you have opposed raising the debt ceiling. If that is part of a grand bargain would you accept raising the debt ceiling to get us out of this mess?
King: At some point this debt ceiling is going to be on the table where continue to maintain our commitments to pay the bills it's going to have to be raised. But it is one of two leverage points that republicans have between now and into next year. The debt ceiling vote and then I believe in March I believe 27th is when the continuing resolution expires. That is two leverage points. So whatever it is that John Boehner and the House republicans are going to get it has got to come out of that bargain place with the debt ceiling and the CR. And so I need to keep my powder dry until we get all we can get and then make a decision at that point.
Henderson: What about entitlement reform? Social Security and Medicare, which is health care for senior citizens, are evidently going to be part of this grand bargain. What would you accept and what would you reject in terms of changes of those two systems?
King: Well, the Social Security part of this I have long said the best way to fix that is to get a lot more people to work. But there are four or five other components to that. We'll have to put those pieces out on the chess board and move them around. The same with Medicare. There's a couple different views. The President's Obamacare legislation cut Medicare by $716 billion so I just see still so much disagreement. This campaign wasn't about issues that we agreed on, it was about the differences and now they've got to be threaded back together. I don't know that I can predict what I would accept on a Medicare change.
Henderson: One of the things in listening to you talk about this fiscal cliff and the decision that the lame duck Congress is going to have to make, I seem to be hearing you say don't present the details until the last moment and then we make a decision. It will be not helpful, will it not, if some of the details leak out?
King: That has been true throughout the whole campaign. If the details had been offered by candidates whether that would be Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, the other side would have descended upon them and it would have broken it down. Mitt Romney I think did something in this campaign that I don't remember seeing before that I thought was wise. He said, I want to keep my language open enough that I can work with both sides. Now he's not elected but it is important to keep your language open enough that you can work with both sides and in the end we're going to get a lot of things pushed at us in the last minute. So I don't want to foreclose anything either. I want to be able to look at the whole picture of this. But I will be one of those that is holding the line closely on the conservative side of this. Debt and deficit is still a bad thing regardless of who our president is.
Borg: With the outcome of the election now known, what do you think is the future of the Affordable Care Act? We know it as euphemistically Obamacare.
King: It is -- I go back to what Bill Crystal said about six or seven months ago -- if Barack Obama is re-elected then Obamacare will become implemented as the institutionalized law of the land in perpetuity and if he's not re-elected we'll repeal it in its entirety. I'm not ready to give that up and say we can't do anything except roll over in front of it. I think the states have something to say about it yet. We'd really love them to participate in the exchanges. There's still some litigation out there from the states and we have the opportunity to shut down some of the spending going into the implementation of it. I'm not sure any of that can get done. I want to look at all of those options. But it looks to me like the people in America voted for dependency, not only dependency with regard to health care but dependency with regard we believe the government is going to take more and better care of them and they are going to have somebody else to pay the bill rather than themselves.
Borg: Is it a waste of time for you to fight it now?
King: I don't know that. I'm going to be looking at the strategy on what might be done and if I think there is an opportunity of success I'm going to continue because I believe it is so wrong for America and by the way, Obamacare has never succeeded in any poll other than that last minute vote that was pushed and leveraged by Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and of course in the Senate. But the American people have always rejected all of Obamacare and I don't think the number has ever gotten down less than 54% that want to do that. But that doesn’t mean we have the methodology or political opportunity to step in there and do what I want to do and I have to work within the art of the possible.
Henderson: Has the farm bill been lost in all of this? It seems like it may get pushed off until January.
King: There was a commitment made to bring the farm bill up and to deal with it after the election.
Henderson: By who?
King: That was by John Boehner and by Eric Cantor and I think they are the two that will emerge as controlling the agenda, especially in the lame duck I know they will. So I've actually characterized it a little bit different, Kay, and that is that I think there isn't much change in the Senate or in the House. We have debated this in the Senate and the House. We have a House version, at least House ag committee version of the bill. If we can bring that to the floor and pass it we can get to conference and that means we've got a reasonable chance to get a bill done yet in lame duck because there is less to argue about than there is taxes.
Henderson: So what I hear you saying is since the chess board didn't change in January there is no point in pushing it on.
King: That's what I think. And even if we end up with an extension that pushes it into next year I don't think that what we can look forward to seeing changes that much. It's just a matter of getting our fucks in a row if there is an extension. So I'm hopeful we get a good five-year farm bill and that has been my plan for a long time.
Lynch: Congressman, let's go back and talk about some of those election results once again. Voters in Minnesota, Maryland and Maine all voted to support same-sex marriage in one form or another. Here in Iowa Justice Wiggins was retained and he was part of that Varnum decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage. Is same-sex marriage here to stay?
King: That is I think the kind of prediction that I think we can expect from looking at these results around the country. Here in Iowa there is not going to be a vote on it that I can see and if that is the case another two years go by -- I would never say never on anything. There have been so many changes in politics. There have been times that I remember when we lost the majority in 2006, one of the members I respect a lot said, we're defeated, it's hopeless, we'll never be able to get any traction again. That was 2006 and the President of Hillsdale College, Larry Arnn, who is a friend, said, you do not know that we are defeated and you must not believe that we are. And four years later we won a watershed election in the House of Representatives. Things can change quickly so I wouldn't rule it out but it doesn't look very optimistic for the people who believe in traditional marriage as I do.
Lynch: Is the Defense of Marriage Act in trouble, Congressman?
King: I wouldn't call it a trend yet either but it is a surprise to me to see that of the 31 or 32 states that had voted on the marriage issue up until last Tuesday night all of them had defended and voted for traditional marriage. So either this is an anomaly or a trend. I'm not sure which it is and I'd sure like to look at the numbers and hear from people that have watched it more closely than I have.
Lynch: The Defense of Marriage Act if it goes to the Supreme Court do you think it will be upheld?
King: I don't know. At this point I don't know. I think that Justice Roberts has delivered us a decision on Obamacare that will forever cause us to wonder and speculate as to how he might come down and he right now is the swing vote in the Supreme Court. So, and I know that the President, he has an obligation under Constitution to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. That is his duty and that is his oath. But, of course, he said he opposes it and he's not going to defend it and we'll see how it emerges before the Supreme Court and I hope to be there to hear the arguments.
Henderson: Not to belittle your victory on Tuesday night but Tuesday was not a very good night for Iowa republicans. What went wrong? And how do you retool?
King: What happened in Iowa was typical of many of the other states across the nation. I think going into it we were looking at the polling and I saw that consistently that the President led the ticket and where the President did well a lot of people down the ticket did well too. And I remember looking at Ohio saying in almost every poll the President has been marginally ahead of Mitt Romney in Ohio and in a way we rationalized it by saying but the momentum is with Romney, the energy is with us and the way it turned out it looked like the momentum and the energy was with President Obama. That swept down through the ticket here. You could see it across the state in our congressional races and our statehouse races as well. So I think the President on top of the ticket made a difference for democrats all across the country and we're going to need to nominate someone who can lift this ticket up in 2016.
Henderson: Well, speaking of, Marco Rubio will be here next weekend. 2016 has already begun. What are your thoughts? What kind of a candidate do you need? And have you chosen one already?
King: Well, since I had such difficulty choosing a candidate last time I don't think I have one now. But I can feel that wishbone process beginning and I look forward to have a conversation with Senator Rubio. He is a person that I respect and admire and I get along well with him. And we talk on the phone about even immigration issues together and I'm sure that Rick Santorum is taking a look at this state. He won it the last time, you know. That is two. There are probably going to be six or eight that come through Iowa. It is an exhilarating place to live if you're involved in politics.
Borg: Thank you for being our guest today.
King: My pleasure. Thank you, Dean.
Borg: We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend same times, 7:30 Friday night, a second chance to see the show Sunday at noon. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.