Candidates for U.S. Senate spar over abortion and student debt


Screenshot via Iowa Press Debates PBS

Admiral Michael Franken and Sen. Chuck Grassley taking part in the only Senate debate leading up to the 2022 midterms.

Candidates for U.S. Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Admiral Michael Franken, affirmed and clarified where they draw the line on abortion rights in America. Franken took a hard position against government regulation of abortion. Meanwhile, Grassley said he believes the issue should be left for elected officials to vote on.

Regarding the government regulating abortion, Franken said it has no place in the private decision between a woman and a doctor. Grassley said he supported the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the precedent and said the decision of abortion should be left up to the states.

Congress attempted to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade, reinstating abortion protection. This legislation failed in the Senate, receiving a no vote from both of Iowa’s senators. On the other side of the issue, Republicans have talked about proposing a federal abortion ban.

News Director of Radio Iowa and debate mediator O. Kay Henderson questioned Grassley on whether he meant elected officials at the federal or state level.

“Obviously, it could be at the federal level, but we’ve been waiting for a long period of time to get this back to the States,” Grassley responded. “That’s where it should be, and that’s where I want it to be.”

Associate Teaching Professor Kelly Shaw said students should pay attention to the question of whether abortion should have federal protections or be up to the states, but the issue is moot at the federal level considering the makeup of the court and the gridlock in Congress.

“Given how polarized Congress is and, one could argue at least ideologically, the Supreme Court is polarized now, I don’t see that precedent being reversed or overwritten,” Shaw said.

Franken was also questioned on recent allegations of giving an unwanted kiss to a former staff member and having an old-fashioned approach when interacting with women. Franken stated the claims were unfounded and turned the question to the discussion of women’s rights.

“He has a problem with women,” Franken said. “We’re seeing this manifests itself with the series of other bills that he’s now working on.”

Student debt

Chief Politics Reporter for The Des Moines Register Brianne Pfannenstiel asked Grassley if large corporations receive tax breaks and farmers benefit from subsidies, why shouldn’t middle and low-income Americans benefit from this relief.

Since the Americans promised to pay the debt, Grassley said he believed they ought to. Grassley also questioned whether President Joe Biden has the power to forgive student loans. Shaw said this question is settled, and the president is within his executive powers to forgive federal loans.

“It could be a slippery slope,” Grassley said regarding student loan forgiveness. “Somebody’s going to say they need some help on their car loans on their house mortgage. It just starts out there.”

Franken isn’t exactly in favor of loan forgiveness, even though when Biden announced the plan, Franken said he welcomed the first step.

“We bailed out a lot of industries through the years,” Franken said. “I’m not a big fan of bailout of student debt. I want to fix the problem. Something he could have done anytime between now and 63 years going back because it progressively got worse.”

Grassley responded to Franken that there are more ways to pay for college than borrowing money.

War in Ukraine

When addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Shaw said neither candidate was eager to put U.S. boots on the ground. Shaw also said both Franken and Grassley aren’t all that far apart in their approach to international relations with Ukraine.

Grassley offered Biden credit for doing a reasonably good job as commander-in-chief — just six months too late. Franken agreed the U.S. was late to aid Ukrainians in defending their border. While some Republicans in Congress are advocating cutting aid to Ukraine, Grassley said not now and maybe never.

“That ‘never’ is connected to article five of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being triggered in,” Grassley said. “So that we would have to then defend wherever Putin went into Europe or into NATO nations. And I hope that the American people will be patient to understand that helping Ukraine now will save us a lot of money later on if Putin is stopped.”

Shaw said Franken, especially as a Democrat, seemed to display a more war-hawkish position.

While Grassley said that he does not believe American troops should go to Ukraine. Franken didn’t directly state whether he would support or oppose sending over armed troops. Instead, Franken said no one knows more about putting troops in American combat zones than he does.

“We need to realize that anything short of pushing soldiers across that border will involve yet another chapter of Russia extending the great white Russia into the neighboring countries,” Franken said.

Sticking to their masses

Even though the first question of the night related to how each candidate would appeal to constituents of an opposing party, Shaw said in the debate as a whole, the candidates attempted to cater to their base.

Throughout the debate, Grassley said during his 99 county tour that the three major topics he hears from Iowans are that inflation, energy and the border are all out of control. All as a result of failing Democratic policy. Meanwhile, Franken continually came for Grassley on his positions and votes relating to women’s rights issues.

Shaw said both candidates could have elaborated on immigration issues.

“Given the lack of policy and the lack of progress that both Biden has made and that President Trump has made,” Shaw said. “There’s plenty of blame to go around, certainly. I thought that that would have been one issue they probably could have spent more time talking about.”

Shaw said this debate’s temperament didn’t disappoint.

“There were more punches landed than I thought there would be,” Shaw said. “Neither of them back down from it.”