Where’s Chuck Grassley?
Not many people seem to know the answer to that, despite the Senate being on a two-week recess. That’s typically when Iowa’s senior senator embarks on his much-publicized county meetings as part of his 99 county “Full Grassley” tour.
But ever since the Supreme Court nomination process, in which Grassley has been steadfast in his denial to hold hearings as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley’s tone and working style have really changed. The overwhelming pressure both nationally and in Iowa to act on the Merrick Garland nomination seems to be getting under his skin. And now the man who prides himself on being open and available to the people of Iowa is anything but.
Many Iowa activists were surprised this week when on Wednesday Grassley tweeted out three meetings that he’d held that day in Garner, Algona and Forest City, detailing the topics asked and ending each tweet with a “#99countymeetings” hashtag.
3M Forest City Q&A w 46 ppl TOPICS-SCOTUS, tax reform, trade, education, military cuts, IRS #99countymeetings 4/4
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 23, 2016
There was just one big problem with that: the meetings don’t appear to have been widely publicized by his office. No official press release was sent out from his office, nor were they listed on his official calendar. He does have public notice of three other county meetings coming up next week, interestingly enough in the most conservative counties of Osceola, Lyon and Sioux in Northwest Iowa.
Calls into the Garner/Algona/Forest City area from Starting Line indicate that some locals did know about the meetings, but not until the day before or day of. Two of the local newspapers got a call from someone in Grassley’s office, though one noted that typically they got an emailed press release several days in advance in past years. Several of the papers in these rural counties are weeklies, making timing on quick notice difficult. A voter in Algona says the first he heard about the meeting there was on the radio that morning, too late for him to plan to go over to see Grassley.
This caused problems for Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus when he announced he had finished his own “Full Grassley” 99 county tour. The Des Moines Register pushed back to say he couldn’t claim such an accomplishment because two of the 99 county events didn’t meet their requirements of public access and advance notice to the media.
Des Moines Register records do NOT show Cruz stops in 99 counties. We require public access/advance notice; 2 events didn't- via @brianneDMR
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 1, 2016
Now while many Republicans will ignore what the Des Moines Register has to say on an issue, the paper made an important point during Cruz’s tour in regards to a “Full Grassley”: the whole point of these events is to meet people and have an open discussion. It’s hard to do that when they’re poorly or not publicized. You can easily do 99 stops around the state where you only meet Republican activists in closed rooms, but that’s not in the spirit of what Grassley’s meetings are supposed to be.
His public appearances during this Senate recess (March 21 to April 1) have been notably slim. The Iowa group Why Courts Matter even set up a “Where Is Chuck” hotline and email for Iowans to call/message if they figure out where Grassley is holding his meetings.
That could cause a problem to his 99 county tour later on, whether he gives advance notice or not. His public events page shows he’s held 18 public county meetings through the end of March, and then there’s the three more if you want to count yesterday’s unpublicized ones. That leaves him with 78 more to go while in the midst of the toughest reelection campaign he’s ever faced.
So by avoiding many open meetings now when the nomination topic is burning the hottest, he may hamstring his campaigning ability or lose his talking point of the “Full Grassley” later on. But most importantly Grassley’s argument through the whole Supreme Court has been that he wants to give people a voice in the process of selecting the next judge. If he wants to do that, he’s got to better publicize these events so Iowans can come talk to him.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Gage Skidmore