The first question Sen. Chuck Grassley faced at his opening public town hall forum of 2022 in Oelwein was whether, in his heart, he felt the 2020 presidential election was “honest” or “cheated.”
“Biden was elected president, I said that on December 16th  when the votes were counted and things of that nature, but ever since then, I’ve spent on what we can do to bring America together and solve some of the problems that we have,” the senator responded.
He was likely referencing his statement made two days before that date when the electoral college confirmed that Joe Biden had won 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232. Many of Iowa’s top Republican leaders at the time merely acknowledged that Biden would become president, but didn’t offer up their own opinion on whether they thought it was correct or not. In the year and several months since, they’ve repeatedly cast doubt on various aspects of the election and Biden’s victory.
That wasn’t enough for Lonnie Cantrell, a long-time high school coach in Oelwein, who pressed the senator again.
“You didn’t answer my question. Do you believe the election was stolen?” he asked.
“I believe there were a lot of irregularities in the election, but the election turned out the way it does, and that finality was December the 12th or 13th or 14th, and I said Biden was elected president,” Grassley said. “I don’t know what more you can say.”
Grassley’s stop in Oelwein, where about 40 people gathered in the town’s public library, was the first public stop on his 2022 99-county tour. He had made several private stops in other Northeast Iowa counties previously in the day.
The state’s senior senator, who is running for an eight term in the US Senate this year, fielded a wide variety of topics from policy-heavy ones to online conspiracy-related.
Several local residents brought up problems related to monopolies and agriculture prices, including surging phosphorous prices and the lack of competition in the meatpacking industry.
“This is one place where I’d compliment the Biden Administration for doing something that’s long overdue,” Grassley said of his actions on meatpacking companies. “…We gotta beef up competition. OK, one of those was in cattle, as an example.”
Grassley mentioned the Packers and Stockyard Act as part of a potential solution.
“It’s never been vigorously enforced,” he said of the 1921 law. “Well, [Sec. of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack is moving to vigorously enforce that act. The second [solution] is anti-trust. Now, I never figured the Department of Justice was very sympathetic to farming or knew much about it, but there’s some investigation of the anti-trust division to this.”
The senator also mentioned a bill he has introduced with several collegues aimed at better price transparency in order to keep packing plant companies from price-gouging livestock producers.
An independent financial advisor who operates as an independent contractor asked Grassley about the PRO Act, a Democratic proposal that would strengthen workers’ ability to organize for better pay and benefits in the country. Some independent contractors and freelancers have also raised potential concerns with parts of the legislation.
“It would be to oppose it,” Grassley said was his intention on the PRO Act. “Is that a good enough answer? … I’ve been fighting this battle since I’ve been in the Congress in the same way you want it fought … There’s people who believe if you’re an independent contractor you’re a crook and you’re not paying your fair share.”
Various other questions revolved around internet tech companies, student loan repayments, immigration and Hunter Biden.
“This is something if you really want to get in the weeds on this, you get somebody to get my speeches off of the internet, I’ve done I bet a dozen speeches on this, so you can get my feelings about it,” Grassley noted of his thoughts on Hunter Biden to one questioner.
Several attendees brought up concerns they had over COVID, including pushback on vaccine requirements. After Grassley stuck to simply explaining why the Supreme Court invalidated the private business vaccine requirement but allowed the health care provider one, some in the crowd urged him to use his own position to fight harder against such requirements.
One woman who has multiple family members who work in health care complained that they were required to get the vaccine even though they had already contracted COVID and therefore had antibodies.
“That’s what’s wrong with the scientists who are advising this administration and maybe the same ones that were advising the Trump Administration,” Grassley replied. “You don’t get any credit for natural immunity and you ought to have credit for it … Yeah, in fact there was an Israeli study nearly a year ago that said the natural immunity was more than 27 times more than the vaccination.”
What Grassley perhaps was referring to was this non-peer reviewed study from August of 2021, where the number was actually 13-times, though the study also found that those with antibodies were still better protected from serious health consequences of COVID in the future if they also got a vaccine dose.
A fact check noted the problems with how right-wing social media posts framed it as a way to suggest the vaccines made it more likely you’d contract COVID, and also left out various other aspects of it.
Another attendee spoke up to note that antibody immunity, as well as the vaccines, wane over time, which is why doctors recommend getting booster shots.
“You’re both right,” Grassley said.
by Pat Rynard
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