AMES, Iowa—Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, flew from Washington, D.C. to Des Moines Thursday night on a Delta Airlines direct flight with members of Iowa’s congressional delegation. As the outspoken conservative left the Des Moines airport, he engaged liberal favorite Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, in a cordial conversation about legislative issues and their mutual Senate ambitions.
Braley, 55, the only announced Democratic candidate for Iowa’s open Senate seat in 2014, blasted King earlier in the day for voting against the final version of the Violence Against Women Act (King voted for a Republican alternative), but King declined to engage Braley in that partisan fight. Nonetheless, campaign season has started—with or without King’s official announcement.
Braley’s dig “was of little consequence,” King said, noting that he opposed two technical changes from last year’s bill that granted Native American tribes jurisdiction over domestic violence and removed a measure requiring U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to consider testimony by a U.S. citizen when a non-citizen spouse files a domestic violence complaint.
“I was surprised to hear that the news had picked it up,” he said. “Does he really want to start that? If that’s what he wants, it would be his initiative—not mine—that would start that… We’ve always got those political things jabbing back and forth. I didn’t send out that tweet and I’m not agonizing over it.”
The 63-year-old congressman, representing Iowa’s redrawn 4th Congressional District, is the 800 pound gorilla in the Republican nomination contest for Senate. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Clive, took himself out of the running this week. Although Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey have expressed interest in Senate bids, the field is essentially frozen until King announces his intentions.
“I don’t have a timetable” for announcing a decision on a Senate campaign, King said. “It needs to be analytical. It’s not a secret—I’m going to run statewide polling, and we’re going to take a real analytical look at this thing by region, by media market and all the questions that you could legitimately ask.”
“It doesn’t work to do that in the immediate announcement of Tom Harkin’s retirement, neither does it work to do that in the middle of the Karl Rove fiasco—that I think he would probably play a little differently if he had the opportunity for a do-over,” King said. “And it’s not a good idea to do that with the ripples of Tom Latham’s announcement.”
Latham met with King Wednesday afternoon to convey his decision—a “surprise” to King, mooting a planned meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss the Senate race.
“We’ve had a really good relationship over the years,” King said. “Those kind of decisions where there’s been speculation that he and I might end up on the ballot together or not have been resolved in a way that could not have been better. [Latham’s announcement] doesn’t change my decision, but it changes the way I’ll make the decision. The primary numbers and the polling out there look very positive for me, regardless. So, now I don’t have to ask the question… either or. It simplifies the process some, but it doesn’t change the decision.”
King said that his ability to provide constituent services and represent citizens in the 4th District would factor into his decision to mount a Senate campaign.
“Constituent services are very important to us,” King said. “And they must be if the Harkin team will acknowledge that we’ve had great constituent services. I should say good—I don’t think they actually said great.”
King held the grand opening for his Ames office Friday morning, welcoming about 60 business leaders, local residents and economic development officials to his outpost near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Highway 30. King pledged to keep his “finger on the pulse” of communities in his district, including 39 counties and 382 towns in northwest and central Iowa.
“When you look at the map, look at the people, where’s the place that it makes the most sense to have an office? It’s here in Ames. You have the most dynamic economy here,” King said, touting the impact of Iowa State University and other area businesses on the Iowa economy.
Before the grand opening, King met with Ames-area economic development officials and he planned to meet with Ames Mayor Ann Campbell and tour local businesses later in the day.
“All the things economically, we aren’t going to disagree on,” he said, adding that his focus would be on transportation and education issues. “We want to do all that. We want to be in full-throated support of all that can be done in Ames… I’m looking forward to a long time of serving people in this area.”
In an interview with the Ames Tribune and TheIowaRepublican.com, King said that President Obama should have engaged in more negotiations with U.S. House and Senate leadership, instead of waiting until this morning to meet in person to discuss post-sequestration options.
“I don’t know that [President Obama] wants anything to get resolved,” King said, accusing the president of fear mongering by waging a public campaign blaming Republicans for supposedly savage cuts to services for children, seniors and other sacred cows of the budget.
The so-called sequester will trim $85 million (out of a fiscal year budget of about $3.5 trillion) in discretionary domestic and defense spending. That will nip agency budgets by 5-6 percent. It’s not a government shutdown—the reductions will be spread over the rest of the year and won’t kick in for at least a month. Indeed, the cuts only represent 2.3 percent in federal spending because entitlements are not affected. If Republicans continue holding firm on the sequester, Congress must pass a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond March 27. If not, mass furloughs and a government shutdown will occur.
“Do Democrats really want to be responsible for shutting down the government because Republicans won’t raise taxes but will give Mr. Obama more flexibility to reduce the harm from spending cuts?” asked the Wall Street Journal’s editorial writers. “With this willful President, you never know. But some adult Democrats may want to whisper to the President that if he keeps up this Obamageddon act for too long, the voters may figure out how they’re being conned.”
King also blasted Obama for his dithering combined with a political-style campaign swing around the country to shame Republicans into raising taxes to avoid the sequester.
“His national tour to put the fear out there, he can decide whether that’s effective or not,” King said. “The President really has a lot of choices, I believe, and those choices—you would think that you would apply those cuts in the least painful way.”
King criticized Obama and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s plans to furlough Food Safety and Inspection Service workers, which would shut down or slow production at 6,300 meat plants across the country.
“That, I would think, would be the last place that you would use your discretion to furlough people,” King said. “Is the idea that we’re going to back up the supply chain for all the meat production in America? That starts to really make a big difference fast. And so, if I were making those calls, I would go with the least painful [cuts], especially since [sequestration] was the President’s idea.”
The Senate rejected competing proposals by Democrats and Republicans to mitigate the sequester’s impacts Thursday. By the end of the day today, the White House is expected to officially alert agencies that their budgets have been cut. In early to mid-March agencies will send notices to their employees about furloughs.
King said Republicans leverage will emerge in the debt-ceiling debate May 18 or as late as August. King wants House Republicans to use their political capital to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment limiting spending.
“If you listen to the President’s delivery, after a while you come to the conclusion that the only way we’re going to see cuts is sequestration, unless there can be some kind of a negotiation on priorities within those sequestration caps,” he said. “I don’t think the President’s going to agree. He thinks these [cuts] are devastating… it’s $85 billion cut out of the increase in spending. I see that and think, ‘Can’t we tighten our belt a little bit?’”
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