Will he? Will he not? Questions regarding fourth district Congressman Steve King's political ambitions and a possible run for the U.S. Senate. Congressman King is our guest on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: U.S. Senator Tom Harkin's late January surprise announcement that he isn't seeking re-election is thrusting two congressmen to center stage. One is Bruce Braley from Iowa's first congressional district, Waterloo democrat Braley announcing almost immediately that he's going after Harkin's seat and he is already criss-crossing the state grabbing attention and campaign donations. But the spotlight is also on central and western Iowa's fourth district Congressman Steve King, now in his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman King, welcome back to Iowa Press.
King: Thanks for having me back, Dean.
Borg: And we've got lots of questions for you and you know the first one. Across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Let's cut to the chase. Are you running for the United States Senate?
King: You know, I wish I had that answer to give it this morning, here today while we're talking but I don't know the answer yet. We have followed this path that I've said which is, it first has to be analytical, a decision of the head. Then does that match up with guy instincts and does that match up with the heart? I've done national -- or statewide polling in this and we have examined that pretty thoroughly. We've got a couple more iterations of the analysis to go but we're moving very closely towards a decision.
Henderson: So how long can you wait? Bruce Braley has already raised $1 million for his race.
King: Well, that is a start on a U.S. Senate race and it's not so much urgency for me as it is my respect for the people who are considering what they might do in the event of me saying yes or no.
Obradovich: Well, have you spoken to Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds or Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey about their plans?
King: I've had conversations with both of them.
King: We are great friends and I respect their decision to give me some time to make a decision.
Obradovich: Have you spoken to them recently?
King: Well, I went to a ballgame with Kim Reynolds here a couple, three weeks ago, a state tournament game, that was a lot of fun and we've had a couple of conversations but we haven't gotten down to that point where we're really seriously having this decision-making meeting. But that is something that may be in our future.
Obradovich: Do you feel like if you run that they will not, that they will give you a clear shot without perhaps having one of them be a primary opponent?
King: They have pretty clearly signaled that. I don't want to put words in their mouth but I don't think you could find a state in the union with this kind of a big decision to be made where you could have a secretary of agriculture, lieutenant governor and a seated member of Congress that are better friends, that better respect each other's decisions. I think that scenario is good but I need to get a decision made fairly quickly so that everyone else can follow their plans.
Henderson: Some of your critics have suggested that you could not win a statewide race because of your persona as a very conservative republican. What is that polling data that you mentioned showing you?
King: Well, I wouldn't be able to discuss any real numbers with that polling data here today, Kay. But, you know, I remember hearing that in almost everything that I've tried from a business standpoint to a political standpoint. You can't succeed in business, Steve King, because you don't have any money, you don't have any base to start from. That was 1975. I couldn't succeed when I challenged a 24 year incumbent republican state senator because I didn't know the political arena. And I couldn't win out on a four-way primary in 2002 because of the redistricting plan. So those kind of things, there are always going to be naysayers and detractors. This is, though, first an analytical decision and I think any republican has a slight uphill battle in this state because Iowa has turned a little bit to the left. This won't be a presidential race, President Obama will not be on the ballot and I think that the top of the ticket will be able to control this a lot more than if it had been a presidential year.
Obradovich: But you just sent out a fundraising appeal for your congressional seat. Why did you do that?
King: Well, it's important to be refilling the coffers. We spent them down nearly to the bottom in this last race, the most expensive congressional race in Iowa's history. And by the way we raised more money in that than any other congressional candidate ever had. And so we need to refill that. I will tell you that because I have not made a decision it is harder to raise money because I have to say to people, well on the one hand this, the other hand that, will you write a check for my campaign? I'll be glad when that part is over too.
Borg: Go ahead.
Henderson: You just said something interesting, that it will be a slightly uphill battle for any republican who runs. Why?
King: Because we know that President Obama ran very strongly in Iowa and a lot of that machinery is still in place. And I expect he would come in and support the democratic nominee. He made, what, three trips into Iowa in this last race and I saw also President Clinton came in, in the last congressional race. I can't imagine they wouldn't use all of those tools in a U.S. Senate race coming up in 2014.
Borg: Without being specific, political data are coming in on your polling and, again, not specific but you have been speaking in percentages up to now. You said 60/40 and so on that you would or would not run. What is the percentage at right now?
King: Well, the needle is a little over 50/50 and it just really hasn't changed very much. I know now that I've got to get to that final analysis and then we're going to get to a decision relatively soon. But the analytical part -- I'll tell you what is different is this, that until we had the data I couldn't lay out a strategy that I could say with confidence we can build a strategy to win. Now that I see the data I can see that path to victory.
Obradovich: And what does that path to victory look like?
King: Well, it looks like any race in this state over, for U.S. Senate, when this is the first open seat we've had in, what, almost four decades. It will be a jump ball at the end. I think it will be a race that is decided by one percent or less and that would be the case whether a democrat wins or a republicans wins. I think it's going to be very close.
Obradovich: What do you think that this campaign needs to be about?
King: Oh, I'm glad you asked me that. It doesn't need to be about all of the things that the last campaign was about. The difficulty here for a republican is to run on issues. And the other side wants to change the topic. But here's what it needs to be about -- it needs to be about whether we are going to get to a balanced budget and I want to pass a balanced budget amendment to our United States Constitution and do that out of the House and the Senate before we raise the debt ceiling. It's one of the things I'll continue to push on until that vote comes up. Second one needs to be what are we going to do with the Affordable Care Act? I'm for repealing it, I've long been for repealing it and when we see this stack of applications and the premiums going up as high as 400% I think the debate will start in January about what we do with Obamacare.
Henderson: George W. Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, indicated that you might be a target should you choose to run from republicans who might like a candidate who is not as conservative as you to be the party's nominee for the U.S. Senate. How do you address those who say that you are a Todd Akin like person who is prone to saying unusual, wild things?
King: Well, the first part with that would be from St. Patrick's Day last year until Election Day November 6th, eight months I had, on every public schedule I had one to three tracking cameras on me hired by democrats in the Vilsack campaign. Their effort was to try to catch a bit of a phrase or a bit of a clip that they could put into a commercial to run against me. In eight months of constant surveillance they didn't get a single second that they could put into a television or a radio ad. That would be one answer. Second one would be, if Karl Rove is concerned about whether I have verbal discipline I think he would have to admit today that he lacked that when he commented critically of me.
Obradovich: Well, you've mentioned in that fundraising letter that I mentioned before that republicans, your evidence that republicans don't have to change their brand -- what kind of message is that if you choose not to run statewide?
King: It's the same message either way. I am who I am and what I believe in and those that are critics and following up a little bit also more on Kay's question too is that you do not change your principles for the sake of political expediency.
Borg: But I think that what she is asking, if I'm right Kathie, is that what does it say to people if you don't think that you can win on that brand statewide? Is that what you're asking?
Obradovich: Yeah, that's what I'm asking --
King: I think I could win on that brand statewide.
Obradovich: You think you can win on that brand statewide. Okay. So --
King: I think we must. Even more importantly we still -- even if we didn’t think we could win, and I do, we must follow through on our principles. Republicans can not rebrand ourselves by compromising our principles. Just because the American people and Iowans re-elected Barack Obama is not a reason for us to abandon our principles.
Obradovich: There are republicans in Iowa, though, who have been saying that a Steve King is not the best candidate to run statewide, that they want somebody that they feel will be perhaps a little bit more attractive to moderates, people in the political middle. What do you say to them?
King: Well, my answer to that would be, can you point out a vote or a position with which you disagree with me? Which position have I taken that is out of step with Iowans? I know of none. When I look at the issues out there and the information that we're working with, Iowans support the positions that I have taken. And so I think that is a strong thing and I think there are many that didn't come out in this last election because they were not energized, that is on the conservative side. I think we should have learned that if we elect a candidate that doesn't stand for very much that we lose a lot of voters over on the conservative side of the agenda and I'm a blue collar guy, I'm a hands on guy and that means too that there are a lot of people that are independents and there are a lot of working, discerning democrats that identify with the positions that I take and the track record and the life history that is part of who I am.
Borg: You mentioned a moment ago that one of your bedrock principles is a balanced budget. President Obama, on Friday, released his proposed budget and in there he is seeming to compromise with republicans in exchange for some revenue enhancement, more taxes on more wealthy people, that he is willing to discuss and propose some cuts in Medicare -- Medicare and Social Security. What do you think about that?
King: Well, he has already, under Obamacare, cut Medicare $716 billion dollars. And he announced for the previous campaign that he had identified $500 billion in fraud and waste and abuse within Medicare. He didn't point out ever where that was, he just simply put that into the cut to generate the funds to be able to fund Obamacare. I'm not -- I'm not anxious to go down the path of raising taxes on anyone but I am anxious to go down the path of setting up the adjustments in the entitlements so we can get to balance. If we could have that conversation first on what we can achieve for the entitlement reforms that are necessary to keep this country from going broke then I think we could have the conversation about what these particular tweaks might be to increase revenue.
Henderson: What about the sequester cuts? There have been republicans who have suggested it was much ado about nothing and you might as well leave those cuts in place. Are you in that camp?
King: I think the President is convinced the majority of Americans and me that the only way we are going to get spending cuts was to allow the sequestration to kick in completely. And that was part of what emerged I think as a backlash to his trip around the country telling us how bad sequestration was going to be. I will point out, though, that the one thing in Iowa that affected us most directly was the sequestration cuts into our meat inspectors and the proposal that there would be furloughs of our meat inspectors. I always said that will not happen and I always said that the USDA will have to walk back their words. And remember I asked Secretary Vilsack, what flexibility do you need in language? We'll write it into the CR so that you can fund the meat inspectors. He would not answer that question but they changed the language to essentially what I asked for in the Senate and we made that accommodation. So I think sequestration debate flares up a little bit but that debate is essentially over for this fiscal year.
Obradovich: Even for defense? I mean, won't you have to come back at some point? And how long can you go without acting to put some money back into defense?
King: Well, Kathie, you're right on that and we made a -- we changed about $10.5 billion dollars within our continuing resolution that addressed some of those most critical needs in defense. But also we will do 13 appropriations bills going forward and in those we'll make those adjustments within the sequestration caps so that we can move money around inside of the appropriation bill itself. And I think that will take a lot of the sting away and it will be a smarter way to make the equivalent cuts that came out in sequestration.
Obradovich: Well, while the debate is going on, on the budget, other issues are moving forward including immigration. And I saw that you said the other day that you felt that republicans who are pushing forward on perhaps a more liberal or progressive path towards citizenship are political opportunists. What did you mean by that? And was that directed at anybody in particular?
King: Well, I just recall that on the morning after the election amazingly the Romney loss was identified because he used two words, self deport, and the argument was that he would be President-elect on November 7th of last year if he just hadn't said those words or if he hadn't said 47%. I think they were looking for a scapegoat and that was not the message, the campaign wasn't about immigration. President Obama and Mitt Romney didn't have intense debates about immigration and so it has always been the agenda of the people that were driving it in the first place, they were opportunists to try to make an excuse for why we lost that election and all the things they had been for in the first place for which they were pushing.
Obradovich: Do you think Marco Rubio is in that category?
King: I think Marco Rubio has been trying to find a way to resolve the immigration issue. And I think he has found himself in some relatively troubled waters recently and for one of his remarks was that they aren’t setting up a path to citizenship. And I think when questioned on that he said, well a green card is not a path to citizenship and a path to a green card therefore can't be a path to citizenship. I disagree with that.
Obradovich: Does that hurt him if he wants to run for President in 2016?
King: It is a hard thing to answer and we have a good number of republicans that have said we want to legalize 11 or 12 million people instantly and then figure out how to resolve this. I think that is putting the cart before the horse.
Henderson: Speaking of carts and horses, the farm bill seems stuck in the same place it was at this time last year. Is there any progress on the farm bill? It expires at the end of September.
King: That was a masterful segway. And I think we'll get to a markup on a farm bill sometime, I'm going to guess about four to six weeks from now. We have the basis of it done, the committee work from last year in that marathon markup and that foundation exists and we plan to go to committee and when we do that I expect we'll have floor time promised. I can't guarantee it but it should be that way.
Henderson: That was the gig that was the problem last year, the House republican leaders didn't bring it up. Do you have an agreement from Boehner and Cantor that they'll allow a debate?
King: I can't tell you that we have an agreement but I can tell you that Chairman Lucas and I believe that we shouldn't bring a markup through committee unless there is a promise of floor action and that discussion is taking place now. I think that timing will be negotiated before we go into a markup in the House Ag Committee.
Borg: Will there be any cuts in that new farm bill on the SNAP, that is the food assistance program that we formally knew as food stamps?
King: Dean, I'm confident that there will be. In last year's farm bill we brought $16 billion in cuts and they were the cuts into the qualifications, not into people that needed them but those who were actually defrauding the food stamp program or the SNAP program. That numbers has gone from 19 million to almost 48 million people today that are on food stamps and they're spending millions advertising to get more people on food stamps. So I think it will be $16 billion, perhaps more. I know there was an effort to take $33 billion out of that. That seems difficult to me but it's going in the right direction.
Henderson: We have about half a minute left. Are you a thumbs up or a thumbs down on this Reince Priebus document? The chairman of your party has suggested that the party needs to change. Do you think he came up with good ideas or are you a veto on that?
King: I think the party would have been significantly better off if that document had never been released.
Borg: Thank you, Congressman King, for your comments. We'll have you back -- when is that answer going to come?
King: I wish I knew the answer to that. Whenever I give a deadline it's always a bad idea on a decision. But when I make that decision I can tell you I'm not going to sit on it very long because then I'd have to -- it'll be announced right away.
Borg: Thank you. On Iowa Press. And we'll be continuing Iowa Press in just a moment with a reporter's roundtable.
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Borg: We're inviting Lee Newspaper's State Capitol Bureau Chief now Mike Wiser to the Iowa Press table. Mike, you were listening to the conversation with Congressman Steve King. What is the first paragraph in your news story?
Wiser: Uphill battle. Steve King said that for whatever republican tries for the Harkin seat it's going to be an uphill battle which I found kind of surprising based on, particularly with his confidence, his usual confidence in everything whether it be in himself or for the republican party and the republican message that he is saying, acknowledging that it's going to be tough.
Obradovich: You know, if you're going to run, though, run as the underdog. People will be more likely to write you big checks, you know, have a sense of urgency about needing to support you. You know, I listened to him and thought, I think he's more likely to run than not at this point.
Borg: Psychology, Kay?
Henderson: What was interesting to me was as the tape shut off, King got up out of that chair and said, I don't know how many people think this is fun but I do. He enjoys the limelight like crazy and he would have -- he would do it with relish I would say if he were to run. I don't know that he is. I think he's looking carefully, carefully at the data. He has a safe House seat, it would be hard to give that up if the data shows him that he would have a really uphill climb.
Borg: You know, Mike, as he left I joked with him about how soon should we be having you back on Iowa Press to announce. What is that deadline for him do you think politically?
Wiser: You know, it's hard to say. One thing you can say is that his presumptive, or whoever the presumptive democratic nominee right now would be Bruce Braley who has announced and who has been out there, has been to western Iowa this last week, he has raised over $1 million so I think that -- it's a long time until the race. We still have a long time. But I think the sooner the better and you have to worry about the other guy's bankroll.
Obradovich: I think King also is cognoscente of the fact that there are people who are interested in his seat and the longer he delays you've got people who are going through this, some of these same machinations that he is. Some of them are going to decide to run anyway, you know, because they've gone through all this work they think they have a chance. He may have more difficult competition should he decide to run in the fourth district than he would have had he shut off that discussion earlier.
Borg: You mean that he may have a primary if he decides to go back to Congress again?
Obradovich: You know, it's possible, it's possible or he may have a higher profile democrat interested in running who looked at an open seat as an opportunity and now has decided, you know, there's not anybody specific for that. But, you know, the longer he waits the more people start thinking, well I can run no matter what.
Borg: Kay, musical chairs also up at the state capitol this week with the state auditor.
Henderson The state auditor, David Vaudt, announced his resignation effective May 3rd to take a job with the Governmental Accounting Standards Board for CPAs. This is sort of like being the commissioner of Major League Baseball. It gets to set the standards by which state and local government budgets are judged. It is a seven year appointment. Now the pieces on the board have to be rearranged because the Governor gets to appoint a replacement for the state auditor. He has told me that he's looking for a CPA.
Borg: Once in a while, Mike, that has been a politically contentious office, that is politically contentious with the Governor's office. What is the political significance of this resignation then?
Wiser: Well, with Auditor Vaudt, he was very critical of the previous administration. Chet Culver's administration was a democrat, he also did criticize the Branstad administration sometimes for spending, using one-time monies for existing programs. But it's interesting, you can have -- I think there's three things. One, the auditor sits on the Executive Council, which approves some bills and many things for the executive branch so you want someone in your same political party. Two, it could be used as a stepping stone for higher office, statewide office for a higher office. And three, it is always nice to have somebody of your own party in the office down the hall.
Obradovich: I don't think it would do for Branstad to appoint a political lap dog and if the person he does appoint has any ambitions to run for that office I don't think that it would do for that person to be, you know, too much, to be seen as too much in bed with the Governor. It is that person's job to point out things that are wrong in the budget. And so, you know, you've got to have somebody who goes with the -- Vaudt pointed out things he didn't like in Branstad's budget, long tradition of Dick Johnson kind of being a thorn in the Governor's side so I think that person is going to have to not look like he or she is, you know, the Governor's good friend.
Borg: Kay, bring us up to date on the Governor's appointees and Senate confirmation.
Henderson: As we discussed here a couple of weeks ago, two of the Governor's nominees for the Board of Regents, the board that governs Iowa, Iowa State and University are in trouble -- they're still in trouble, the vote hasn't been passed.
Borg: Although a lot of campaigning.
Henderson: Exactly. They're meeting individually with senators. Another name has surfaced as a nominee who is in trouble, Nick Wagner, he was a state representative representing the Marion area. He lost his bid for re-election. He is an engineer in the utility industry. He was appointed to the Iowa Utilities Board by the Governor. Democrats in the Senate have told the Governor he does not have enough votes to become confirmed as a member of the Utilities Board.
Borg: And how are you all reading that, that is these nominees in trouble in the democratically controlled Senate? How are you reading that politically?
Obradovich: Well, it is political and Craig Lang, for example, this is about the Harkin Institute and concerns about academic freedom. With Robert Cramer concerns about his past political activism as a religious conservative. And so I think that most of what we're seeing here is political. I wonder as long as this kind of drags out what the potential is for that, those nominations to get embroiled in other difficult issues toward the end of the legislative session.
Henderson: Well, and also there is another former state senator who did not seek re-election, Tom Riley, a democrat, used to be the Mayor of Oskaloosa who was appointed to the State Department of Transportation Commission and republicans are holding up his nomination in sort of a quid pro quo with the nominees that are in trouble.
Borg: Mike, this past week a governor's conference, at least it was called governor's conference on LGBQ, I believe that is the names there, but the dichotomy is while that conference is going on and got a lot of exposure, the legislature was shunting aside legislation concerning that.
Wiser: Well, yeah, that conference, the LGBTQ, lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning, that is an annual conference that students have -- it is promoted by Safe Schools Iowa which is anti-bullying group that tries to put in stronger anti-bullying policies. At the same time the anti-bullying legislation that came out from the governor’s conference, Terry Branstad's conference this fall has got tied up in the House. House leadership didn't bring it to the floor. It fell to the wayside by the funnel. The reason that they say that is there were too may questions about how far school authorities should be able to extend beyond the classroom.
Borg: Dichotomy there. Thanks for your insights. We'll be checking up with you next week. And we'll be back next weekend with another edition of Iowa Press, same times, 7:30 Friday night and again at noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.