- Transcript (RTF)
Challenging the King. Democrat Christie Vilsack campaigning to claim republican Steve King’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. King and Vilsack side by side in this special hour-long debate edition of Iowa Press – live from Carroll.
Borg: Reapportionment of Iowa’s congressional districts reflecting shifting population creates a dramatically different fourth district. Urban areas, Ames and Mason City specifically, are now joining Sioux City in anchoring borders of the previously predominately rural district that republican Steve King has been representing in the Congress during the past ten years. And he’s been winning re-election by fairly comfortable margins, getting a fifth term with two-thirds of the votes cast two years ago. But redistricting, drawing in Ames and Story County, with its Iowa State University demographics, may be diluting that republican dominance. That’s what democrat Christie Vilsack may have been hoping when she moved halfway across the state to Ames, declaring candidacy for King’s congressional seat. She’s familiar with the district, traveling the state as Iowa’s First Lady during husband Tom Vilsack’s eight years as governor. Welcome to Iowa Press.
King: Thank you.
Borg: Of course, both of you are familiar with the Iowa Press format, but we’re in a different setting here in Carroll, with an audience, in addition to our television viewers. But in the audience here, watching and listening, they’ve promised to cheer – not to cheer at all and we don’t want to hear from them. But they will be cheering at the beginning and the end. And the questions in this special hour-long debate edition of Iowa Press will be coming from Sioux City Journal Political Writer Bret Hayworth and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, this past weekend at an Iowa Democratic Party fundraiser, you told democrats that you were running to prove that being a woman was no longer a barrier to public office in Iowa. Are you asking voters to set aside consideration of your views on issues and vote for you merely because you’re a woman?
Vilsack: No, not at all. I think that’s one of the lenses I bring tot his. I think the delegation would be stronger for having a woman. Iowa is one of two states that has never elected a woman to higher office, and I would be proud to be the first. But I think I bring a lot of lenses to this job. Certainly being a small town person, I think being a teacher is one of my best lenses. I think being 62 years old is a lens that I bring to this, and certainly being a woman. But I think those four lenses make me a candidate that provides a different view. And I think it shows my temperament, and I think temperament is going to be really important in this race.
Henderson: How so?
Vilsack: I think that there are times in a nation’s history when you need people who are resolute and who dig their heels in, but I don’t think this is that time. I think it was said best by a man who approached me at the Greene County Fair, who said I’m not a democrat, I’m a republican, I’m an American and I wish Congress would start acting like they’re Americans too. And I want to go to Congress as an American and as a problem solver, not as a partisan fighter. Certainly I bring that lens of a woman, and there are a lot of issues that I want to address that I think are really important.
Henderson: And we will get to those later. Mr. King, when you were speaking with Iowa republicans this past week, you told them that Mrs. Vilsack was sort of left of San Francisco. You also said that democrats aim to create chaos in order to gain power. Could you explain those comments?
King: I believe I said they expect to profit from chaos that comes about from fiscal irresponsibility and a potential meltdown of our economy, which would come eventually if we didn’t balance our budget. Yes, you look at the groups that have supported Mrs. Vilsack, those that are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaigns. They are out there, San Francisco and the left of San Francisco. And one of them would be HSUS, the anti-meat lobby, and so I think it’s a pretty easy case to make. This isn’t a centrist running against a conservative. This is someone I think that’s postured themselves as a centrist. When you look at the positions, it’s an entirely different story. And also – with regard to the woman issue, I have helped get several women elected to office. I was the one who nominated Kim Reynolds as Lieutenant Governor at the state convention. The Governor said she might not have won that nomination if it hadn’t been for me advocating for her. The last woman to run for Congress is Marionette Miller-Meeks. I donated money to her campaign. I went there and I campaigned with her. Mrs. Vilsack worked against her.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, why did you call attention to your age?
Vilsack: Well, I think that my dad used to say there comes a time in a person’s life when you don’t care what people think about you anymore. I probably shouldn’t say that since I’m running for office and need the vote of 750,000 people, but I think it is an asset that I take to Congress because I think I go in – I’m going to Congress to do something, not to be someone. I am someone already. I’ve been someone. I’ve had a title and I want to get things done.
Henderson: The implication with her comment, Mr. King, is that you are merely in Congress to “be someone”. Is that true?
King: I would say that if anyone wants to look at my record and understand what’s going on there, they would know that I’m moving the Iowa agenda. In order to move an Iowa agenda, you don’t just go there and sit in a cubicle and put up a vote that you think reflects the best interest of Iowans. Yes, you do do that but my job has been able to take that beyond those limits. It would be a relatively – and I said that word twice – relatively easy thing to vote the district and sit in your office in Washington and come back home and work to get re-elected, but if you want to take this to another level, you’ve got to go outside the district and you’ve got to sell Iowa values to the rest of the country. That’s what I’ve been doing.
Vilsack: May I respond?
Borg: Yes, go ahead.
Vilsack: Congressman King has said that his agenda is to move this country to the right. And I want to represent the 750,000 people in my district and concentrate on how we can grow the economy in these 39 counties, because many of them have lost population and we lost a congressperson. So I’m really focused on local.
Borg: Well, let’s talk about the economy, Bret?
Hayworth: Mrs. Vilsack, looking at the economy, if you’re in Congress, what can you do to accelerate the recovery from the sluggish economy?
Vilsack: I just said that I’m very focused on the local, and I am. So I would start with the local. And I said that I saw the world and this district through the lens of a teacher, so I really see my job much the way I would on the first day of school, with all the promise that entails. And I would be looking at these counties as 39 separate entities, as many different communities. I would want to make sure that I help each of them maximize their potential by creating jobs. And I have spent the last year and a half laying out my plan for layers of economic opportunity. You know I always carry my football with me because one of the things I talk about is creating another layer of bio, the bio economy and making things from what we grow within 10 or 15 miles of all these small towns.
Borg: Those watching us may wonder what does that have to do – what does the football have to –
Vilsack: The football is made of soybeans and almost every car that anybody drove up here with tonight came off the line in Detroit and the seats are probably made from this product. But there’s so many things like this, whether it’s plastic bottles from Coca-Cola or whether it’s using hog manure to create asphalt, we can make from what we have right here within 10 or 15 miles of this community.
Hayworth: Mr. King, in 2013 and 2014, what needs to be done to stimulate the economy in Congress?
King: Well, I think it’s pretty clear what I have done, and that is I introduced the first piece of legislation and laid the foundation for biodiesel. I extended the tax credit so that ethanol could grow. Today I represent the number one renewable energy producing congressional district in all of America. I’ve also made it clear from a business standpoint that government doesn’t create jobs. What government has to do is get out of the way so that entrepreneurs can have a chance for profit, and if they do that, they’ll invest their capital. Investing capital, earning profit, turns into jobs, and that’s prosperity. What government needs to do is have a low, stable, predictable tax rate so that those trillions of dollars that are stranded, sitting there waiting because of the indecision, will be invested in the economy. We’ve got to lower our regulation burden on businesses. When I was in business, I counted 43 agencies regulating my trade. There’s a lot more now. I will tell you there’s not a single company in America that has a banner on their home website that says notice we are proud that we are in compliance with all federal regulations. No one would dare do that because the government would come in and eventually they would be shut down.
Hayworth: Mr. King, I would like to ask you to pinpoint what year would you say that the U.S. economy will be fully recovered with an acceptable rate of employment?
King: You know, that’s an awfully hard thing to measure. We don’t know who’s going to win the election. If I knew that, I would be a little more bold in what I would predict. But I think what you’ll see is if we win a majority -- we’ll hold a majority in the House -- if we win the majority in the Senate and Mitt Romney is the next president and Paul Ryan is the next vice president, we will move quickly on an agenda to stabilize these tax rates. And then I’ll tell you by the time Mitt Romney is up for re-election, I think by then we will see a recovery and we’ll see this unemployment drop at least a point and a half.
Hayworth: And what’s the acceptable rate? What would you consider to be the acceptable rate of unemployment?
King: When I was in the Iowa Senate, we had a 2 percent unemployment rate. We call that a full-employment economy. So I would keep trying to drive that unemployment down as far as I could and I never would accept it until everybody was working that needed to be working.
Hayworth: Where would you put that number nationally?
King: I think we get fairly comfortable among it if we can get that number down to around 4 percent. In that zone I’d say we’re doing pretty good, but I would never let up.
Hayworth: Mrs. Vilsack, the same question.
Vilsack: One of the questions we have is that we have gridlock in Congress and nothing is getting done. Congressman King has not done much in his ten years of Congress and I think he needs to be held responsible for that, but what we need is we need a farm bill to start with because that’s the most important piece of legislation to people in this district, to people in this room, and to people in rural America.
Borg: Is that going to affect the rate of unemployment?
Vilsack: I think it will because I think the farm bill certainly because people are not investing, people feel insecure. Right now because the farm bill expired, it will be hard for farmers to go to the bank to get credit next year. It will be hard for young farmers to know what the rules are in terms of leasing equipment and leasing land. So there’s this insecurity and it’s not just the farm bill --
Borg: Let me interrupt because we’re going to get to the farm bill and deeper discussion later on, but Bret’s question was what is an acceptable rate of unemployment, in your view?
Vilsack: Well, the rate in this district is 2 percent on the west and 5 percent at the highest on the east of the district. So if we can get the national rate down to what is the high rate in our district, then I think that would be –
Hayworth: And roughly what time period? What year are you talking? What would you guess?
Vilsack: You can’t know unless you can say that Congress is going to actually get something done. Nothing’s going to happen if we don’t have a farm bill, an infrastructure bill, a jobs bill.
Borg: Let me ask one more thing then concerning unemployment. How long, Mrs. Vilsack, should unemployed men and women be entitled to unemployment benefits?
Vilsack: Well, I think that that really helped protect people in this downturn in the economy, but I think you have to make sure that people don’t continue to depend on those, but you have to make sure that we actually have a recovery. And we need to protect people.
Borg: And Mr. King? How long unemployment benefits should be continued for those that are unemployed?
King: I didn’t even hear an answer to the question when you asked Mrs. Vilsack. My answer is 26 weeks.
Borg: And it’s far beyond that now.
King: It’s been extended out to 99 weeks, extended again, and we need to understand that there’s not a lot of return on that investment. You have people that are age 63. When they’re promised 99 weeks of unemployment that’s an early retirement. People who have skills – whose job skills atrophy because they don’t go back to work – I have companies coming to me and saying we’re identifying people on the streets that are drawing unemployment. We can’t hire them off of unemployment, but we know when it runs out and we’re there waiting to hire them the minute they run out of unemployment benefits, so it’s not a very good return on the investment. We need a safety net, but the safety net has traditionally been 26 weeks. And that’s where I stand.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, I’m coming back to you to answer that question, if you wish. 26 weeks?
Vilsack: I don’t think that we need to have a definite time on it. I think that we have to take a look at the recovery and we have to make sure that we take care of people who have been unemployed. The answer to it is to take care of the gridlock and actually get something done. Again, nothing has been done in Congress, and I think we need to hold the people there responsible for it. If you keep sending the same people back and expect a different result, that’s just not going to happen. So I think we need an infrastructure bill, we need a jobs bill, we need a farm bill, we need an immigration reform bill, we need an education bill. Nothing has happened in Congress. This is the most ineffective Congress in my lifetime, maybe in the history of Congress, and Congressman King is one of the most ineffective congresspeople in our delegation.
Borg: I’ll ask you more about that later.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, I’d like to ask you a question similar to that asked of the vice presidential candidates in their debate. As a Catholic, how has your view on abortion been shaped by your religion?
Vilsack: I’m not Catholic. I’m an Episcopalian. So I guess I can’t answer that question.
Henderson: Your husband is a Catholic.
Vilsack: My husband is a Catholic. I’m an Episcopalian. My children are Catholics. My grandchildren have just been baptized in the Catholic Church and we raised our children as Catholics. But I would be happy to talk about my view on abortion. My view on abortion is that it should be safe, legal and rare. I’ve worked really hard on the rare part for the last three and a half years because I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just something that divided us politically, but that I would work with the people of my state at the local level to make sure that we could figure out a way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and give young men and women an opportunity to get a job and get established in the job and get an education. So I’ve been working with an organization basically that has – is doing research and now has the beginning evidence to show that we’ve reduced the number of abortions in Iowa by 26 percent and the number of unintended pregnancies by 8 percent. And the Iowa Initiative, the people running it now because I’m not there, I’ve been in Washington this week – but they’re actually talking about the results of this and we hope that it will be a model for the nation. But I think it’s important to actually do something about abortion. And we won’t have to talk about abortion if we make sure that people have access to contraceptives. I would like Congressman King actually to explain what his view is on that because he basically has said in Ames High School in the last few days – I would like to know whether he believes that women in this community have the opportunity, have the right, the legal right to go into the drugstore down the street and fill a prescription for birth control pills or go out to New Opportunities and get some of the new long-acting reversible contraceptives at the local family planning clinic. I don’t think he’s made his position clear on that.
Henderson: Mr. King, would you like to make your position clear?
King: I think that’s really brazen to make such a misstatement here in front of everybody in Iowa and the country. That’s manufactured from the other side of the aisle. It’s so manufactured it even flows as far as President of the United States and a tweet that his people put out earlier today. This comes from me explaining something, and that is a case called Griswold versus Connecticut. That was 1965. That was when the Supreme Court said that there was a constitutional requirement that they had prohibited the states from banning the sale of contraceptives. I accept that decision as constitutional. If anybody advised otherwise, I would tell them why don’t you go into something you can be constructive with. But there is something that is a valid point that is constructive. It is a difference between us that’s not manufactured. That is this, that Parinda Act. We have babies in America and in Iowa that are being aborted simply because they are little baby girls because the mother wants a boy instead of a girl. We have evidence of that. It’s coming in from the Asian community as well. We have legislation before Congress that prohibits sex selected abortion. Mrs. Vilsack says she thinks it’s ridiculous to talk about it and Iowans don’t care about that. I think it matters and I think it matters to the little girls that are being aborted.
Vilsack: Congressman King, I think that you need to let the people of Iowa know whether you believe in the right to privacy, which was put forth in Griswold versus Connecticut. Do we have the right to privacy under the Constitution to allow us to go into the local pharmacy and purchase contraceptives? I think that’s an important question for people to know of all generations.
King: If you were listening, you heard me say that I accept the decision of Griswold.
Vilsack: I take that as a no.
King: Well, you misunderstand it.
Henderson: Mr. King, do you support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which is sometimes called a personhood amendment? It was proposed in the state of Mississippi in the past election and failed.
King: I would want to look at the language of that amendment before I said. But generally speaking, I’m inclined to be supportive of defining life at the moment of conception and ending at natural death. And I’m completely consistent with the Catholic Church and the basic principles, the five basic principles of the church, including abortion and marriage and euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research. The list goes on. The answer is likely but I’d want to see the language.
Hayworth: Mr. King, a few years ago in Congress you showed a scale model of a wall that you said should be built on the southern border with Mexico. Do you still feel like that’s a way to go?
King: What I said about that is people said we can’t build a wall. I thought, well, I’ve got to get right down to the tinker toys and show them because they had simply a mental block on how easy it is. So I put together a little model and went down to the wall and said here’s how we do it. And we could build about a mile of this a day. So that was the demonstration to put aside that argument that we couldn’t do such a simple thing. There’s 5,500 miles of the Great Wall of China. Why would we think American can’t build a couple thousand? My position is this – we don’t have to build 2,000 miles of wall down on the border. We just build that until they stop going around the end. That would be our measure. I think it’s a pretty simple equation.
Hayworth: Simply, the wall entails what? A concrete barrier? Just a brief explanation of that.
King: It’s pretty interesting when the President ridiculed a wall, he was standing about 600 feel from four walls – four fences and walls and two motes down along the border. But I described it as this – it’s a type of concrete system where you would slip form a foundational trench, drop into it precast concrete panels, and build that wall up. And you’d have to have routes on either side of it so you can patrol it. Likely put in a chain-link fence near the border and likely put in another fence upstream of there. We’re spending $12 billion on our southern border. That’s $6 million a mile. And it would only cost us $4 million a mile to pave a four lane Highway 20.
Hayworth: Talking about immigration, here’s what we’re talking about. Mrs. Vilsack, President Obama has been more aggressive in deportation of illegal immigrants than what President Bush had been. If you join Congress, would you be supportive of that trend continuing?
Vilsack: The most important thing is to make sure we secure our borders. We need to make them secure. We need to do whatever we need to do to make them secure so that people who are not crossing the border illegally or guns and drugs are not crossing illegally. So we need to protect the border. I also think we need to make sure that the jobs go to lawful Americans, but we need immigration reform. We need to make sure that there is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 to 13 million people who are here who are in the shadows and I’m not talking about amnesty, but I am talking about paying a fine and going to the end of the line, deporting the felons and we also need to make sure that the young people who are here, who came here through no fault of their own, get a chance at the American dream because many of them have offered their lives for the country. But Congressman King also talked about the fence in terms of electricity. And he used language that I think is reprehensible and embarrassing to the people of Iowa when he says that we use cattle prods on animals, so why not electricity on people.
Borg: You frowned at that.
King: That’s a false statement, so I’m not going to respond to it. It’s just false.
Borg: I want to ask you, Mr. King, there are several communities, Denison is one, within your district that has a large influx of non-English speaking or people who need help in English speaking communication. There are several communities like that, maybe not to the extent of Denison itself, but do you think communities like that need some special assistance, maybe even federal assistance in the way that the military assists communities affected by a nearby military base with the influx of children into the school districts and other infrastructure? Do you think communities should get some special assistance when they are in that sort of bind?
King: I was born in Storm Lake and I graduated from high school in Denison and I live halfway between those two communities. Those are the communities that would be most likely to make that kind of an ask. I haven’t had a request like that come to me, but I do know that we have ESL classes that are going on and we have volunteers and we have other systems that are out there, so I don’t know that there’s a shortfall of that kind of service. If there is, then I hope people will come and talk to me about it, but I’m not going to make a commitment to something until it is clear that there’s a need. But I do want to see assimilation into society.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, you heard the question. Special assistance for communities who are impacted by special population groups?
Vilsack: I think that’s a really interesting question. Bob Ray – Governor Ray brought our southeast Asians – our Thai Dam families here many years ago, and we had a really good way of making sure that became part of the communities. We actually – churches volunteered in small towns to be sort of the mentors for these families. When many of our Latino families came with the meatpacking plants, there was no such buffer. At the state level, when Tom was Governor, we created Iowa centers that really helped with all these issues and the transition issues to fill that buffer, and I think that’s a really interesting idea. I don’t know exactly how you would move it forward, but I think it’s certainly an interesting thing to contemplate.
Hayworth: One more question of immigration. Mr. King, yes or no. Are you still planning to sue – in June you announced you wanted to sue President Obama over the change in policy that younger people would not be deported for a period of time. Are you still planning that lawsuit?
King: I believe that the President has violated the Constitution just like Tom Vilsack did when he thought that he could legislate be executive order. This president can not legislate by executive edict or memorandum. And I intend to follow through on that. I ran into a few barriers because of the election. It was bogging people down. So the answer is yes.
Hayworth: How soon? Where do you stand on that?
King: In the process?
King: There are some plaintiffs that will not be able to come onto the suit until after the election, so I said I will hold the suit up until after the election and I expect that this year we’ll be able to complete the preparations for that and get the suit filed.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, you wanted to respond.
Vilsack: I think the answer is that we wouldn’t have this issue if Congress had done its job. Congress didn’t do its job in creating immigration reform. So what happens when one branch of government doesn’t work very well, another branch steps in. I think that’s what happened here. I think the President took a necessary step.
Borg: You both and your supporters are augmenting in-person campaigning with extensive broadcast advertising. We’re going to see a couple of examples right now. First a commercial from Mrs. Vilsack’s campaign.
Vilsack for Congress Ad: “I’m Christie Vilsack and I approved this message.”
Borg: Mr. King, Mrs. Vilsack has previously outside that commercial called you an embarrassment to Iowa and came close to that already this evening. Do some of the quotes there though embarrass you, wish you had them back?
King: I’ve said of one of her previous commercials that by the time I eliminated the questions and the misstatements and the dishonesty, the only thing left was “I’m Christie Vilsack and I approved this message.” This one actually has in it, though, the one statement that is true, and the rest are false. The one that is true is a statement that I made about the vote on Hurricane Katrina. I believe that was $51.8 billion. I said that there will be all kinds of wasted funds. There’s no plan to spend it. I got beaten up on by many of the newspapers around, but I stood on that and I said it’s a principled vote and it will be easier to defend every day. As a matter of fact, here is King was right, that’s the Sioux City Journal’s response to that after they saw what happened when I voted no on Katrina funding. So I’ll stand on what’s true. The balance of that is false. But this was a good vote. I’ve had several better ones since then, and that is the repeal voting against Obamacare – voting for the repeal of Obamacare, voting against cap and trade, voting against Dodd Frank. Those were all better votes from a big policy perspective. But that was a good principled vote that I put up and the rest of those allegations are false.
Vilsack: He said it was the best vote he’d taken in Congress and he’s one of 11 congressmen, or congresspeople, who actually took a vote against Hurricane Katrina relief. I think everything I said in that ad is true. We have researched all of it. These are Congressman King’s own words.
Borg: Mr. King is also using a commercial to define Mrs. Vilsack. Let’s see what it says.
King for Congress Ad: “What does it mean that Christie Vilsack supports a tax hike on small businesses? It means that Christie Vilsack is for increasing taxes on Iowa’s job creators, making it harder to grow their businesses and create jobs. It means in this stagnant economy, Christie Vilsack will hurt job creation. It means Christie Vilsack doesn’t have a clue on jobs. National Federation of Independent Businesses is responsible for the content of this ad.”
Borg: Mr. King, you’ve seen that ad. How do you respond?
King: Actually that is the first time I’ve seen that ad, but I’m happy to respond to it. That is that Mrs. Vilsack has said that she wants to let the tax increase kick in on millionaires. A lot of our millionaires are the job creators of small businesspeople so I think that’s consistent and accurate, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and it’s not my ad.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, you’ve asked for that ad to be pulled. Why?
Vilsack: Because I have never said that I wanted to raise taxes on – I never said I wanted to raise taxes except on millionaires. It’s not about small businesses. I think that one of the reasons they’re running that ad is because I’ve done such a good job of talking about what I want to do to build the economy and rebuild the middle class and small towns. My whole reason for running for Congress is to make sure that we have economic opportunity in these small towns. And except for saying that millionaires should have to pay a little bit more, I certainly haven’t said anything about raising taxes. I actually thought the proposal that Dave Loebsack had when he was here talking about maybe suspending some of the tax issues for small businesses would be possibly something else that’s a good idea that’s worth looking into.
Henderson: There’s another ad that a lot of people who live in this district are seeing on their television sets in which there’s a photo of you and a photo of Nancy Pelosi. I’m wondering how you respond when folks such as Congressman King accuse you of being a Nancy Pelosi clone?
Vilsack: I think one of the things about this district is that I represented it for eight years and traveled all over the world representing this district. I see every small town in this district just like my small town, the small town I grew up in, and I see all the people in this district like my friends and neighbors. I’m just Iowa. That’s who I am. I am just Iowa.
Henderson: Mr. King, you’ve accused her of being just to the left of San Francisco. Could you again articulate in response to her saying that she’s just Iowa?
King: Again, I didn’t hear the answer tot hat question that you asked, Kay. It was about Nancy Pelosi. I will tell you that this is what I know. I know if Christie Vilsack is elected to the United States Congress, the first vote she would put up would be the vote for Nancy Pelosi. It’s a constitutional requirement. It’s not we slip in there, push the button and walk out. You have to stand up and shout the name of the person that you vote for, for Speaker of the House. That’s really the question that’s in front of us here, and I didn’t hear the answer to that.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack?
Vilsack: First of all, we have no idea whether Nancy Pelosi will be a candidate for Speaker of the House. There may be a lot of other people who are interested in the job. I would never presume before I had a job to be answering a question like that, but I would certainly take into consideration the other people who might be interested in the job, and I’ll make a decision at that time. But there’s no assurance that I would vote for Nancy Pelosi or anybody else until I get the job.
Henderson: One of the things about the ads you are both running is you are each accusing the other of not being a person who embodies Iowa values. I would like for you each in one sentence briefly to describe to me what Iowa values are. Mr. King?
King: Iowa values are faith in family and freedom and smart, hard work and free enterprise. We are rooted in the soil. All new wealth comes from the land. We raise it out of here and we value add to that as close to the corn stalk or the bean stem as we can, as many times as we can. It’s a work ethic. It’s a faith ethic. That’s why I have gone to all 382 towns in this congressional district. I live here. My roots are here. I didn’t move here to run for this race and I’ll be living here after November no matter what happens.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack?
Vilsack: When I did my listening tour as I was starting my campaign I did a tour called the Value of Work and asked people around the district to help identify those values that we had in common because I knew that this would probably be a race that was divisive. What people told me was that certainly the value of work is important. The value of service to country, the value of stewardship of the land, family, and so -- and education actually, not just as an issue, but people who I talk to in the 39 counties actually said education was intrinsic to who we are in Iowa. So those were some of the basic values that I heard and I think that I pretty much heard Congressman King say the same thing. So I don’t think that we’re that far apart on what we would agree on in terms of what our basic values are.
Henderson: One last thing. He just accused you of being a carpetbagger. What’s your response to that?
Vilsack: I think it’s the same response I just made. All of these towns – I represented everybody in this district for eight years. All of the towns and the people in them feel like –
Borg: As Iowa’s First Lady you mean?
Vilsack: Yes. When I was First Lady, I travelled all over the country, all over the world representing the people in the whole state and certainly in this district. So I’ve represented everybody in the district. Congressman King I think has represented about 48 percent. So I think I represent the values of this district. I want to --
Borg: Let me ask it this way, Mrs. Vilsack. Would you be comfortable with some of the organizations that were portrayed in the ad that Kay refers to? Would you like to have them along your side campaigning for you?
Vilsack: I’m not sure which organizations you’re talking about.
Borg: Let’s say the Humane Society and their views on pork production. Would you like to have them campaigning in the fourth district alongside you?
Vilsack: Well, I have not – I haven’t taken money from the Humane Society, if you’re suggesting that. I think Congressman King has suggested that. I can’t take money and don’t take money from anyone who is doing business for USDA but I do know that the Humane Society – and there are probably people in this room who belong to the Humane Society because every little town in Iowa has a Humane Society and people are volunteering there and helping take care of the animals there. So I think it depends on what you’re talking about.
Hayworth: Congressman King, to say what we’re talking about in a slightly different way, some of these ads – the first ad that we saw, that was an ad that was done by one of your campaigns and there’s also a lot of outside group ads that are being done. Are you concerned how issues are being framed by these outside ads, by outside groups, is different than how you’re framing – than how you’d like to see the issues framed in this race?
King: I knew this would happen. That’s why I said a year and a half ago when the announcement came out that this would be a holy war. That’s why I said I will learn things about myself that I don’t yet know. They will spend between $5 and $10 million attacking me and my reputation. That’s all turned out to be true. And I knew that this would be the first super PAC election that Iowa has experienced in the congressional race. One of the reasons I wanted this many debates is because this is the way to penetrate through this. I didn’t think we could offset all that spending. By the way, if you send back $1,000 check that came from HSUS but you accept $4,000 or $5,000 worth of television ads attacking your opponent, you don’t get to wash your hands and say, well, they’re nice people that are part of that community Humane Society. The local people that take care of these lost animals are not affiliated with HSUS. They’re the good people. They’re the people I donate to. There’s a big difference. This is a stark gap in understanding that’s just been voiced here. The Humane Society of the United States has a legislative agenda. They spend 1 percent helping pets and the balance of that is paying themselves and driving a legislative agenda, which is anti-meat. That doesn’t sell well in this district.
Hayworth: Mrs. Vilsack, same question.
Vilsack: Nobody likes a pork chop better than I do. I just want to make sure that I say that. We don’t have control over these independent expenditures. When I go to Congress, one of the things I would be most proud to do and to accomplish is to change campaign finance laws, something like the Disclose Act, which hasn’t gotten through Congress. I don’t know that I would say that particular. But the system is broken. I think it’s broken like a broken arm. I don’t think it’s terminal but we need to fix it. I would like to be a part of that because there is way too much money in politics. And when I see these ads on TV, I’m seeing them for the first time because these are not organizations that I’m connected with in terms of the advertising.
Henderson: Mr. King, I have a question about taxes for you. Let’s say in 2013 you are appointed the czar and you get to establish U.S. tax policy. What would you do?
King: I’m not for czars. I’ve opposed the czars. However, that would be a very tempting appointment to have sent my way. The first thing I would do – I could sell this -- that is make the Bush tax brackets permanent so that there’s long-term predictability. Then I would go to work to sell to the public the idea that as Ronald Reagan said, what you tax you get less of. The federal government has the first lien on all productivity in America. It punishes production. We need to take all the tax off production and put it over on consumption. If we do that, we can transform this economy. That’s H.R. 25, the fair tax. By the way, that’s a piece that I’ve gone around this district and talked about. I’ve talked about it each year that I’ve been in Congress. I did a tour around and I asked Mrs. Vilsack to debate that issue with me in Ames the night of the 22nd of September, but I didn’t get acceptance to that invitation.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, I’ll let you respond to that. I’d also like you to outline what tax policy you would implement were you, let’s say, king for a day.
Vilsack: It certainly wouldn’t be the fair tax because I don’t think that there is anything fair for the middle class about the fair tax. Basically when I went to the grocery store this morning, I bought milk for $3 a gallon, 2 percent was $3.55. If I had to pay 23 percent of every gallon of milk I bought at the grocery store, if I had to pay 23 percent sales tax every time I bought a car seat to bring my baby home from the hospital or bought a new car, that’s a considerable tax. That’s fine if you make more than $200,000 a year because you probably don’t pay much attention to that. But if you don’t make $200,000 a year, that’s an incredible tax on the middle class and I think that it’s a really, really bad idea.
King: Milk can only be $2.75 under my plan, so it would be cheaper, but go ahead, Bret.
Hayworth: You’ve talked for years about the benefits of the fair tax as you see it. If it’s such a good idea, why has it not become enacted?
King: That’s the only rebuttal I ran into in all my years of talking to my roundtable advisors in the café in the morning and all the times that I’ve tested this out. They would come back and I would give the argument over and over again and they would finally come back and say if it was a good idea, we would’ve done it by now. We all know America. We are the most successful country in the history of the world, but we still don’t always do the logical thing. There are political barriers in the way and that’s the reason. There’s a class envy card that gets played. You just heard it get played. The middle class is not disadvantaged by this. We untax the poor. I’ve turned this around every way you can look at it, like a Rubik’s cube. Every time I look at it, it looks better and better and better, but we see people that are empowered. About half of K. Street is funded by people there that are there to advocate for particular tax exemptions. That’s one of the reasons. Self-interest.
Hayworth: Is there any reason to believe it could be enacted in 2013 and 2014, that somehow the ground is going to change and that it could?
King: I wouldn’t predict that. What I’ve said is that we need to elect a president who has run on it with a mandate for that kind of change. Or if we find ourselves in an economic condition so desperate that we’re looking for a change, we had that circumstance. We’ve just got the wrong president.
Vilsack: Mitt Romney doesn’t think its’ a good idea either.
Henderson: Let us shift to horses and bayonets. When you are elected to Congress, either one of you, you will be controlling the purse strings of the Pentagon. Mrs. Vilsack, were you in that position, what sort of spending priorities would you have? Would you have spending priorities for people in the Pentagon or for weapon systems in the Pentagon?
Vilsack: Let me start, if I may, by saying a little bit about my world view. I think that in the future we’re not going to be judged – our might as a country is not going to be judged by how many soldiers we have or how many tanks we have or how many airplanes we have. I think we’re going to be judged on our ability to compete in the world economically. And I’ve spent some time with Leslie Gelb, who has advised presidents and secretaries of state and is on the Council of Foreign Relations. He’s someone that I have high regard for. This isn’t my original idea. It’s basically his but I agree with him. I think that we need to really focus strategically.
Borg: What is strategic? Doe that mean that you would downsize the current military might of the United States?
Vilsack: I just think we need to be nimble. I think of the future –
Borg: What does that mean, nimble?
Vilsack: It means that because we have to pay attention to terrorist outbreaks that come up often, that we need to be nimble, that we need to rely on technology, that we need to be very strategic in how we go about –
Borg: A smaller military than we have now?
Vilsack: It might be a different military. It might be smaller but I’m just saying that the most important thing for us is to make sure that we have a strong economy in the world. And that means making sure that we actually get something done in Congress and get the economy back on track. But I think that we need to be able to react very quickly to situations around the world because many of them are much smaller. And basically what we’ve done in the past – and Congressman King is responsible for this – is we’ve just have been involved in two wars that have taken a huge toll in human lives and in money as well. And our debt was $6 trillion when Congressman King went in and $16 trillion now because he put two wars on the credit card. And so we have to make sure that before we go into conflicts, that we – that we are prepared to do that.
Henderson: Let’s ask about what you just said. You can reply to that. And then, if you would, explain your measurement of U.S. power and might in the world.
King: I’ve been accused of starting two wars.
Vilsack: Not paying for them, not starting them.
King: I didn’t really start those wars. That’s been repeated a number of times throughout the campaign. Those things – those things were started – first of all September 11 we were attacked. When that happened, our financial center was crushed. We went into a downward tailspin economically. We went into Afghanistan. You don’t check the balance in your checking account when you send troops into battle. You make sure they have all the training, all the equipment they need and you make sure they have got the resources to win. I certainly have supported that. When Nancy Pelosi came in as Speaker, the national debt was $8.67 trillion. When she teamed up with Barack Obama, today it’s over $16 trillion and there’s $7 1/3 trillion worth of debt that’s been added on here, and it looks like I have more power than Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama combined if I listen to my opponent. Here’s what I think about military. I believe there is fat in the military. I think there’s fat in the Pentagon. I think there’s too much brass there. And it’s going to take people on the inside that want to reform it before we can get that right. I think we have probably too many civilian employees and we’re not keeping very good track of that. It’s going to take some people that are better in that system to make those recommendations than I can. I know some of them. There’s some that I work with that I trust substantially. John Bolton is one whom I have great respect from a foreign policy standpoint.
Henderson: He’s the former UN Ambassador.
King: Yes, to the United Nations. And he’s a personal friend. I will add this, we need to enhance our CIA. The intel that I’m getting in classified briefings is terrible. It is a shame. I can’t talk about what that is, but I will just tell you I get political responses that are from the public source in briefings that are supposed to be top secret intel. We’ve gone downhill a long ways on our intel, and that’s got to be lifted up because that lets us be more nimble and mobile.
Hayworth: Mrs. Vilsack, is there a circumstance in which you would say that you can vote for a war resolution to enter a war in Iran?
Vilsack: Could you repeat the question?
Hayworth: Is there a circumstance in which you could vote to declare war on Iran?
Vilsack: I think right now we have to do everything that we need to do to make sure that Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons. Israel is our best friend. We need to protect Israel. Yes, obviously I could, if it were in the strategic best interest of this country and strategic best interest of Israel, which is often in the strategic best interest of the country. Certainly we need to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but we need to do everything – sanctions seem to be working right now. One of the best things is that we have involved other nations and basically forcing Iran to allow people to come in and inspect their –
Borg: Just to clarify, I think I heard you say that under extreme circumstances, you could vote to support Israel in going to war against Iran.
Vilsack: That would be extreme circumstances. I think we need to do everything we can, and I think that there are lots of things that we can do, even apart from sanctions. It goes back to being nimble and being strategic in terms of how we deal with these issues.
Hayworth: Same question to you.
King: I’ve supported Israel for a long time and I’ll continue to support Israel. Our intel, I’ve already said, I have doubts about. Israel doesn’t get to make a mistake. It’s a fatal mistake for the nation of Israel -- if they accept the idea that I heard out of Vice President Joe Biden in his debate that he thinks it’s as much as four years away before Iran has a nuclear. We cannot tolerate that and we cannot let that happen. But I don’t have my hands on the intel that tells me when it does happen. So here’s what I’ve said, and I’ve said this for years. I would recommend to the President that he back channel this information to Ahmadinejad. And say Mr. Ahmadinejad, I have decided the date beyond which you’ll be allowed to continue your nuclear endeavor. That’s going to be a date that is settled from good intel on when we think they would get there. And then send the message and we will work with you in every way possible so that you can save face as an individual and nation. We’ll work with you diplomatically, but we’re going to deconstruct your nuclear endeavor. And if not, that date on the calendar arrives, then it’s over. Whether it’s Israel or the United States, we cannot let them get a nuclear weapon.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, President Obama has okayed the use of unmanned drones to go after terrorists around the world. That concerns some members of your party. Are you concerned about that?
Vilsack: Again, not particularly. I think it’s part of the strategy that I’m talking about. There are a lot of different things that we need to be able to do. There are people who will be able to decide when is the best time to use drones or any of the other tools that we have to be strategic and to be nimble in our response. So I don’t have any particular problem with that.
Henderson: Mr. King, there are some libertarians in your party who have a view of drones that is not terribly positive. What is your view?
King: I’ve raised a public issue against drones. I think the utilization of them to take out the leadership within Al Qaeda has been an effective means in that part of the world and I think it’s a case-by-case basis. I would not say that I would remove the authority from the President to protect us. And he needs to have that authority as the Commander in Chief, so I’ve not been one who’s been a lead critic of it.
Borg: Let’s go to what kind of war – not bombs and bullets but a trade war, possibly spoken of as hypothetically with China, encouraging manipulation and other trade policies. How aggressive should this country be in its trade policies with China? What specifically?
King: Again, more aggressive than we are would be one of the answers. And I am one who has gone to China to go in there and engage in trade negotiations with China. I’ve pressed them very hard against their theft of U.S. intellectual property. It seems to be a process and a pattern. They will sit around their table and say, okay, fine, we’re going to find these people and put some in prison, but in reality it comes out of one pocket and into the other in China. I’ve introduced legislation that does this -- it directs the U.S. trade representative to conduct a study, which he already does, to determine the value of the los of U.S. intellectual property to the pirates of that IP from China, levy a duty on the products coming from China in the amount equivalent to recover that lost and distribute it to the people that have a rightful property right. That’s one thing along the way that fixes a lot of the problem with the theft of intellectual property of China.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, do we have a problem trading with China? And how might you modify it?
Vilsack: I think that China is one of our most important trading partners. We need to continue to develop trade with China as we have with our other trade relationships around the world. I think we need to enforce our trade agreements with China and we need to be tough on them. They are – they have a problem with intellectual property. They don’t see that intellectual property actually belongs – I’ve been there also and listened to people in China.
Borg: Do I hear you agree with Mr. King?
Vilsack: Yes, probably.
Henderson: Mr. King, earlier this month, your republican Congressman Tom Latham said he was unhappy with the rules of engagement in Afghanistan and he would support bringing troops home tomorrow. Do you share that view?
King: You know, I don’t think that I have looked into that strategically to see what that really means in the aftermath, but I will say that my ear to that advocacy is more open than it was a year and a half or a year ago. At this point I will say that our Commander in Chief has not articulated mission in Afghanistan and it’s awfully hard to keep troops in a place when they don’t have a mission articulated. I had some of that disappointment with President Bush back during the middle of the Iraq operation as well, but here we’re in Afghanistan. If we pull out, what happens in the aftermath? I would rather at this point wait and have this presidential election and let Mitt Romney lay out the foreign policy for Afghanistan. And I’ve got some proposals that might end up with a better result than what I think we’re going to get than if we just pull out.
Henderson: Such as?
King: Thee proposals are strategic and dangerous to talk about on public and national television but I will just say that I expect there would be a civil war in Afghanistan if we pulled out immediately. There is some ways to bring that together in such a way that people can be represented in various governments and more effective fashion than we are now. President Karzai has been handed an all-powerful Constitution where he rules the whole country. That has caused – a saint would have abused that power. Karzai has been abused that power. I would like to look at offering them a new constitution that would represent the people in Afghanistan far better than it is today.
Henderson: Mrs. Vilsack, time for a new constitution in Afghanistan?
Vilsack: Well, I think that we need to, first of all, make sure that everyone who has served there in this country, that we all recognize that they did everything that we asked them to do. In the end, they’ve been asked to help train police forces, so much like our National Guard. They’ve been asked to help train them so that they can take care of their own country. They need to be doing that. The sooner we can get out of Afghanistan, the better because we need to bring those young people back and we need to invite them back to the small communities of this district. We need to build schools here, and we need to build the infrastructure here.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, not that you’re not saying something important, but I promised you earlier that we’d get to the farm bill. We need to do that.
Hayworth: The prior farm bill has been expired for about a month now. And when Congress will be addressing a new farm bill, there will be a lot of pressure to have very limited spending. What could you do, Mr. King, to perhaps persuade urban representatives to be wanting to spend money and get a nice plump farm bill that a lot of Iowa farmers would like to see?
King: I’ve been working on this farm bill for about a year and a half. And I put extra people on our staff so that we could be inside the shop helping shape that language. We’ve got a pretty good bill to the House ag committee and passed it out of the ag committee and one of the things that I did was I made sure that we had bipartisan support on that bill. There were only 11 no votes on that bill coming out of committee. Democrats and republicans in opposition, democrats and republicans in support. Now it looks to me like there’s two different components of that. First of all, our producers have willingly given up direct payments. That’s a big thing. And they’ve stepped up and said we’re willing to accept the elimination of direct payments. I said my job is to hold the Corn Belt harmless. That means crop insurance in the heart of this. I believe that I’m in a position to do that and so far I have done that. But what we have is an impasse now between those who don’t want to take a single calorie off of anybody’s plate – that’s the food stamp argument, and that’s at least 78 percent of this farm bill – and those that say they want no farm subsidies whatsoever. Those that refuse to accept a cut in food stamps are far greater in number in Congress than those who say they don’t want any farm subsidies whatsoever.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, we only have a few seconds left, and I’d like to have you the last half a minute.
Vilsack: There is no farm bill and Congressman King is the only person of our delegation who didn’t support a petition put on the House floor to pass a farm bill. Congressman Latham did. Congressman Grassley supported it. Nancy Pelosi supported it. Congressman King has not. He’s not led on this issue and, as a result, we don’t have a farm bill, the most important piece of legislation to the people in this district. And I think he should be held accountable for that.
King: And 60 ag groups support me. I don’t know if there are any that support Mrs. Vilsack.
Vilsack: I have travelled all over the world with those ag groups and the CEOs and the executive directors of the ag groups, and the board members have seen me in action and they know that I can represent their interests because I’ve been doing it all over the world as I travel with them for economic development for the eight years I was First Lady.
Henderson: Congress, many aggress, is dysfunctional. We don’t have much time left. Mr. King, name one thing you would do differently to make Congress function?
King: I thought you were going to ask me that question and I didn’t prepare myself for an answer. I think for a person who’s in public life, who has had $5, $6, $7 million poured over my head attacking me for things I never said, it would be foolish for me to bring up anything that I wish I had done differently, except I will say this. On the Missouri River bill, which I have yet to hear a position from any Vilsack in this country, on that river bill, we worked on that for months. We were underwater all summer long – a year ago last summer. I introduced legislation. I confined it to the people in the drainage area. I should’ve gone broader and gotten everybody in Congress. We would have passed it.
Borg: Mrs. Vilsack, we just have a few seconds left but I’m going to give you a chance to answer that. Dysfunctional Congress is Kay’s question. Could you, as a novice, change anything?
Vilsack: I think I can. I think that I’m the kind of person who is a problem solver, not a partisan fighter. I want to expand the definition of being a congressperson to being a spokesperson for my state. I think I’m the kind of person – if you were going to hire somebody to be a spokesperson, you would hire somebody who could speak to all different sides of an issue who could bring disparate groups together and go out around the country and explain what we do here, that we do take care of our animals, that we are stewards of the land, and that we – and I could explain why biofuels and wind are important to the economy and the whole country. I think I can be a spokesperson in a way that Congressman King can’t because it’s so controversial.
Borg: And I need to use the final seconds that we have just to say thank you very much for spending time with us. We very much appreciate it. Thank you for your views.
King: Thank you, Dean.
Vilsack: Thank you.
Next week we complete our four weeks of special congressional debate editions of Iowa Press with a trip to Dubuque along the Mississippi River. And you’ll see first district congressional candidates in their only televised debate this year, republican Ben Lange and democrat Bruce Braley. That will be 7:00 next Thursday night live from Dubuque’s Grand Opera House. We’ll be showing that Braley/Lange debate twice again at our usual Iowa Press times at 7:30 Friday night and again at noon on Sunday. So for our entire Iowa Public Television crew here in Carroll, thanks for joining us today.