The clock is ticking down on the first 100 days of the Trump presidency and republicans are still struggling with a congressional agenda. We'll explore the next steps in Washington with Iowa's 4th District Congressman Steve King on this edition of Iowa Press.
Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. 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. 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. UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at UIeCare.com. (music)
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 14 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.
Yepsen: After Election Day 2017 republicans were elated. A surprise Trump victory meant conservative legislative dreams might soon become reality. But nearly 100 days into that new presidency, republicans have had a failure on health care and issues of comprehensive tax reform or infrastructure spending are equally complicated with no clear path to final passage. Add to that, many republican House members entered this year without serious experience in crafting legislation. One who has had some experience is 8-term Congressman Steve King and he joins us now at the Iowa Press table. Congressman, welcome back to Iowa Press.
King: It's really good to be back and it's good to see you seated there. And I also want to say, Dean Borg did a terrific job. I know they're big shoes to fill but you're the guy that can do it.
Yepsen: And across the table, Erin Murphy is Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.
Henderson: Congressman, we want to get to some of the issues that David raised. But first, this may be your first opportunity to speak to your constituents who saw you pilloried in some quarters about a tweet that you sent. The tweet said, we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies. Who are the babies you're talking about?
King: If I'd had more than 140 characters, and we should always remember that's the limit in tweets, that I would have added to that, and I did the next morning, unless we first adopt them, bring them into our homes, love them and raise them as our own. And this is about, it's about 60 million abortions in this country since Roe vs. Wade and it's about a fertility rate, a total fertility rate that is below the replacement rate. And as a message to the candidate for Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Geert Wilders, a friend and we have worked on a good number of issues together, that their fertility rate is 1.4 babies per woman. It takes 2.15 to break even. And meanwhile, their embassy was surrounded by protesting Turks in Ankara, Turkey and there are five million of them that are being called upon by President Erdogan of Turkey to demonstrate in the streets of Europe and vote the interest of Turkey. So this is a very big issue. But it boils down to this, that if you believe in western civilization, if you believe in the American dream and the American civilization, then we ought to care enough to reproduce ourselves and welcome the legal immigrants into American who want to embrace our values. That is the message that is in that. And I think the other side, the left, doesn't want to allow the public to understand that for fear that they'll be held accountable for some of their positions.
Henderson: You went on Fox News on Tucker Carlson's program to talk about some of these issues and you also predicted a looming race war. On which do you base that prediction?
King: I think there was actually an interview with Jan Mickelson if I remember, but I get your point on this. And it was I believe the day that Jorge Ramos had in Spanish said to a group of Hispanics in Florida, this isn't their country, it's our country. When you say that in Spanish before a group of people that speak Spanish it doesn't send a very good message to the rest of America. And that was the context that that was in. And Jorge Ramos was celebrating the day that Hispanics and African-Americans outnumber Caucasians in America. Now, that's alright if it happens, we're all God's children after all, but it's not a very American expression that he did and they have been pitting people against each other, identifying people by skin color, by melanin content, by race, ethnicity, by poverty versus prosperity. President Obama actually drove many of these wedges between people. And my point is this, that if we're going to be focused on the things that we can see that we think are different about the hearts of people, eventually every group will be pitted against every group and that's what that was about. I want to avoid that and that's why I said that.
Murphy: Congressman, you said that it opened up criticism from the left, from the other political side, but the Trump administration also distanced themselves from your comment, going back to the comment on other people's babies. Was this a step too far for you given those concerns from within your own party?
King: It stimulated a debate that we need to have in this country. It was Eric Holder that said, there were cowards on race. Well, I wasn't talking about race. I didn't say race. And a matter of fact, Tucker Carlson sent out a tweet afterwards that said there was no comment about race. So others have made it about race. And with regard to the White House and that comment, the comment that came back from Sean Spicer after he was pressed by the press, it took him a day, he said, that's just not an opinion that we share. So it's about as light, the only other way to answer that would have been open himself up for the debate in a press conference from the White House. I regret that this had to roll all the way that it did. A snowball started here in Iowa and it rolled in front of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, it rolled in front of the President of the United States and it even rolled in front of the Gorsuch hearings. And so if we can't have an objective discussion about our values, our American values that are here, and if my critics can't separate race from culture and civilization, they are the ones that are at fault and they're the ones that are creating the division.
Henderson: Do you have some mending to do with the Republican Party because Jeff Kaufmann was one of the people, he's the Chair of the Iowa GOP, who issued a statement.
King: Well, let me say this, when I see those kind of disagreements I think it's the true right and just and Christian thing to do to go see those people, look them in the eye and have a one-on-one conversation. That's what they should have done with me. And that's something that is in process and I'm hopeful I'll be able to complete that in the appropriate way.
Yepsen: But just to put a point on this, the sum total of all this, Congressman, is that a lot of people in this country think you're a racist. How do you respond to them?
King: Well, I've never responded to that charge because there has never been a basis for it. And I will say, the most dog-eared, worn out card in the entire lexicon deck is the race card. And there are some people out there that only have one card in their deck and they're 51 cards short. So if I get into that discussion, it never, never ends. I would just say go find something if you can, if it makes you feel good, but there's nothing in the record that indicates that or supports it. They have to imagine it and make it up because it suits their political agenda.
Henderson: Are you going to seek re-election for term number nine?
King: Are you looking for a scoop here?
Henderson: Go right ahead.
King: I have not made an announcement or determination. But I will say this, that I love this job. I enjoy it and I've gotten better at it every year. The sense of the network of people that it's necessary to work with in order to accomplish things it gets better and better all the time. And this is an era where we have a President with a mandate, slightly wounded, I concede that point, but a President with a mandate. And this is a time where much of the agenda that I have laid the groundwork for over the last decade or so, every day I get up today I think, you know what, it's possible to pass this agenda, today things, all things are possible from a perspective of a conservative republican.
Henderson: Would you countenance a job in the Trump administration? Last November you said you might.
King: Well, we had some of those discussions and yet if I were to do that it would narrow my focus down to kind of a single subject matter. And I'm a smorgasbord guy, I want to work on everything. And when I went into both the Iowa Senate where I visited and also into Congress, the advisors said to me, pick a single issue and drive on that every day and maybe by the end of your career you can get some little tweaks in that agenda. I've never been able to discipline myself to that. We've got so much that needs to be done. And so I appreciate the breadth of this and I appreciate the opportunity to have influence on the White House without actually having to go to work there every day.
Yepsen: One of the things that your critics say is that you get sidetracked on some of these social and cultural issues and the meat and potatoes work of a Congressman gets overlooked. Looking back over the last eight terms in Congress, what has been your accomplishment, what has been your biggest accomplishment?
King: Well, one thing is this, that the most important thing anyone can be doing, especially when there's bad agenda that is coming at you, is to kill bad ideas. And I would list three of those wounded or dead projects that I have been instrumental in, maybe even singularly instrumental in. One is cap and trade. When I went to Congress they told me don't argue the science, just argue the economics of this and we'll try to minimize it. They had conceded essentially that something like that was going to pass. I said, no I'm going to take on the science too because I have looked at the science and I don't believe they have got sound science to support them. So I fought that in the House, one of the top two or three people that fought it. We wounded it in the House, it died in the Senate. Next would be, it seems like each decade I have to go to work and kill off some kind of an amnesty plan, Gang of Eight bill is one of the freshest, and it was now Attorney General Jeff Sessions that said here in northwest Iowa in a meeting I was not at, but reported back to me, that he has never seen anybody in Congress that got more done and got less credit. But I did hear him say publicly when they awarded him the Keeper of the Flame Award that the Gang of Eights amnesty bill would have passed Congress had it not been for Steve King. So that's the second one. And the third one is the effort to defeat Obamacare and the effort to repeal Obamacare. We're a long ways down the line with that. A lot of it has to do with me. So I've just given you the things I've stood in front of and they're also things that are also accomplishments.
Murphy: A couple other things you mentioned there, Congressman, we'd like to get to one some of these issues, one of them being immigration. President Trump said often on the campaign trail that the border wall that he would like to build to help enforce immigration at the southern border, that he would get Mexico to pay for that, but we now have the President asking to, planning to ask Congress for a billion dollars to help start the construction of that wall. Do you have any concerns with that, that this was being sold as something that someone else would pay for but now U.S. taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill?
King: Well, to get the starter capital out there a billion dollars on a project that I don't think it actually takes $10 billion to build it, they're saying all the way up to $25 billion or $30 billion, let's dial that down a ways to $10 bill to $15 billion category should do what they want to do. We need to get the project started. And there are people there that don't want to build the wall so they're trying to pull the funding back and deny that. I say instead we have decided we're going to build it, let's get it built. It was always up to Donald Trump to figure out how to get the Mexicans to pay for it. That was never part of my promise. And yet I will say that there are a lot of ways to do that math on this and one of them is to look at the companies that have decided to relocate back into the United States, Black and Decker is one that said we're going to put the U.S. brand back on Black and Decker, about 1,000 jobs for Ford Motor Company came back to the United States, there are a number of those other narratives. I can't quote all of them. But each one of those stimulate our economy. And then there's a series of other dynamics and perhaps we will end up putting a duty on dollars that are wired south of the border and some of that is drug laundered money. And if we take all of the resources that are confiscated from the drug cartels and put them into the wall, I think we'll get to that point where one day they'll be able to say, yes they did pay for it. But the biggest damage is this, 80% to 90% of the illegal drugs consumed in America come from or through Mexico. And we're watching as tens of thousands have died of drug overdose in this country every year, I believe it's 52,000 Americans die to drug overdoses and about 33,000 of them are opioid, which is essentially heroin or prescription drugs in this country. So there are a lot of ways to measure it, eventually it will pay for itself.
Henderson: Congressman, health care. You were sort of unsure about this plan that Speaker Ryan and his associates advanced and then you said, I'm going to vote for it, and then it failed. Why didn't you and your fellow republicans have something ready to go on January 20th?
King: Well, that's a good question and I have a lot of answers for it but I know it's a half hour program. So I'll say this, that I made the argument for seven and a half years, don't tie repeal and replace together, because you make the argument complex and you make the repeal contingent upon agreeing on a replacement. We should pass the repeal. And, by the way, that was one of my bills is that I wrote the first repeal Obamacare legislation, it passed the House in every Congress but this one, multiple times in a number of cases. And so but leadership made the argument from the beginning repeal and replace with the ampersand connected in the middle. That was Paul Ryan, Tom Price, 17 republican presidential candidates here in Iowa said repeal and replace. I couldn't even get Ted Cruz to separate the two. Now we're in this complex bill that was written, locked up and then released to the public with a binary decision. It got really complex. But where we are right now is that no democrat is going to give us a vote to fix Obamacare, they have made that pact. So it is out of 237 republicans and we're down to where about a dozen freedom caucus guys that are not going to go and maybe that many on the Tuesday group. And in that we're twelve or fifteen votes short. So we're trying to push it in both directions. I talked to the whip yesterday twice. We're working it. I want to get to yes. For me it was an agreement with President Trump made in the Oval Office that he would support my language brought through the Senate to eliminate the essential health benefits, which are those ten mandates.
Henderson: I want to talk to you about that, pre-existing condition, that is the most popular part of Obamacare that I can't be denied coverage because I have some sort of pre- existing condition. Now the GOP is talking about getting rid of that mandate.
King: I chair the Iowa Senate State Government Committee and we have oversight over insurance and helped to manage the pre-existing condition policy that we had up until Obamacare and it was high risk pools. And we used taxpayer dollars to buy the premiums down for people who had pre-existing conditions and couldn't be covered on another kind of a policy. Yes, their premiums were expensive, so it was expensive to buy them down, but it kept everybody else's premiums cheaper because we didn't all have to share in a pre-existing condition mandate that everybody would have to pay for it. I'm for a policy like that and if we have to support it with federal tax dollars and supplement the states running it, similar to what we had in Iowa, 37 states had a program like that and if we get rid of this at the national level I'm going to continue to push that we make sure it's done at the state level so we can take care of people.
Murphy: Congressman, we want to move on to some foreign affairs here. You supported President Trump's recent decision to conduct a missile strike on a Syrian air field. Do you feel the President should come to Congress for any further military action in Syria?
King: I think that, I think the President is within his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief to order strikes of that fashion. If he comes to Congress it gets pretty complex because how do you define your enemy? We're operating right now under the AUMF, an authorization for use of military force, that was passed in about October of 2001. And so we would think back and Ronald Reagan ordered F111 strikes on Gaddafi in Libya. I don't remember that being a constitutional issue. So yes, does he need authority to carry on any further in Syria? I don't think with limited operations he needs to do that, but I think it's important for us to have a debate and the dialogue. And as this shapes itself with more clarity we may want to revisit the AUMF and redefine it.
Murphy: Maybe I should have, anything beyond just simple strikes like that, is that when the President should come before Congress?
King: He's probably, none of us wants boots on the ground, but neither do I want a President that will foreclose any options when it comes to dealing with our enemies. So I would say once you start getting in on that discussion then you'd want to go back and have the discussion about the AUMF, not necessarily a declaration of war, but a definition of the President's authority and our objectives, and objectives are really important.
Yepsen: What about North Korea? I noticed last week the U.S. dropped what is called the mother of all bombs, 21,000 pound bunker buster on ISIS. I wonder if that wasn't a signal to the North Koreans about something we could do there. What do you think will happen with North Korea?
King: Well, boy I've been frustrated with that since clear back in the Clinton administration, throughout George W. Bush and Obama and now. Dave, I have to say that as much as I've watched this on the news and read what I can read, I don't have intel out of thee that gives me any more insight than is available to the public. And I'm uneasy about psychoanalyzing the dictator up there in North Korea and what we should do. But I think that moving on him in the fashion that has already been brought brings pressure to this, it brings the Chinese maybe to the table. I understand that President Trump has said, you want a good deal on trade, why don't you take care of North Korea for us? I don't know that that moves the Chinese but that's a unique approach to this and I think it might be a good one to move on. I have brought this issue up as far back as fifteen years ago. We need to know what our capability is to take out their nuclear capability in an instant if we have to. And if we don't know that then we can't follow a strategy beyond that.
Murphy: Just to go back real quick on Syria and put a button on that, you mentioned I think goals or something to that fact, what should be the U.S.'s end game in Syria? Are we talking about a regime change there?
King: I think that a regime change in Syria, and this probably disagrees with our conventional thought out of the White House now, but I have long thought that Assad is not the biggest problem we have in that part of the world and I think we're going to see some borders change in Iraq and maybe an independent Kurdistan and a Sunni Arab nation state created between Syria and Iraq and the Al Anbar region in part of Syria. That means defeat ISIS that is there and then push this down towards Damascus with the coalition of forces that may emerge in a more effective way. I put it this way, if Assad ends up being the de facto king of Damascus that doesn't trouble me a lot, his influence would be diminished. I don't know who replaces Assad so I'm reluctant to say regime change. To what? I'd like to know the answer to that question first.
Henderson: There has been regime change in America. Donald Trump is President. And he has just this week selected someone for the Council of Economic Advisors that is raising alarm bells for people who view immigration policy the same way as you do. Are you concerned that Donald Trump will in some way pass an immigration reform plan that is identical to what George W. Bush tried to push through?
King: Well, I don't know that he'll initiate that because it would be so contrary to his campaign rhetoric. Yet people are policy, and I believe I tweeted that out also. But people are policy. So whenever I see those kind of appointments come in place I do get concerned about it. Something that gives me some level of comfort is Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General and we have General John Kelly has repeated many times, I will enforce the law. Then we have Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, all there in the White House to support a restoration of the rule of law with regard to immigration. But I am not at the level of being happy with so far what Donald Trump has done. He has done some good things and he seems to have put a lot of good things in place, but DACA and DAPA still exist. And they were unconstitutional by Barack Obama's analysis. And so every day that we go on, and I've told the President this, every day you don't address this it gets harder and harder to do. And we essentially have a promise to sit down one-on-one and talk this through but we've got to find the opportunity to do that.
Yepsen: Are you concerned that this President, on immigration, on other issues, where what he said is not what is happening now? Is he in trouble with his base, with the people who voted for him?
King: I think that there is that risk. I wouldn't say that is the case today. His base is starting to get uneasy because they haven't seen this movement on DACA and on DAPA is one of them, they're not quite confident yet on the wall, but the messages are clear out of the White House we'll build a wall. So I look at the to-do list that comes out of the campaign promises of Donald Trump and that is on a white board much larger than Karl Rove's and Steve Bannon's office. There are a lot of checkmarks behind that but there are a few to go he has to do --
Yepsen: I'm sorry ---
King: I say there are a few to go or he will lose his base and I think that's an important message for the President to receive.
Yepsen: Is Steve Bannon in danger of being fired?
King: Judging from the news I'd say yes. I communicate with him usually several times a week. His level of confidence is greater than you could ever pick up out of the news media and yet when it comes down to, if it turns into a struggle and it is family versus not family that's a tough spot to be in.
Yepsen: But you've got Steve Bannon maybe at risk, NATO the President has changed his position on, currency manipulation against China, export/import bank, there are other things, maybe the Renewable Fuel Standard --
Henderson: And the Syria situation.
Yepsen: At what point does this start hurting President Trump? Or does it?
King: Well, I think it does and hopefully you've gone through the whole list but those would be the ones I would come up with too if I were going to peruse through the things that I recall. And so he needs to do some things to restore and strengthen his base. I think that happens with DACA and DAPA, if he addresses it, but I'm uneasy about that. And getting this wall started and up and going, that's a big piece of it. NATO may come out alright because it sounds like the NATO members are ready to pony up more of their fair share. Germany has shifted their policy and said we're going to do more to do our fair share of NATO. So we should remember this is a President that understands how to play brinksmanship and we haven't had a president that even probably could define that word let alone play serious brinksmanship. And I've watched him in the middle of the negotiation table when there are people out there that he is kind of picking them off one by one and he's advertising it to others at the same time and I think Assad has to wonder what is going to happen next and so does Putin.
Henderson: You have been knee deep in negotiations over a Farm Bill. You have a southerner now as the head of the USDA. You have no Midwesterner picked to be a cabinet secretary. Iowa farmers are concerned about a potential trade war. What can you tell Iowans in the minute we have left that would reassure them that maybe the farm economy isn't stuck in the doldrums?
King: Well, let's send Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to Washington, D.C. to be a partner right next to Sunny Perdue. That would be the best thing we can do to get our values there. And I've been sending this message, you can't understand ethanol and the renewable fuels industry unless you come from the Corn Belt and you've lived the evolution from the beginning like Bill has. And so I think it's very important that someone like that can be sitting there as a deputy within the Department of Agriculture. And I've got to build those relationships with Sunny Perdue too, but Sam Clovis is the gatekeeper, he is a great friend to many of us here in Iowa.
Henderson: And for those who don't remember, Sam Clovis was a candidate for the U.S. Senate and then a candidate for the State Treasurer's Office.
King: Yes and an economics professor and a jet fighter pilot and he's got everything going for him. And so I think we're in a pretty good shape to get an Iowa message in there, but we've got work to do.
Murphy: Real quick, we've got about 30 seconds. One of those Iowa messages, farmers are worried about that ethanol mandate you talked about, President Trump has some advisors that would like to see that go. Can we believe President Trump that that's going to stick around?
King: I think we're in pretty good shape. I have not built that relationship with Scott Pruitt either and he would be the Director of the EPA that is most likely to have the strongest voice on that. But I think we're in pretty good shape on that and I know that Donald Trump made a serious commitment and when he was here before the Iowa Renewable Fuels Organization he read from a script his commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard and I'm sure that will last a long time and we'll use it.
Yepsen: Congressman, speaking of time, we're out of it.
King: Too fast.
Yepsen: Appreciate your taking your time to be with us today. Thank you.
King: Thank you, Dave.
Yepsen: A closing note of congratulations this week to the Storm Lake Times and its Editor Art Cullen. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing last week. In winning it, he credited the help he got from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. His award sends a message beyond the world of newspapers. It's a reminder to pay attention to the issues, people and community journalism in the nation's small towns and rural areas. Nice work, Art. And we'll return with another edition of Iowa Press next week at our regular times, Friday night at 7:30 and Sunday at Noon on our main IPTV channel with a rebroadcast on our .3 World channel Saturday morning at 8:30. Also be sure to visit our Iowa Press website at iptv.org for more analysis of these issues with our weekly On Politics segment. For all of us here at Iowa Public Television, I'm David Yepsen.
Thanks for joining us today. (music) Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. 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. 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. UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at UIeCare.com.