Sen. Grassley visits Toledo

Sen. Chuck Grassley takes a comment at a Q&A session on Sept. 2 at the Reinig Center in Toledo. Pictured are, from left, Grassley, Toledo Mayor Brian Sokol, and Tama County Emergency Management Coordinator Mindy Benson. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

­Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, visited Tama County on September 2 to hear from area leaders amid the challenges of the derecho storm recovery and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a closed Q&A session at the Reinig Center in Toledo, Grassley spent roughly an hour fielding questions and discussing topics including federal COVID-19 aid, police reform, manufacturing supply chain issues, President Trump and the Hatch Act, and commodity market price manipulation.

Cordt Holub, a Tama County Farm Bureau member, thanked the Senator for his support of COVID-19 relief programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the Payroll Protection Program and inquired on the progress of a second agriculture relief package.

Grassley pointed toward some unspent funds that were left over from the initial Payroll Protection Program as well as a $20 billion sum allotted to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to disburse through multiple programs within the USDA organization.

Toledo Mayor Brian Sokol and Tama County Economic Development Director Katherine Ollendieck each spoke about challenges and nuances within the Payroll Protection Program and how some sectors of the business community were not able to participate as fully in the program as they may have needed.

Since negotiations at the federal level were still ongoing, no definitive answer was able to be shared, but Grassley did offer some thoughts on how he hoped a second round of federal aid could assist groups that ended up in the margins earlier this year.

“I would say that it falls into three categories of helping,” Grassley said. “Some would be C-6s, like those nonprofit organizations that were left out of the first CARES Act. Another group would be anybody that didn’t have a banking relationship and maybe got left out and should have had some help, but they didn’t know how to do it or for some reason or other. Plus I usually use restaurants as an example. In March they all lined up and got this help, and they thought they were going to open up in 90 days. Then maybe they opened up, but the 30 to 40 percent of occupancy, and then in some parts of the state they may be shut down, or in other states they may be shut down, maybe not Iowa. So, maybe giving groups like that a second bite at the apple. But it wouldn’t be as widespread. I don’t want to lead you to believe that we would redo everything we’ve already done.”

Toledo City Council member Cathy Cook brought up a pair of issues surrounding President Trump.

Cook asked Grassley what he would do in Washington to defend the Hatch Act and if he felt any responsibility to respond to the rhetoric being used by the President in what she termed as “racial dog-whistling”.

Grassley explained that the Hatch Act, a federal law from 1939 prohibiting employees in the executive branch of the federal government from using federal resources to engage in campaigning or political activities, did not apply to the president and vice president and that other federal employees were allowed to do political activities as long as they did not occur on government property and were outside of a 40 hour work week.

To the second point Grassley first responded by highlighting his bipartisan record as indexed by the Lugar Center at Georgetown University and then expressed some personal opinions about his own political principles as well as his relationship to the president’s ongoing commentary.

“I hope that I can maybe on a personal basis to respond to you. I think as a follower of Jesus Christ myself, if I just try to exhibit whatever a Christian ought to do to be nice to everybody. That’s what I try to do,” Grassley said.

“You probably think that I just sit there listening to everything the president says,” Grassley said. “I don’t have much time to listen to the president. I’ve got my own job as a member of the senate to do, and most of that is dealing with policy. Iowans are hurting, and I’ve got to take care of Iowans. I can’t spend my time listening to what the president says. You couldn’t even keep up with his tweets. Next question.”

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera spoke up and inquired what the senator’s views were around the national conversation of defunding the police.

“We’re fortunate. I’m fortunate, let’s put it that way, to be a sheriff in a rural county, a farming community,” Kucera said. “We so far have experienced awesome support throughout the whole county from our people that we protect and serve out here. It just seems to me that in our county we have extreme, wonderful support that’s being expressed to us, so I don’t know that I’d want to be a sheriff anyplace else. But it still comes through, concern of all this talk in other states, and you’ve seen what’s going on, of defunding the police and police reform. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on that.”

Grassley first commented on the rather small amount of funding that Congress provides within the overall financial picture of local law enforcement agencies and then went on to speak about some of his personal opinions on the matter.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a city where they’re defunding the police, at least right now with the increase in crime that we’ve had,” Grassley said. “Who would want to move to Portland today? Who would want to move to Seattle today? If you don’t have police, wouldn’t you have a Wild West environment?”

“Don’t you have to condemn the looting? You have to uphold the constitutional right of peaceful assembly, but understand “peaceful assembly,” because that’s the word the Constitution uses. And shouldn’t you be condemning the looting and violence that’s going on? There might be a policeman now and then that does something very bad, and you’d have to condemn those sorts of things. That doesn’t mean the other 99% fall into the same category,” Grassley said.

Tama County Farm Bureau President Emily Doyle described challenges her family has been facing around the manufacturing supply chain and the lack of building materials available to rebuild structures damaged by the derecho.

“My main concern, not with just the storm but the coronavirus, is that the supply chain system is terribly backed up and terribly supplied,” Doyle said. “My husband just lost his grain bin setup for the third time in the last 12 years because of wind events. They said it’s going to be years before we get a new grain bin setup. His aunt and uncle have a lumberyard, and just trying to find supplies to replace these buildings, these machine shops, these grain bins is just nearly impossible. Anything you can do to help with the supply chain and keeping products moving would be great for our local economy and our farmers.”

Grassley responded that Congress has more room to work and improve upon supply chain issues when the supply is coming from outside of the United States and that he feels a shift occurring in the private and public sector toward shrinking the supply chain and locating more manufacturing on U.S. soil.

“I think, though, that both at the corporate level and the government level you’re seeing some change in that, even without the virus,” Grassley said. “A lot of corporations came to the conclusion that they’re relying on too long of a supply chain. Then it was really brought home with the virus, with getting so much of our medical equipment for supplies, PPEs, you call them, from particularly China. So, particularly in that area there’s a big effort to get home.”

Members of the U.S. Senate tentatively hope to return to legislative session this week following the traditional August recess.