Challenging King. Iowa fourth district republicans now pondering if seven-term incumbent Congressman Steve King is on November's election ballot. We're questioning Congressman Steve King on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at broadbandmatters.com. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at iowacommunityfoundations.org. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. The Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa Public Television.

For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, April 8 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Iowa's Fourth Congressional District includes most of northwest Iowa, Mason City to Sioux City, and Ames, along with a chunk of central Iowa, in those cities. A lot of cornfields and ethanol plants too. And during the past 14 years, politically safe for conservative republican Congressman Steve King. But, Congressman King supporting presidential candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz rankled Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. The Governor and other republicans souring over Ted Cruz's tepid regard for ethanol. Now, Sioux City State Senator Rick Bertrand is hoping to have his name instead of Steve King's on November's ballot for representing that district that for the past fourteen years has been electing Mr. King to the House of Representatives. Congressman King, welcome back to Iowa Press.

King: Thanks for having me back, Dean. I appreciate it.

Borg: Running scared?

King: Oh no. No, just running. And you always have to run like you're in a tough race, turn the focus on it, but we have a cycle every two years, we're up for election, that means that we're always in some kind of a campaign cycle and I just look back, the presidential race began about the first part of November and it'll be constant campaigning until the first part of next November.

Borg: I want to follow up on that, along with the people across the table, Kathie Obradovich is a Political Columnist for the Des Moines Register, along with Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Congressman, you were hip deep in the presidential race here in Iowa. Let's talk about nominating someone to represent your party in November at the top of the ballot. Why shouldn’t the person who has the most votes be the GOP nominee?

King: Well, the rules are that the person that can win the majority of the votes of the delegates at the National Convention in Cleveland gets the nomination. And that's what I'm for. We have the rules. We need to play by the rules. And when the rules produce a nominee then republicans need to get behind and support that nominee.

Henderson: How do you go to other countries and say, one man, one vote, embrace democracy and then you have a process in which it is possible that the person who had the most votes is not the standard bearer for your party?

King: Well, we understand the rules from the beginning. We don't elect a president based upon a popular election either so it's a pretty easy concept for Americans to understand. Foreign countries it's a little bit different. But we have, in the Republican Party, for all but 195 or 200 delegates who are unbound, the balance of them are bound by the results of the vote of the people. And I think we need to understand also that these primary votes and sometimes even the caucus votes don't always reflect the actual votes of republicans because we have open primaries in places like New Hampshire where people can walk in and ask for either a democrat or a republican ballot, they may be neither or they may be the opposite.

Henderson: Well that's the case in Iowa too. You can walk in and say you're a republican that day.

King: With same day registration. That's true.

Obradovich: Are you concerned that you're going to get to the convention and there will be an effort to rewrite the rules so that somebody besides Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, who has won eight states, could actually get the nomination perhaps on later ballots, somebody like Paul Ryan for example?

King: I am concerned about that but I'm also watching as the delegates are chosen, many of the delegates have not been chosen at this point and we will be doing so this weekend at district conventions and then at the state convention later on in May in Iowa. 49 other states and the territories engaging in this too. But I'm going to guess that 70% or more of the delegates, and if you look at the recent vote, 70% or more of the votes are going to either Trump or Cruz. And if that is reflected in the delegates at the convention, and I think it will be, then the delegates are not going to tolerate a rules change that denies the nomination to either Trump or Cruz. And I think at that point it's a high risk endeavor to try to strategize to bring somebody other than Trump or Cruz to the nomination.

Obradovich: This nomination process has been described as a process of the Republican Party almost demolishing itself and possibly needing to rebuild afterwards. You mentioned party unity. I just wonder, first of all, do you think that this is a process of the Republican Party significantly transforming itself in some fashion? And how does any nominee bring the party back together?

King: Well there's no question that this process, as we're seeing it play out and trying to look into the crystal ball, it is fraught with danger. There is no doubt about that. They wrote the rules in 2012 to try to address the 2012 convention if it were going to be a rerun in 2016. And they've got an opportunity to adjust the rules again going in to the convention, which I'm not encouraging. But fraught with danger? Yes.

Obradovich: Danger to the party? Where is that danger do you think?

King: To the party, to the country, to the voice of the people. We want to have a convention that is clean, we want one that reflects the will of the people, we want a nominee who has the support of the party and one who can reach out across the aisle for discerning democrats and independents.

Borg: Well let me ask then, Congressman King, let's just say that Paul Ryan, who hasn't been running, would that irreparably tear the party apart if a person who hasn't been campaigning for president were elected, were nominated?

King: I think it would initiate considerable difficulty. We can't quite define what drama might get us to a point where that could be successful. But as it looks now, neither Trump nor Cruz delegates are going to tolerate anyone coming in from the outside that hasn't been a candidate. Think of this, 17 republican candidates started this process. No party in the history of the country has fielded so much talent competing for the nomination. If we can't find a president out of those 17 and we have to go outside that, then I think it could fracture the party. But I don't think that will happen.

Borg: And you will support Donald Trump then if he is nominated.

King: I've said it this way, I will work to nominate a candidate that has the support of the majority of the delegates and I intend to support that nominee that is produced by the rules. And if it's Donald Trump, it is my expectation to support him. And I would add to that a little language that John Kasich has used, he said, but sometimes he makes it hard.

Henderson: If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket and should you be a candidate for Congress in November, is that helpful to you or does it hurt your chances of winning re-election?

King: Well, in the November election, I haven't looked into that very far, it's down the line quite a ways, but I would say this, that the best thing for the state and the best thing for the country would be the nomination of Ted Cruz. And I believe he remains a chance to win that majority going into Cleveland and if there is a second ballot I think he has the best opportunity to be the nominee.

Henderson: So is the answer to my question yes it would be hard to win re-election if Donald Trump is the nominee?

King: It wouldn’t be as difficult if it's Ted Cruz.

Obradovich: Well, this is the first time since you've taken office that we have to say, should he be the nominee, because you haven't had a primary opponent in all that time. Why do you think you have a primary opponent now?

King: Well, I know that this popped up right at the same time that the Iowa Caucus was taking place. And you see the little bit of the rumblings along the way. But you had a guest here a couple of weeks ago that announced that he's the finance chair for my opponent. So I would say if you pull that guest out of the equation and maybe the head of the super PAC's that will be running those negative ads against me there would not be a candidate because there wouldn't have been anybody else to recruit an opponent. They need to answer that question. They say that it's about renewable fuels. There isn't anybody in the United States House of Representatives that is a stronger supporter of renewable fuels than I am.

Obradovich: If it's not about that, then what?

King: Well, then I think it would have to be because they seem to want to have a Congressman that is more willing to answer to their back and call. And I have an obligation to everyone in this fourth district. I owe them my best effort and my best judgment and they know that I'm not influenced by anything other than what is good for the people that I represent.

  11;36;28;00   Henderson: The person that you're mentioning, in case viewers aren't following behind the scenes, is Bruce Rastetter, who is the head of the Iowa Board of Regents, was a guest on this program a couple of weeks ago, Governor Branstad's number one donor. One of the things that he has said as a reason that folks should not support you in this primary is that you have been more interested in a national profile than in serving the constituents of that district.

King: Well that's interesting that that topic comes up now. I haven't heard this in the last thirteen years and I haven't heard this from people outside of that echo chamber that is there. So if you decide that you want to beat somebody, you've got to come up with a reason, don't you? And it's pretty interesting that my opponent announced on St. Patrick's Day, I might add, that he was going to run against me, didn't mention a single issue in his announcement press conference that he had. And so I watch as they bring up these arguments, they are weak, they're subjective and they're specious and there's not substance there. National name, you bet. We better have it because there's a lot more to this job than coming back and being here and campaigning for re-election all the time. I've been to all 382 towns in this district, my staff goes to every town every year, we're out across this district. It's not that I'm not localized, it's that I have said to people is that I want to take our Iowa values and project them to the rest of the country because we want our values in the Oval Office. If that happens and when that happens, everybody in this district is better off and the country is better off. And, by the way, they know it.

Borg: In the past you have been somewhat reticent about entering into debates. You've entered into debates. I'm not implying that. But you've been somewhat reticent about debating opponents. Now you have a primary opponent. Are you going to, if debates are invited, will you debate Rick Bertrand?

King: I don't know the answer to that at this point. The only thing I know is that he was asked that question and it was published that he didn't know that there was a reason to have a debate because there wasn't much disagreement on the issues, which tells me again, what's the motive? Well, the motive I think is the incentives that have been proposed. And those people need to answer to what they are. And I do think Rick Bertrand needs to answer this question. What did you get offered? And what did you accept. And I think the voters need to know that because that's the bigger part of this equation. If you don't have an issue, then what is the motive? He needs to answer that --

Henderson: So you're suggesting he took under the table payments?

King: No.

Henderson: So you're suggesting that he took campaign contributions? Is that illegal?

King: I'm not even suggesting that. I'm suggesting -- here's what I know --

Henderson: Did he do something illegal?

King: I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't have a suspicion that that's the case either --

Borg: Well, unveil what you were talking about there.

King: I just know this, I know that there have been a number of people who they attempted to recruit to run against me and I know that he's not in the first half dozen. I know what the proposals were and so I can't believe that he would be the guy that bid on the empty hook, to put it simply.

Henderson: One of the things you have said is that the establishment is out to get me. You've been in elected office since 1997, you were a State Senator before you were elected at Congress. Aren't you sort of the establishment?

King: Is the definition -- does it come with longevity and survival in this arena? I don't think so. It comes from being buddy-buddy with the people that are calling the shots in the smoke-filled room and I think everybody knows where I've been on that. We have a new Speaker of the House now and I have a great relationship with Paul Ryan. But we needed to make a change in the House. It was bogged down, too much was happening out of John Boehner and his staff and not enough was coming from the people. I want to turn the Congress back to We the People. And, by the way, this Paul Ryan, this new Speaker, has appointed me to chair the task force to restore the Article I authority that the Congress has given away and a fair amount of that has been given away under John Boehner's speakership. He's the epitome of the establishment, he and I have locked horns for years.

Borg: Go ahead, Kathie Obradovich.

Obradovich: I was just going to say, are you concerned though that this is an anti-incumbent environment regardless of who it might be, especially as people look towards somebody like Donald Trump at the top of the ticket? Are you concerned that just having the little I after your name for incumbent is going to be putting a mark against you with voters?

King: Well I think it's incumbent upon me to look at this thing a little more broadly, Kathie. And that is that Chuck Grassley is on the ballot and I don't think there's going to be backlash there. And Terry Branstad has been in office longer than any other governor and he may or may not have a voice on this. So I think I'm down the line on a ways when they want to say establishment incumbent. I've always brought vigor to this and I've given my word for thirteen years, kept my word with the constitutional conservatives throughout all that period of time and everybody knows that so that's why they're down to the arguments that are, well he spent too much time outside the district advancing Iowa values in promoting foreign trade, for example.

Henderson: Bottom line though, you wouldn't be in this position if you hadn't endorsed a candidate who was not seen as a backer of ethanol. Correct?

King: I think that's a fair statement.

Henderson: So why did you do it?

King: Because he's the right person to put America back on the rails. He's a full spectrum, constitutional --

Borg: We're talking about Ted Cruz.

King: Ted Cruz, he's a full spectrum, constitutional, Christian conservative, the smartest man that I have seen run for president and one whose core values echo the core values of Iowa. And I went to him in June and said, Ted, I need you to embrace my position in full 100% support of the Renewable Fuel Standard. His answer to me was, I have introduced legislation that phases it down over five years, my word is my bond, let's build a policy that is good for the industry so they can prosper, but I can't back up on my word. I said about doing that, that policy is written but we couldn't introduce it because we got so many negative ads poured forth from the ARF starting December 1st that it would have just confused the issue.

Henderson: And for people who don't know what ARF is, it's America's Renewable Future.

King: Yes, headed by --

Henderson: Bruce Rastetter was key in forming that group. Eric Branstad worked for the group. That would be the Governor's eldest son. You have accused him of trying to recruit somebody to run against you. Both Branstad's say they did not.

King: Well, no I don't think I did as far as Branstad's were concerned. I'm talking about the Chairman of the Board of Regents.

Borg: Bruce Rastetter.

King: Yes.

Henderson: A final word on this, in regards to the ethanol issue, Governor Branstad argues that voting for Ted Cruz was against Iowa's economic interests. How do you answer that?

King: There are people in this state that believe that there's only one yardstick to measure a presidential candidate by and that is a full 36 inches of support for the RFS and nothing else. If you can clear that hurdle, then they'll listen to the other things you have to say. I say we have far higher ideals than that. The Constitution would be one component itself that I take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I'm not suggesting the RFS violates that --

Borg: The RFS is Renewable Fuel Standard.

Obradovich: Well, you've got a lot of ethanol plants in your district though, and it's a tough time for them right now. Isn't supporting something less than a full-throttled backing behind the Renewable Fuel Standard hurting industry in your own district?

King: Here's what the industry needs to know and I want all my constituents to know this, Ted Cruz knows that if he is elected president we'll be promoting the good things that support renewable fuels and if he hangs onto the phase down of the RFS, he already knows he has to fight me on that, he'll have to fight Chuck Grassley on that, he'll have to fight the entire Corn Belt on that. So I intend to continue to defend the RFS and promote renewable fuels throughout. And I think it's a lot better to have somebody inside the White House, maybe with the key to the West Wing figuratively speaking, than it is to pitch this fight that began by ARF. We didn't have to have this fight. They started this fight, they raised the money to do this and they raised the profile of it. And when they came in some place beyond first in Iowa, then it makes it harder for the industry. But Ted Cruz didn't want to have this fight or this argument. They forced it.

Borg: Are you going to have the money, as you have already intimated, fight in a primary that is financed by money from the other industry?

King: We'll see, Dean.

Borg: Well, we'll see, but you have to be planning. We're only a month and a half away from that primary.

King: I'm going to let those people that started this fight, they keep starting fights you know, I'm going to let the people that started this fight wonder what I have for resources and then we're going to play that chess game out between now and June 7th.

Obradovich: Can you win a primary if significant numbers of democrats cross over to vote for your opponent?

King: I don't think the democrats like me that well. If they're active enough to cross over and vote that's not going to be helpful to our campaign.

Obradovich: There's nothing you can do about it though is there?

King: Well, nothing. And the republicans, you need to be reminded, we'll remind them, that I live this platform. All the things that we've worked for are things that I have lived for and worked for, for a long time. We're on the cusp of achieving this. If we elect a president, and especially if that president is Ted Cruz, we get appointments to the Supreme Court that reflect our values and defend the Constitution, we restore the benefits of free enterprise again. We do have a strong national defense. And we restore constitutional living again and we reduce dramatically the regulations that are stifling free enterprise. This country can have a new birth with the right president and that's what I'm working for, I'm working for big picture success so that America can have an ascending destiny.

Henderson: You live and represent one of the most agriculturally, if not the most agriculturally intensive congressional districts in the country. There's a new opening with relationships with Cuba, which ag interests think will be good for the bottom line for farmers. Do you, A, agree with that? And B, agree with the President's actions in regard to Cuba?

King: I've been to Cuba legally back when I was in the State Senate and it impressed my considerably the people that are there. They're more energetic than I thought they would be, they're happier than I thought they would be but they're far more depressed than they need to be because they're living under the yolk of communism. We were waiting for the biological solution to come to play with the Castro's for a long time.

Obradovich: By that you mean one of them dies --

King: Checking into the next life I would prefer to say.

Obradovich: Biological solution is an interesting way to put that.

King: Well -- and so Barack Obama in the last months of his last year in office has decided that he's going to go put his arm around the Marxists in Cuba. We didn't need that. We need to be promoting freedom, especially those that are under the influence supposedly of the Monroe Doctrine. I'd like to expand the footprint of western civilization, not retreat and not hand over an island and essentially sentence the Cubans to another 50 to 60 years of living under the Marxism that they've had to live under. I want them free.

Borg: Kay's question is, your district agriculturally export, has a big opportunity there. So are you in favor of opening trade with Cuba?

King: Dean, there are 11 million people down there and they don't have any money. It has very little impact on agriculture here in Iowa. So I think that's the wrong priority again. We've got to be promoting freedom. And we can promote trade around the world but let's promote a regime change in Cuba and then trade with them when that happens. And, by the way, while we're talking about trade, I've been for every free trade agreement since I've been in Congress. I've traveled to most of those countries to promote trade and I negotiated the trade promotion authority that we have in law today that might not have passed Congress if it hadn't been for my approach to that. So that's where I stand on trade.

Obradovich: I wanted to ask you about something else that's in the news, the Panama papers, the leak of an investigation into offshore tax shelters, for example. Do you think that that revelation is or should lead to some sort of legislation in Congress dealing with tax shelters and closing some of those loopholes?

King: Well, I haven't dug deeply into that where I see the names and the faces and understand exactly the transactions that have taken place to provide those tax shelters. But I have noticed that especially when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, she was pushing tax provisions that chased U.S. dollars around the world and attempted to tax corporations that were domiciled elsewhere. I think that's wrong. I think we need to have a tax policy in the United States that is low enough that it attracts businesses here instead of causing people to have the incentive to take their dollars offshore. But if they're violating current law, we should enforce current law. And then I'd like to hear proposals on what people would like to do to maybe tighten that up a little bit.

Borg: We're getting low on time. Kay?

Henderson: There's legislation in Congress to have a nationwide standard for GMO labeling. What are the prospects?

King: I think they're reasonable that we will get that done and primarily because we've got states that are writing their own GMO legislation, like Vermont. But the GMO labeling, the nationwide standard, which would be constitutional, it would be Congress regulating interstate commerce, so it fits very well within the Constitution, that the information that people want, let's keep it minimal on what has to be on print in the can or the package but let the rest of it be on the barcodes so that there's open and free access. I'd like to see how many people are actually checking that out with their iPhone.

Borg: Kathie?

Obradovich: I saw that you had made a comment about the issue of remittances to Mexico, people living in the United States sending money to Mexico, usually by wire. What is the problem with that? And what could possibly be done to deal with that?

King: Well, it's the people's capital, they can do what they want to do within the laws that we have in this country. But I think the controversy over that comment doesn't understand this, that 80% to 90% of the illegal drugs that are consumed in America, and that is a market someplace around $60 billion, and you don't get very good numbers that are very reliable, but 80% to 90% of those drugs come from or through Mexico. And then logically there's a fair amount of that money that is laundered and goes back to Mexico and back to Central America, places to Mexico or south. That also is about $60 billion.

Obradovich: What can you do about that though assuming that there's also law-abiding people who are sending money back from legitimate jobs in Mexico?

King: Well, my comment was that we haven't done a very good job of investigating that and tracking those streams of money. And when Donald Trump brought this up I said, I think we should take another look at this, maybe let him talk about it a little while longer, and see what we can do to clean up drug money that is flowing through this stream.

Obradovich: So you actually agree with him on something.

King: I do, to a degree, to a degree.

Borg: Let me take you back to the district. Mason City, Clear Lake, looking toward a possible pork processing plant being established there. The communities now are looking at other communities in your district who have processing plants and they dramatically alter the demographics in those communities. What are you doing to help that Mason City, Clear Lake area adjust to what may be ahead for them?

King: Well, a lot of that is local efforts. My job is to make sure that the federal laws that we have apply to the whole nation. And one of the things that I've avoided is going into locales and trying to let's say encourage the enforcement of immigration law into a locale. I work with national policy and I generally do hands-off of what's local. But in any case, I want jobs for my constituents and I want markets for our producers. And that is the consistent theme that I have promoted throughout the time I've been in Congress.

Borg: We're out of time. Thanks so much.

King: That is a shame. Thank you, Dean.

Borg: We'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. Thanks for joining us today.

(music)

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. I'm a veteran. I am a builder. I'm a volunteer. I am a teacher. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign advocates for access to high speed broadband in all corners of Iowa for education, public safety, health care, government and economic development. Information is available at broadbandmatters.com. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at iowacommunityfoundations.org. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. The Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa Public Television.