Talk about the Supreme Court and gridlock in Congress dominated the debate last night between long-time Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge last night in Sioux City. Judge, a Democrat, is vying for the octogenarian Republican’s U.S. Senate seat, which he has held since 1981.
The debate was civil, with Grassley starting out by giving his condolences for Judge’s father, who passed away Tuesday at 94. The candidates agreed on the importance of supporting Iowa farmers and supporting ethanol, both key issues in Iowa. But Judge repeatedly criticized Grassley’s role in Washington politics, citing public frustration with perceived gridlock and obstruction in Congress.
Although polls over the past two months have shown Grassley with a comfortable, double-digit lead, he has faced controversy surrounding his opposition as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to holding a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
During the debate, Grassley defended his position citing the so-called “Biden Rule,” a 1992 statement by then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden.
“We have taken a similar position to what Democratic senators have taken when there have been Republican presidents,” Grassley said during the debate, adding that over 50 senators are also opposed to holding the hearing (a number which was reported by the Washington Post earlier this year).
“You can’t have one rule for Democratic presidents and another rule for Republican presidents,” he said.
Back in June 1992, an election year, Biden made a statement on the Senate floor suggesting the Senate president delay any consideration of a Supreme Court nominee out of concern that the partisan politics of an election season might impact the nomination process. But at the time there was no vacancy on the court and no nominee queued up. Biden didn’t propose putting off the process until the next president took office, only until after the election.
During the debate, Grassley did seem to walk back previous comments that he wouldn’t consider Garland during a lame-duck session.
“If a majority of the Senate said they were going to move ahead, a chairman serves at the will of the majority of the Senate and I would move ahead then,” he said. “I don’t expect that to happen though.”
Judge criticized Grassley’s stance, bringing up a term she used repeatedly during the hour-long debate: obstruction.
“This is obstruction of the process,” she said. “This is exactly what’s wrong with Washington.”
Judge criticized Grassley for becoming disconnected from Iowans after four decades in Washington.
“Chuck Grassley in 42 years has not really changed Washington. Washington, in fact, has probably changed him,” she said.
She said she would focus on issues such as investing in infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, reducing student loan debt and addressing issues like climate change and water quality.
“When seniority is used for the benefit of your party instead of working families in Iowa, that seniority is not really of great value,” she said. “If you have been there for 42 years and you have not been able to make the progress that needs to be made then it’s time to come home.”
Grassley cited his accomplishments during his years in office, including supporting the wind industry and the renewable fuels standards, passing farm bills and working on other bipartisan legislation. He also pointed to some of his current efforts, including sponsoring a criminal justice reform bill, which has support from both sides of the aisle.
“I’ve proven that you can work in a bipartisan way and get things done,” he said.
Grassley said he has remained connected to Iowans through his frequent visits to Iowa — hitting all 99 Iowa counties for public meetings each year.
“Washington is an island surrounded by reality,” he said. “Get out of there.”
His visits have become so well-known that when a presidential candidate visits all 99 counties in the lead-up to the caucuses it’s been called a “full Grassley.”
The two candidates will face off again right before the election during a Nov. 4 debate on WHO Radio and WHO-TV in Des Moines.