Democrats to make Grassley inaction campaign issue

The Honorable Merrick B. Garland, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

Alex Hanson

Iowa’s U.S. Senate race — once an easy win for Chuck Grassley — may now be a referendum on the national fight over a Supreme Court nominee.

And Grassley, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has to deal with four Democrats who want his seat in Washington and are making Senate Republicans’ plan to not hold hearings on the SCOTUS nominee a central part of their campaign.

Grassley is in a unique position: while other Senate campaigns with vulnerable Republicans across the country will likely have discussions about the Supreme Court, Grassley himself has the power to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, a federal judge chosen by Obama to replace Antonin Scalia.

While Grassley cannot schedule a floor vote to ultimately confirm Garland, Grassley and Senate Republicans have worked together to come up with a strategy — instead of holding hearings, saying Americans should “have a voice” by electing a new president who nominates a replacement.

“This is a huge issue,” said Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State. “It will excite voters in both parties. I think this is what could unify the voters in each party because it is such an important and long term issue.”

Schmidt also said the fight could have implications in the 2016 race, including voters coalescing around whoever is nominated on the GOP side — even while party insiders look to deny frontrunner Trump the nomination — just to stop Democrats from winning the White House.

Grassley on the other hand, said with votes already cast for the next election and the implications of a justice nominated by a Democrat, hearings and confirmation should wait.

“A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics,” Grassley said in a statement last week.

“The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice. Do we want a court that interprets the law, or do we want a court that acts as an unelected super legislature? This year is a tremendous opportunity for our country to have a sincere and honest debate about the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system of government.”

Back in Iowa, the inaction from Grassley caught the eye of former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who late last month expressed interest in running against Grassley.

Judge, the state’s number two executive under Gov. Chet Culver from 2007 to 2011, made it official a few days later on March 5. She plans to be the Judge “Grassley can’t ignore” and joined the race.

“I certainly can’t understand the rationale of the Republicans,” Judge told reporters last week on a conference call. “I think this is a huge issue. It’s a huge issue for our country. This will continue to be an issue if they continue to obstruct the process.”

Judge also told reporters that there will be a “dissatisfaction” among voters because of the GOP strategy — “gridlock and a lack of activity,” as she put it. 

“I think that will carry through to election day,” Judge said. “I think this is a season where voters across the country and in Iowa are voicing dissatisfaction with politics as usual.”

Another challenger, state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, plans to make the Supreme Court fight a campaign issue.

“Now that the President has made a nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, it is time for Senator Grassley and his colleagues in the United States Senate to do their job,” Hogg said. “Give the nominee a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote.”

Hogg, currently in his second-term in the Iowa Senate, worked for two federal judges, one appointed by a Democrat, another by a Republican, and said they both were “good judges,” regardless of party. 

In the Iowa Legislature, Hogg is vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the statehouse and said he understands the importance of confirming judges. He added 

“In the Iowa Senate, we are currently reviewing Governor Branstad’s appointees for numerous boards and commissions including the State Judicial Nominating Commission,” Hogg said. “Each nominee will receive an up-or-down vote unless withdrawn by the Governor.  The United States Senate should also set aside partisanship and do its job considering the President’s nominee.”

Grassley also has two other lesser-known challengers: Former state Rep. Bob Krause of Fairfield and former state Sen. Tom Fiegen of Clarence. 

While Krause has been going after Grassley on the Supreme Court fight as well, Fiegen has warned voters that Judge is influenced by big money in agriculture. Fiegen has tweeted and retweeted numerous links about Judge:

While Grassley will be the GOP nominee in November, Democrats will narrow the field down to one candidate on primary day, June 7.