OPINION | Grassley shows his true colors by excusing Trump

Gun Rights

Many longtime Iowans I’ve spoken to say Grassley has changed since he started serving in Congress in 1975. They’re disappointed by what they see as his growing partisanship.

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If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, the image of Sen. Chuck Grassley on Thursday cozying up to disgraced, defeated, lying, former president Donald Trump ought to tip the scales.  

This isn’t a case of Iowa-style loyalty to a longtime friend or political incumbent. Federal prosecutors, in the face of overwhelming evidence, are now criminally investigating Trump’s efforts to change the 2020 election outcome in his favor by asking an election official to “find” him another 11,780 votes. That’s what two-bit dictators do, enabled by corrupt government systems stacked toward an outcome.

Our system is better than that.

What prevented Trump from getting away with pressuring officials to throw the election in his favor were the checks and balances that are part of our separation of powers. Iowans have put Grassley in the legislative branch of federal government for 47 years to play that checking and balancing role. He failed us by refusing to take action against Trump’s wrongdoing. He has even noted Trump’s popularity with Iowa Republicans as a reason to accept Trump’s endorsement in his re-election bid. No doubt Trump would expect the favor repaid if he runs for president in 2024.

Again and again, Chuck Grassley says one thing and does another

Iowa’s senior senator is skilled at making persuasive arguments that tap into public indignation, but then voting just the opposite way. In a textbook case of trying to have it both ways, he issued a statement condemning the events the Jan. 6 insurrection as “completely inexcusable” and “a direct, violent attack on our seat of government,” then voted to acquit Trump last year of “incitement of insurrection,” The attack on the U.S. Capitol and its aftermath left seven people dead, including three U.S. Capitol Police officers. Expressing righteous indignation over Trump’s conduct, Grassley acknowledged that the former president “continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn’t back up his claim” and “belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way,” even encouraging Vice President Mike Pence “to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count.”

But then he used words of righteous indignation over Trump’s conduct, acknowledging the former president “continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn’t back up his claim. He belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own, loyal vice president, Mike Pence, to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count.”

So what consequences did Grassley vote to give him? None. His excuses to acquit included supposedly not having the authority to convict a private citizen, though the Constitution says nothing forbidding that. And, argued the senator, “Even if (it) did, he should have been accorded the protections of due process of law.” And “even if we assume he has been, the House Managers still did not prove that he committed incitement to insurrection.”

But he was happy to put the onus on all of us, suggesting “we all” needed to tone down our rhetoric and declaring, “Too many people think that politics really is just war by another name. … To far too many people, our democracy (is) a street fight.”

More:Donald Trump teases Iowa crowd: ‘I will very, very, very probably’ run for president

I haven’t engaged in any street fight over politics and I doubt any of you reading this have. Nor did Hillary Clinton, though Grassley then turned to accusing her of the same thing Trump did for suggesting Trump had used voter suppression to win in 2016.

There is just so much doublespeak here. In a Washington Post analysis last August as the House’s Jan. 6 investigation was getting started, Aaron Blake wrote: “Grassley’s argument ultimately boiled down to this: It wasn’t so bad, because Trump didn’t actually get the Justice Department to do what he wanted it to do. Oh, and when he failed at that, he didn’t actually make good on his threats to start firing people and install a loyalist to lead the DOJ.”

Many longtime Iowans I’ve spoken to say Grassley has changed since he started serving in Congress in 1975, and then the Senate in 1981. They’re disappointed by what they see as his growing partisanship. The Grassley I’ve followed can be charming, like when he makes a joke at his own expense, and folksy, as when he discusses his daily early-to-bed, early-to-rise-and-run routines. But I’ve seen too many missed opportunities for him to use his Senate leadership positions for the good of ordinary people, inaction he then tries to justify with partisan rhetoric.

In rejecting a Democratic push to let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices in 2019, the senator first decried the burden on Americans from the rising costs of prescription drugs, then patted himself on the back for having led the Republican charge to add the Medicare drug benefit (Plan D) 13 years earlier with Democrats. Then he swung to partisan rhetoric against so-called “calls to put the government in the driver’s seat,” adding in a thinly veiled rallying cry against — what? — communism! “It’s the same back seat drivers who think centralized government knows best.” He insisted the “forces of free enterprise and competition” should drive costs down.

We’ve seen how well that’s worked.

A National Rifle Association campaign fund recipient, Grassley refused to support a ban on the sale of guns even to known domestic abusers after the National Rifle Association opposed it. He voted against the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act in 1994. In 2020 he was a part of the Republican-controlled Senate that wouldn’t bring California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s amendment on keeping guns from abusers to a vote. He also voted against laws expanding paid family leave for a birth or adoption or to care for a sick family member, and measures to guarantee equal pay for women.

Each of those positions should force you to question whether his core priorities align with yours. Then add in Grassley’s double standard in refusing to give President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a Senate confirmation hearing because Obama was in his last year of office. Grassley later helped rush through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation in October 2020 as a presidential election was underway. He forced a vote on Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite the damning public testimony of Christine Blasey Ford of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in high school. But the senator wouldn’t vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court’s first Black woman, as a justice.

Even on the most fundamental of human rights protections, he demurs. When our torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was exposed post-9/11, Grassley refused to condemn or reject torture as an interrogation technique. His campaign ads hint at no higher goals than less crime and lower taxes.

Iowans deserve better.

Mike Franken offers a different vision

This year for the first time, Grassley is in a tight race for his Senate seat. His challenger is Mike Franken, a retired three-star vice admiral in the U.S Navy. Here’s an opportunity to replace Grassley with someone full of new vision, empathy, ideas, and real-world experience. Someone who gives you straight talk and really cares about serving real people’s needs. Among Franken’s many priorities are expanding Medicare to cover hearing, dental and vision care and putting mental health care on a par with medical care. He has formidable knowledge about the rest of the world. And he has said he’d use his Senate position to pass legislation protecting abortion rights. Grassley, an abortion opponent, says that issue should remain in the states.

More:Mike Franken rallies supporters in Des Moines, aiming for contrast with Donald Trump

Maybe he should, too.

If you haven’t already, get out and vote Tuesday.

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