Sen. Chuck Grassley will kick off his annual tour of all Iowa’s 99 counties on Friday, with stops in three counties: Johnson, Cedar and Jones. It’s the 40th year for the “Full Grassley,” the nickname the senator has adopted for the tour.
“I look forward to the opportunity to listen to Iowans’ comments and concerns and respond directly to their questions,” Grassley said in a written statement announcing the new tour.
But there are limits on who Grassley will be listening to.
According to his office, all of Grassley’s three stops on Friday will be at private businesses, and the general public isn’t invited to attend. The names of the businesses haven’t be made public, and the official schedule published on Grassley’s Senate site doesn’t list any events on Friday.
“I hold meetings in a variety of settings to ensure that a broad cross-section of Iowans can participate, including businesses, schools, town meetings and factory floors,” Grassley said in his written statement.
Johnson County residents are used to the Full Grassley passing through without being able to see the state’s senior senator. As Progress Iowa documented in a 2016 report, Grassley has avoided holding town hall meetings in Iowa’s 10 most populous counties.
According the report, between 2011 and 2016, Grassley only held three town halls in those counties. Two of those meetings were held in Scott County (2011 and 2012) and one was held in Pottawattamie (2011). He held no town hall meetings in Johnson, Linn, Polk, Story, Black Hawk, Woodbury, Dubuque and Dallas. Those eight counties contain 43 percent of the state’s population.
That pattern has continued since 2016.
Skipping a public town hall during his Johnson County stop makes it less likely Grassley will face any tough questions about his recent activities, particularly his “not guilty” votes in President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
Grassley’s vote wasn’t a surprise. He’s loyally voted with Trump on every important bill, and as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee he quickly pushed through many controversial nominees for federal judgeships, including a record number of nominees rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.
Occasionally, Grassley has made statements critical not of Trump, but of Trump administration policies. But the senator hasn’t actually used the power of his office to take actions that might back up those criticisms.
In the statement he made about his decision to acquit Trump, Grassley did offer some mild criticism of the president.
“The President himself, however, should not conclude from my vote that I think his conduct was above reproach,” said Grassley, according to the Congressional Record. He went on to say, “[T]he President’s request [that the president of Ukraine announce his government was investigating Joe Biden for corruption] was poorly timed and poorly executed, and he should have taken better care to avoid even the mere appearance of impropriety,”
Mild as the criticism was, Grassley still didn’t voice anywhere Trump was likely to notice.
As Laura Belin reported at Bleeding Heartland, Grassley didn’t actually include the lines quoted above in his actual speech on the floor of the Senate on Feb. 5. Or in the press release containing his speech that his office published. Instead, those words only appear in the extended version of his remarks that Grassley inserted into the Congressional Record.
Grassley’s burial of his mild criticism of Trump paid off for him. He was one of the Republican lawmakers Trump singled out for praise at an odd post-trial celebration at the White House.
During his rambling hour-long monologue, a puffy-eyed and loudly sniffing Trump talked about the Republicans he felt were his strongest supporters. The part about Grassley was perhaps the strangest, and included Trump’s attempt to imitate Grassley’s voice.
“A man who got James Comey to choke. And he was just talking in his regular voice,” Trump began. It wasn’t true — Grassley didn’t persuade Comedy to admit to leaking information — but then very few of the things Trump said during the event were true.
“He is the roughest man,” Trump said of Grassley. “He’s actually a unbelievable [sic] — and I appreciate the letter you sent me. Today. I just got it. But he’s got this voice that scares people.” Grassley and the other Republican laughed as Trump said this.
“You know, people from Iowa can be very tough. We’re doing very well in Iowa. But I’ll tell you, Chuck Grassley, he looking at Comey,” Trump now switched his version of Grassley’s voice, “’Well, you tell me, what did you say?’”
There was more laughter from the attentive audience.
“Now he wasn’t being rough, that’s just the way he talks. And that was when Comey, I think that was when Comey announced that he was leaking, lying and everything else. He choked. Because he never heard anybody talk like that.” Again, none of that is true.
“You know, you should have gone — I wish you got angry, you could have gotten the whole ballgame. He would have said, ‘I give up.’ Chuck Grassley is an incredible guy.”
A broadly smiling Grassley then stood up, as his fellow Republicans applauded.
(It’s worth noting that not only wasn’t Comey intimidated by Grassley’s voice or his “Iowa” way of speaking, but the former FBI director is very well acquainted with Iowans. His wife Patricia is from Iowa, and Comey has been a frequent visitor to the state.)
Grassley had kept a lower profile during Trump’s trial. Sen. Joni Ernst, on the other hand, eagerly sought out TV news cameras to defend Trump and spread discredited conspiracy theories about Joe Biden.
Despite her highly visible displays of loyalty, Trump didn’t mention Ernst during his White House event.
Ernst, who is up for reelection this year, has also done a Full Grassley during her years in the Senate. Unlike Grassley, she has included public events in Johnson County recently. In 2017, she held a town hall meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union, where she faced tough questioning from participants.
Asked afterwards about “the tenor of discourse” at the town hall, Ernst replied, “Actually, I was expecting much worse.”