Iowa members of Congress to spend recess meeting the public - but not always in public hearings

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Congress is taking its annual August recess — or state/district work session, if you prefer — offering Iowans an opportunity to meet with their elected representatives.

Or not.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernstas well as Eastern Iowa U.S. Reps. Rod Blum and Dave Loebsack have scheduled numerous meetings with Iowans this month. But relatively few are public forums.

There are exceptions. Ernst, for example, is having at least two town hall meetings this month. The first will be Aug. 14 at Fort Dodge Middle School, the other on Aug. 15 Washington High School in Washington.

Grassley’s town hall meeting, in Bedford on Aug. 24, has attracted the attention of MoveOn.org as part of its Resistance Recess call to action “to hold GOP members of Congress accountable.”

Other members of the Iowa congressional delegation are quick to say they will meet Iowans in a variety of settings to discuss numerous topics. Speaking to civic groups, meeting with various advocacy groups and touring businesses, health care facilities and government institutions make up the bulk of their agendas.

Blum, for example, has made a number of appearances around the northeast Iowa 1st District, such as speaking to the Cedar Falls Rotary Club and a fundraiser in Arlington with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Gov. Kim Reynolds, neither of which his office publicly announced. He’s also done radio interviews.

However, he’s scheduled no public events, such as town hall meetings such as those he did on May

It’s not for lack of interest. A group in Cedar Rapids associated with Indivisible Iowa delivered petitions signed by more than 700 1st District voters asking for him to publish office hours when people could meet with him face to face.

Blum has no town hall meetings scheduled, “and if you were at our town halls this spring you understand why,” staffer John Ferland said, referring to the hostile audiences that Blum, like Grassley and Ernst, attracted at public meetings earlier this year. The members of Congress frequently were drowned out by booing and shouts of, “Do your job,” as they tried to answer questions.

Attendance at the forums was encouraged and organized by groups such as Indivisible Iowa, Progress Iowa and other Democratic-leaning groups.

“Look, I don’t want to disparage people who want to meet the congressman, but many people — some of them Democrats — thought it was over the top,” Ferland said about Blum’s four meetings that attracted more than 4,200 people. “It’s sad commentary on where political discourse is.”

Regardless of that experience, Blum “will be doing the exact same thing he’s done every August,” Ferland said. “It’s really about touring the district, meeting constituents, working alongside them when possible. Nothing’s changed.”

Just as they do every August, Grassley and Ernst are checking off counties on their annual 99-county tours of Iowa.

Tuesday, the senators met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt at the Iowa Farm Bureau to talk about the much-disliked in Iowa Waters of the U.S. regulations of waterways.

Grassley also will be meeting with farm groups, attending county Farm Bureau meetings and going to community and athletic events as his schedule permits, staffer Jill Gerber said.

The week of Aug. 21-28, in addition to spending two days at the Iowa State Fair, Grassley will have meetings in 30 counties, mostly in western Iowa, Gerber said.

Grassley anticipates the tenure of his county meetings being different from those earlier in the year when he heard from “people who were opposed with what we were trying to do.”

“I expect there’s going to be a larger and longer and louder voice coming from those who are disgusted that we didn’t deliver on the promises of the last three elections that we were going to repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, Grassley predicted. “It’s going to come from a massive amount of ill will from the grass roots on the conservative side of the ledger.”

While not all his events will be open to the public, Grassley points out that appearances at high schools, businesses and service clubs put him in front of significant numbers of voters to talk about his activities in Washington, D.C., and take questions from audience members.

He’s also doing his regular media calls and radio interviews except for a few days while he’s on vacation, Gerber added.

In addition to her town hall meetings, Ernst also is visiting businesses, touring a day care facility and meeting with law enforcement officials, staffer Brook Hougesen said. Events continue to be added to Ernst’s schedule, she said.

As with Grassley, Ernst doesn’t expect everyone will be there to give her compliments.

“It will be a mixture of issues that come up, whether it’s budgetary concerns as we move into the fall, the infrastructure bill and, of course, continuing discussions on health care,” Ernst said.

While meetings earlier this year were dominated by people upset with potential changes to the ACA, Ernst said families being impacted by Obamacare “are crying out for relief.”

“We’ve got to get this figured out so we’ll continue working on that,” she said. “Those are the people that we’re hearing from now.”

Loebsack has about 65 stops planned around the 24-county southeast Iowa 2nd District. His tour will incorporate a wide range of events, including visits, roundtables, meetings, ride-alongs and a day at the Iowa State Fair, according to staffer Joe Hand. The events are in addition to the 36 open coffees Loebsack has hosted in each county.

While he has no town hall meetings planned, Loebsack has participated in nearly 200 events so far this year, Hand said, including holding dozens of Coffee With Your Congressman stops “that give Iowans a chance to discuss whatever issue they would like with him face to face.”

“Dave values hearing from the people of Iowa and will continue to listen to their thoughts and concerns so he can best serve those he was elected to represent,” he said.

Overall, the tour is focusing on three main areas. Last week was about farmers and rural communities, including a tour of Mississippi River locks and dams that was organized by Iowa and Illinois corn growers. Growing the economy and creating jobs will be Loebsack’s focus this week. He’ll wind up the month meeting with teachers, students and administrators, and tour classrooms and innovative educational programs.

Gazette reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this story.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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