A high profile. Iowa's fourth district congressman, republican Steve King, representing Iowa's most rural district, getting national attention. Today he's talking to Iowans on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Congressman Steve King isn't shy about calling a spade a spade, as he sees it. Lately he's been getting a lot of national media attention because he does that, particularly during and immediately following the congressional impasse and partially closing the federal government. Despite winning elections by comparatively hefty margins, Congressman King earlier this year decided that campaigning statewide for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by democrat Tom Harkin, isn't for him, at least not right now. But there are some rumblings about a future challenge right in his own district by a republican perceived to be more moderate and business oriented. Congressman King, welcome back to Iowa Press.
King: Thanks for having me back, Dean.
Borg: And across the table, Political Journalist James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Congressman, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Scott Walker have all come to Iowa in the past year and there has been a flurry of activity. Ted Cruz is here this weekend. Is he the flavor of the month in terms of presidential candidates of the future? Does he, in your view, having staying power in a presidential race?
King: The flavor of the month expression I think originated in the last caucus season we had when we had so many that jumped to the head of the polling lead and then dropped off and the next flavor of the month came. So yeah, I do, I catch that express. And how do we know? Anybody that steps up into the national arena and picks up all the press that a person like Ted Cruz is now and others have and will in the future, that staying power, is it theirs or is it the public loses its attention span? I think this, that as I watch him and I listen to what he has to say, and we've had some intense one-on-one conversations, he is very well anchored in fundamentals. I do believe that he is a full spectrum constitutional conservative and there's no question he's a very smart guy. So we will see. But he is also aware that this is an extraordinary ride that he's on and I think he is just being the genuine Ted Cruz and we'll see how far it will take him.
Lynch: That ride didn't end well for Ted Cruz with the recently ended government shutdown. Was that the real thing? Or are we going to see -- was this just a practice run for a real government shutdown in January when you go back and try to settle the budget issues?
King: Well, James, it was the real thing and it started, the discussion on it began late last June and as those ideas came together and as a strategy was beginning to form I was starting to see, there are some people here that are willing to take a stand. And that wasn't the case, it wasn't strong enough at least, when I first wrote that legislation back and offered it in, let's see, February 15th of 2011, the legislation that cut off all funding to implement or enforce Obamacare. But instead this began to get stronger and stronger, more people signed on and it isn't just the issue, it wasn't only, I shouldn't use the word just with Obamacare because it was a huge issue, but it's more than that. It's the President crossing the line on constitutional issues, the fundamental separation of powers, the institutions of government and the relationship between Congress and the White House. All of that was at stake and the undercurrent of that brought us to this point. So once we're past, though, this deadline and once we're past the debt ceiling and the shutdown, I don't think the will to take that up again and have that kind of a showdown over a shutdown or a debt ceiling is going to happen in this Congress.
Borg: But that still says, you said once we're past, but it's just a short-term solution right now. So was this just act one and will there be act two?
King: Dean, I think there will be, there will be a lot of debate, there will be a lot of negotiations but I don't think it's going to come to this kind of a showdown again. President Obama concluded that for whatever his rationale was that he refused to negotiate with the Congress. And I just, I don't think that is debatable. He made that statement over and over again, so did James Carney. And so when he took the position that he would refuse to negotiate with Congress, even while he was negotiating with Assad in Syria through Putin and even while he is opening up diplomatic relations with Iran that we had not had since 1979, that was an astonishing thing to see a president do. But he held his position on that and he essentially didn't negotiate. And the bill that came back that finally went to his desk was President Obama's terms with a fig leaf for some republicans and that's it. And so now that he has seen that, had that kind of an experience, I don't know why he would be negotiable in a future potential showdown and I don't think the House is going to be stronger.
Henderson: Is Obamacare the law of the land in your view until there is a new president?
King: What a question, Kay. If I think so it's so hard to say yes to that because it does so much damage to the American spirit. But here's -- where we are in this is, yes, I'm looking for a way to undo this because I think we owe it to the future of the American people. Where it sits now is I don't think the leverage is there to defund Obamacare in a next CR or any kind of a debt ceiling deal. I don't think there's a leverage point that gets that done. If Obamacare is going to be undone it will have to be undoing itself when the American people see what unfolds here, they see their premium increases. The letters that I'm getting from people that show me 365% premium increase and cancellation of their existing policy and automatic issue of a policy that more than triples their insurance premium plus more than triples their deductible from $2000 to more than $6000. These kind of things will accumulate. But this is a very determined administration. They have already rolled in more than $600 million into trying to get a website up that works. They would put 2 or 3 or 5 or $10 billion into that to make that work. It is all hands on deck now. They will find a way to grind this thing in implementation and I think the American people won't come to a sudden realization of how bad Obamacare is, I think it will be dripped into them a few thousand people at a time until they've just accepted it. That is my concern. And then if what happened in the United Kingdom back in the late 40s happens here I think the American people will slowly forget about the freedom they once had.
Borg: The website problems right now you're considering just a small bump in the road?
King: Well, I think it's a big, big problem for them and I think they will throw all of their resources possible at it and I think that it's -- we all know that this is technologically not a very high bar, that private sector companies like Google do this all the time. If they would have brought them in and actually I believe if they would have put out a legitimate government request for proposals and received bids on this they would have had the kind of beta testing and roll out that would have been professional and worked. They'll get this fixed. I don't have a doubt about that. It's going to be painful for them but they'll get it fixed, Dean.
Lynch: Congressman, the last time you were here on Iowa Press we asked you about running for the U.S. Senate and you said it was, whoever ran it would be a slightly uphill battle for a republican in Iowa. And I'm wondering if the shutdown and the way it ended makes it tougher for republicans in Iowa, especially in the U.S. Senate race?
King: Well, I know that people talk about that and I hear that question from time to time. I think this part, this partial shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis, it was something that the inertia of the continuum of politics brought this about. I think it goes into the back of the minds of voters by the time you get a year and a little less than a month from now. If it would be a path more likely for the eventual republican nominee, if Obamacare itself does melt down and even if it melts down here in Iowa in such a way, we have 16 people or so all together now that have signed up in Iowa, if the system doesn't work and it doesn't work in Iowa I think that's very helpful to a republican candidate. But I don't wish hardships on Iowans or the American people. I want the best system possible and I think that's true of all of our candidates as well.
Henderson: Congressman, you have been more than willing to stage a fight to use your rhetorical reference just recently over immigration and the comprehensive immigration reform bill that cleared the Senate in June. Are you prepared to declare victory? Or do you think the House will work with the President since the President this past week said we need an immigration reform bill by the end of the year?
King: I think that there are a good number of republicans in the House, especially the younger ones, the freshmen and the sophomores that believe that they could do business with the President on immigration. And now that they have seen how he had conducted himself in the no negotiations on Obamacare, the budget and the debt ceiling I think many of them now realize that they can't do business with the President on anything except to give the President what he wants. And so I would be foolish to declare victory on anything that is a perpetual issue that has been going on intensively in this country for more than a decade of intense immigration debate. And, of course, this goes back to '86 and earlier if you like. I will be ever vigilant on this. It has been tamped down and I did put together an organization to do so that started perhaps February or so. But where we are is every day that republicans have a national debate on immigration is a bad day for republicans and Barack Obama knows that. And so he can play it as a political tool or he can play it as an agenda and they have said clearly out of the White House, if we pass the Gang of Eight's bill, we win. If we just argue over the Gang of Eight's bill, we also win. And from my standpoint I'm going to defend the rule of law and I'm in the business of refurbishing the pillars of American exceptionalism and we can't do that without the rule of law.
Lynch: Congressman, earlier this week Jeb Bush said that if republicans really want to get rid of Obamacare it's time for them to offer an alternative. Do you have an alternative to Obamacare? Do you have an alternative to the President's immigration reform? Is there something to offer Americans other than no?
King: Well, it's hard to propose legislation into something that has to repeal the existing legislation in order to be implemented. And so with the health care side of this thing, I've offered up a whole series of things with health care and health insurance, I think all of which are outlawed by Obamacare, such as selling insurance across state lines to create that competition and the pre-existing condition portion we address here in Iowa with the high risk pool that we have. The premiums are high but it has worked pretty well. Those kinds of things -- I want to create a health savings account that becomes a life savings account so that we would allow say a young couple to max out into their health savings account that exists in a functional forum until Obamacare chopped it back and minimized it and that young couple would arrive with normal health care experiences at Medicare eligibility with $950,000 in their health savings account. I'd say, buy yourself a Medicare replacement policy on an open market, keep the change tax free and call it your retirement fund. There's all kinds of good things we can do but we can't do, we can't get this kind of legislation passed because I will just tell you, the President of the United States is a redistributionist, when I bring these kind of ideas forward the rebuttal that comes at me is, everybody can't do that therefore no one shall.
Borg: In the opening I said that there's a possibility, there's been a lot of rumbling here about a primary opponent, another republican challenging, almost unheard of, you, in the fourth district. But now, you know, your democrat opponent, Jim Mauer, has raised more money than you have in the last reporting session. Now, what is going on with you up there in that fourth district?
King: Well, Dean, people forget that in the last election cycle that we raised more money than anyone had ever raised in a single House race and for a congressional race in the history of Iowa. And so I don't know why anyone would be concerned about the fundraising side of this thing since I happen to be the guy that has done more than anyone else has with regard to the fundraising side. Plus we raised more money than we had in an equivalent quarter in previous elections with the exception, of course, of the Christie Vilsack race. So rumors about a primary opponent, I think my antenna are pretty good and we can't find a wisp of smoke of such a thing of any kind of a rumor except it just gets churned around the media. I don't think it exists and I'm, of course, disregarding it in that respect. But here's how this really sits. I've been about the business of unifying this party and I don't want to see the Republican Party marginalized, I don't want to see the establishment wing pushed off of this, they have been an essential core of the Republican Party, they drive a lot of the economic agenda and, of course, they drive a lot of the fundraising side of this. I don't want to see the libertarian side drift off of the other side of this party because they are constitutionalists and they stand for the rule of law. So that is my position on this. And when I hear from people on, say, the libertarian wing of the party that they want me to deemphasize some things and I hear from the establishment wing of the party they want me to deemphasize some things I say to them, is there anything you stand for that we disagree on? And their answer is, well I just want you to exclusively work on my part of this agenda. And my answer to that is, well, if you get everything you want, why do you insist, why do you object to getting more than you want? And that’s where it sits. So I don't think that there's substance to this rumor. And we'll see how the fundraising goes in the future, Dean, but the record speaks for itself.
Henderson: Congressman, you are one of two Iowans, along with Senator Harkin, who is on the Farm Bill Conference Committee. It seems as if the major sticking point is over food stamps or SNAP it's called now. House republicans want to cut $40 billion, Senate democrats proposed cutting $4 billion. How do you bridge that divide?
King: Well, it's $36 billion apart isn't it, Kay, and it's going to be the most difficult issue in resolving this in the conference committee on the farm bill. I'm glad that we have two Iowans that are conferees and we are now and have been for some weeks working to line up those issues that we disagree between the House and the Senate and line them up in order of difficulty. The easy ones we want the staff to resolve and work down through that line. The more difficult ones we'll try to work those before we meet in a formal fashion. Next Wednesday we will meet in a formal fashion of the conference committee and I expect as we sort down through that pyramid erasing those that are easy, getting down to the most difficult, the last one and the hardest one is the food stamp issue or the SNAP issue. $36 billion apart. I'm looking to our republican leadership team to come up with some creative ideas. But part of this is also look at each other, talk to each other, judge the resolve and see how we get -- if we can get down to the only disagreement we have is $36 billion, it is a big deal, then we have to figure out to get to where we can say yes, enough, and I don't want to tip any hand on it. I chair the subcommittee that deals with nutrition and so what I say it might affect the negotiations. But I want to get to the end of this thing and I want a bill on the President's desk. I said before the snow flies, I know in part of Iowa I'm already too late on that, but we're going to try to get this done and I think we get it done by the end of the year.
Lynch: The food stamps aren't the only issue in the farm bill though. There are payment caps, direct payments, your amendment that would ban states from regulating livestock production across state lines. What is going to be in this bill? Very quickly, can you run us through what is going to be in it?
King: Well, the direct payments will be gone. The House and the Senate both agreed to that. We've got to decide on the commodity title, the disagreements that we have in the commodity title. And, once again, that's a piece of let's sit down and see if we can figure out how we can agree before any of us takes such a public position that we can't compromise or back up from it. I'm not as concerned about those components of the commodity title. The payment caps, that will be a pivotal issue and that's probably the second most difficult of the issues to get resolved. And there's conservation compliance that is an issue of disagreement. And a lot of you know I spent much of my life in conservation work so I'll be paying real attention to that so that we have something that comes out of it that I'll say retains good stewardship of our soil. And then the other issue that you mentioned, and I think it is the most -- it's just because it's my amendment, but I think the most important amendment that was put on the bill in either the House or the Senate is what they now refer to as the King amendment, but it was a bill I drafted several years ago called the Protect Interstate Commerce Act and what it does, it recognizes that states have been increasingly passing referendum that will regulate the means of production of their agriculture products. For example --
Borg: How chickens are raised, how hogs are raised and things like that.
King: Exactly. No gestation crates, no stalls for veal calves, doubling the cage size of hens, of laying hens. States are free to do that and my amendment doesn't affect state's ability to regulate their producers within their state. That's their business and that is part of the laboratory. But when a state like California passes legislation to protect their California egg producers that requires that all eggs coming into California must also be laid by hens in California standards, and Iowa is the number one egg producing state, then that becomes an issue. So I offered that amendment a year and a half ago, it has been vetted throughout all this time, we floated it out to all the interest groups --
Borg: You would protect interstate commerce of those commodities, that's what --
King: Exactly. And it's constitutional, Dean.
Henderson: Congressman, your colleague, republican Tom Latham voted for the compromise that passed the House on October 16th. In doing so he got a bunch of blowback, particularly from Tea Party elements in your party. You in the past have campaigned for Tea Party candidates all across the country. Are you actively out there recruiting someone to run against Tom Latham at a primary? Would you support that happening?
King: I'm not out actively doing that and I can't imagine me supporting that. I as much as I can stay out of primaries, especially within the state of Iowa here. But here's -- Tom Latham and I carry a similar philosophy into the United States House of Representatives. He has a different role in Congress than I have. He is an appropriator. He is closely associated with Speaker Boehner and they are close personal friends. I actually stepped in -- the three of us had a conversation just yesterday. So I'm thinking about how that works. But he has his reasons for making his decision and I have mine for making mine. And we want Tom Latham to be effective and his influence within the leadership circle in the House of Representatives. If that is a factor in his decision we should respect that. But when you look at his voting record down the line it has been a solid conservative record. And there are many places we can go to improve the results of the House of Representatives without going to Tom Latham.
Lynch: You recently spent, reports are that you spent about $20,000 on a statewide poll. What are you looking for there? Are you keeping your options open for a statewide race?
King: You never know what the calling is going to be. But I said then that I was going to make an analytical decision on the U.S. Senate and it be the head, the gut, then the heart. And so to inform the head we needed to do the polling. And that was part of the information. There's a lot of other that is out there. I will tell you also that I came to the conclusion that I knew what it would take to win the race and it was going to take 18 months of constant campaigning, I would have been turning my back on my job in Washington, I was watching as these things unfolded, the immigration issue is part of it, so is the Obamacare issue. And I imagine, I got to this point where I said, I can imagine myself standing on the floor of the United States Senate taking the oath of office but I couldn't imagine putting the genie back in the bottle on what could happen in the House if I'm not on my watch. That was a decision I came to in that way, James.
Lynch: So the Senate race is out for you. What about the crop of candidates who are competing for the nomination? Are you going to get involved there, endorse any of those candidates?
King: If it was just one of them I'd like to get behind one of them and support them because I like them all. And that's the problem. Four of the five have been good friends for some time and I just haven't met Mark Jacobs until about a year or so ago and he presents himself well from what I've seen. So here's what I believe -- I came to this conclusion during the presidential race in the last cycle, that these races improve people, they bring out the best candidates. The competition helps sort them -- can they build an organization? Can they raise money? Are they going to be solid on all these issues? Are they going to be solid on constitutional and economic issues and say national defense issues? And you can go right on down the line, on agriculture.
Borg: Will you endorse or not?
King: At this point I don't know. I'm telling them all just go out there and do a good job and I'm going to help facilitate as much as I can. I like these candidates, Dean, and I don't want to say that I like one better than another.
Borg: Well, Congressman, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being our guest today. In just a moment, Des Moines Register Political Reporter Jennifer Jacobs joins us for a quick conversation.
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Borg: The Register's Jennifer Jacobs was listening to our conversation with Congressman King. Jennifer, what did you find most interesting?
Jacobs: Well, I thought there was three newsy bits and the first one is that he waved the white flag on Obamacare. He essentially said that health care law is not going to go away unless the American people see it melt down completely and they tell their congressman to get rid of it. The second thing was that he said very pointedly that he'd not going to actively recruit a challenger for his friend, fellow Congressman Tom Latham, another republican. He said he's a solid conservative, I stand with him, which is something that will probably irritate the Tea Party folks here in Iowa who are very angry with Latham about his vote on the shutdown. Third thing is that he said that the primary challenger against him in 2016 is fictitious. He just blew that off and said, not even a wisp of smoke there.
Borg: Why does that surprise you, all of you if you agree with Jennifer, that he would say Tom Latham did the right thing?
Henderson: I think that one thing I heard Steve King say here was we need to bring the party together. And that was fascinating because you do have this huge rift between, as he identified, libertarians and establishment, and he spent some time explaining why these two elements of the party need to work together. So I think he is sort of positioning himself as the peacemaker, the person who can bring these two sides together. And I think the logical outgrowth of that is defending a fellow republican congressman and he right here suggested, we have other fish to fry, my metaphor there, let's go after democrats, let's go after some of the sitting democrats and focus our fire there rather than focusing our fire on a fellow republican.
Lynch: Peacemaker is not a term we usually apply to Steve King. But yeah, I mean, his rhetoric here today suggested that he is trying to keep the party together and it might be that he's trying to get the Tea Party folks who would be upset with his position regarding Latham to focus on the U.S. Senate race and expend their energy there rather than taking out an incumbent congressman.
Jacobs: And frankly, Dean, there's probably enough problems in the Republican Party in Iowa. For example, we were just seeing that the fundraising for the month of September for the party headquarters was pretty dismal. They're still hemorrhaging money. So the Democratic Party in Iowa has brought in last month a net of $24,000. The republicans were in the hole by $35,000. So you've got republicans, you know, from the various factions around the state saying we're very worried about our party hemorrhaging money, we've got some big races next year, the governor's race and an open U.S. Senate race and the hallmark of this party is that they are not able to raise money. And, in fact, with Ted Cruz being here they have been offering to some republicans 30 minutes with Ted Cruz for $1,000 and I've been hearing from a few republicans who have turned that down.
Borg: Governor Branstad made some comments this week, Jennifer, too about Ted Cruz. What did you interpret on what he said?
Jacobs: Well, he did seem lukewarm if not a little bit condescending. He said, you know, he's a bright guy but then he turned around and said, kind of dismissed him as just one of 100 senators and he predicted that he would not become president because Branstad thinks that a governor is going to take that role.
Borg: What did you find most interesting about the Senate candidates, those seeking the nomination to replace democratic Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa? What did you find most interesting about those republicans?
Henderson: Well, they gathered for a debate this past week and they were point blank asked if the shutdown was a smart strategy for republicans and only one of them said, yes it was, we need to do more of that. That was David Young. The people who had signed on to the Ted Cruz, Mike Lee online petition to defund Obamacare, Joni Ernst, Matt Whitaker and Sam Clovis, said things that sort of let the audience know they were in support of the shutdown but they didn't actually say it was a good thing. So I found that absolutely fascinating.
Borg: We're out of time. We'll see what they do next time we get around the table. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, same times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.