Government

Weather, politics sizzle at Ernst's Roast and Ride event

Pence: Congress must complete health care reform

Vice President Mike Pence greets supporters at Joni Ernst's third annual Roast and Ride at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on Saturday, June 3, 2017. Five hundred motorcyclists rode from Des Moines to Boone for the event, which culminated in talks by Sen. Ernst, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Vice President Mike Pence. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Vice President Mike Pence greets supporters at Joni Ernst's third annual Roast and Ride at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on Saturday, June 3, 2017. Five hundred motorcyclists rode from Des Moines to Boone for the event, which culminated in talks by Sen. Ernst, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Vice President Mike Pence. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

BOONE — The hog roast was popular once again, but the previous administration’s health care reform also was on the menu after being roasted by the new vice president.

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking Saturday at U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual GOP fundraiser, said Congress must make it a priority to get to President Donald Trump’s desk a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known better to the folks at Saturday’s event as Obamacare.

The U.S. House has passed a bill that would undo much of the health care reform implemented under former President Barack Obama. The U.S. Senate plans to craft its own health care bill in the coming weeks.

“We must come together with Congress to repeal Obamacare,” Pence said at Ernst’s third annual “Roast and Ride.” “The Obamacare nightmare is about to end, and it’s about time.”

Pence was the main draw to the third annual event, which was held at the Central Iowa Expo. Then-candidate Trump spoke at least year’s event, and the inaugural event in 2015 included seven GOP presidential candidates — but not Trump.

Pence, a motorcycle rider, did not participate in the fundraiser’s 49-mile motorcycle ride. But he hopped on a Harley-Davidson and rode roughly a couple hundred yards to the event stage.

Pence spoke about many of Trump’s policy goals: reducing federal regulations, creating jobs, rebuilding the military, and reducing illegal immigration and abortion.

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But health care reform was the topic on which Pence spoke most. He said Congress should pass a bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act’s mandates, “reform and strengthen” Medicaid, and gives state flexibility to decide how best to cover the population’s most vulnerable.

 

“Congress must come together under the leadership of President Donald Trump and relieve Iowa and relieve America and repeal Obamacare,” Pence said.

Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s longtime Republican U.S. Senator, said Congress has not yet done enough to help Trump pass the agenda upon which he campaigned.

“Congress has a responsibility to help Trump deliver on those campaign promises,” Grassley said. “So far we have not produced the way we should produce, and I hope that we can get back to getting together in unanimity to get things done. Because there’s so much that needs to be done.”

The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement criticizing Republicans’ plans for health care reform.

“Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, 132,000 previously uninsured Iowans gained coverage — cutting the uninsured rate in half and giving Iowa families the assurance that they would have access to the quality, affordable health care they deserve,” state party chairman Derek Eadon said in a statement. “In addition to the Iowans living without insurance before the ACA, the bill has provided assurance to 1.3 million Iowans with pre-existing conditions that they would not be denied the coverage they need.”

Roughly 1,450 tickets were sold for the event, organizers said. It was difficult to determine whether that many made it to the event after a U.S. Secret Service security sweep of all vehicles helped cause a significant traffic backup just outside the event.

More than 500 participated in the motorcycle ride; that was the most in the event’s three years. Proceeds from the $20 registration fee for the ride go to the national nonprofit Hope for the Warriors groups that help post 9/11 military, veterans and their families.

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Ernst kicked off the event at a motorcycle barn in Des Moines, where she said, “God bless you all for being great patriots” for helping to raise funds for the veterans charity.

Grassley does not ride, and joked, “I’m not going to be on a motorcycle. A lawn mower is safer and slower, too.”

Ernst said she was thrilled to be able to persuade Pence to speak at this year’s event and chalked it up to, in part, Iowa’s primary position in the presidential selection process and the fact the state went for the Trump-Pence ticket in the 2016 election.

“I do think they enjoy coming into Iowa. Iowa has been very supportive, not only of then candidate Trump but also the administration this year,” Ernst said before hopping on her motorcycle at the start of the event. “They just enjoy the opportunity to get out and see Iowans. It’s good to have them here.”

 

Ernst declined to speculate about Pence’s plans in 2024, should Trump serve two full terms, telling reporters “I haven’t talked to the vice president about that but should he choose to do that, I think he will be an exceptional contender.”

Grassley said he expected Pence would “will be an heir apparent in 2024.”

Ernst, a first-term U.S. senator from Red Oak who was among the Republicans whose names surfaced as possible 2016 running mates for Trump, said she thinks Pence was a great pick and she has no regrets — “never, absolutely not” — about the 2016 election.

“I think Vice President Pence is tremendous and he brought a lot to that ticket,” she said. “I love working for the people of Iowa. I feel that my place is in the Senate and absolutely no regrets. We’ve got a great administration.”

Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina who also spoke at Saturday’s event, stoked that flame a bit.

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“I’m looking forward to the day when Mike Pence and Joni Ernst are on the same ticket,” Scott said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Gov. Kim Reynolds also spoke at the event.

It was difficult to find a Republican at Saturday’s event who had anything critical to say of the Trump administration.

Lamont Davidson, a ride participant from Lake Delhi, said the Trump presidency is off to a great start as far as he is concerned.

“I’m very passionate about our President Trump. That’s my big interest in this. I want to continue to see things improve under a Republican administration,” said Davidson, who said he liked the president’s decision to phase out U.S. participation in the Paris energy accord aimed at curbing global warming.

“That was wonderful because it seems like they just want our money while India and China gets a pass on this thing. It makes no sense and I’m thrilled that he did that,” Davidson said. “I’m not disappointed in anything that Trump has done so far.”

Grassley said he was opposed to the Paris agreement because it appeared some of the proposed goals might become enforceable in court. He said the United States has done a great deal to reduce carbon emissions and Iowans he talks to at town meetings are more concerned about health care, tax reform and the next farm bill than they are about global warming or Russian interference.

“Right now in Washington, Russia is a front-burner issue. But when I come out here to my town-hall meetings, tax reform and the farm bill and health care reform are the big issues,” Grassley said. “So I think it’s a little bit like Washington is an island surrounded by reality.”

Eadon took a different view, calling the Trump-Pence plan a “dangerous agenda” that will reward the wealthy with tax cuts while reducing support for health care, college students and farmers by “dismantling” critical agriculture safety nets as part of “an attack on rural Iowa.”

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“Mike Pence and Donald Trump don’t have a plan to provide care for the Iowans who need it,” Eadon said. “This isn’t progress. It isn’t common sense and it’s not what Iowans deserve from this administration.”

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