November 28, 2015

Branstad mum about lunch-time conversation with Family Leader lawyer

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad is not confirming he told a lawyer in “The Family Leader” organization to “call off your attack dogs” who’ve been criticizing Branstad for not fully “defunding” Planned Parenthood in Iowa.

“I was leaving a restaurant and had a conversation with an old friend,” Branstad says. “And I’m not going to comment on a private conversation with an old friend.”

The Family Leader sent out an email last Friday to report on the conversation. The email said Branstad asked the group to stop criticizing him for not taking executive action to cancel Medicaid contracts that reimburse Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings and tests for Medicaid patients. Branstad says the courts have ruled against states that have tried to do that, including the ruling this weekend striking down Governor Bobby Jindal’s attempt to “defund” Planned Parenthood in Louisiana.

“Listen, I’m pro-life and I want to do what we realistically can do, but I also feel an obligation to act within the law,” Branstad says.

As for what Branstad may have said to Chuck Hurley, who is The Family Leader’s chief counsel, the governor’s not talking. And he’s not revealing which Des Moines-area restaurant the conversation took place either.

“There are some things that are private, even in my life,” Branstad told reporters this morning (audio of news conference here.

The Family Leader’s Friday afternoon email message encouraged supporters to call and email Branstad, to “keep up the pressure” until he “defunds” Planned Parenthood in Iowa. The email was signed by Bob Vander Plaats, Branstad’s 2010 Republican Primary opponent.  Read the email here.

Jindal keeps pressuring Branstad over Planned Parenthood money

Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal

Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, isn’t backing off his criticism of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for failing to cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood.

“I disagree with Governor Branstad,” Jindal said during an interview with KSCJ Radio. “I think that the reality is we have to push and find ways to get this done.”

Planned Parenthood gets no state or federal money for abortions, but it does get reimbursed for other services provided to Medicaid patients.

We cancelled their Medicaid contracts,” Jindal said. “We cut their funding in Louisiana, so they’re not getting taxpayer dollars.”

On Monday, Branstad said he was advised the State of Iowa would be sued by Planned Parenthood and the Obama Administration — just like Jindal and Louisiana have been — if he took the same step. Jindal said he was compelled to act against Planned Parenthood after watching a series of controversial undercover videos.

“They can send as many attorneys as they want. We’re not going to back down,” Jindal said. “We’re fighting to protect innocent human life.”

The Family Leader, a Christian conservative organization headed by Branstad’s 2010 Republican Primary opponent Bob Vander Plaats, asked Jindal to write Branstad a letter, which Jindal did on September 23. On Monday, Branstad told reporters he had not spoken with Jindal and Branstad rejected the “legal analysis” Vander Plaats and The Family Leader are offering.

Jindal is campaigning in Iowa this week, with stops today in Atlantic and Council Bluffs.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Branstad disagrees with former foe’s ‘legal analysis’ about Planned Parenthood funding

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he disagrees with the assertions his 2010 Republican Primary opponent is making about state money going to Planned Parenthood.

Bob Vander Plaats, a leading Christian conservative activist in Iowa, says Branstad is making “phony excuses” and failing to follow through on a 2010 campaign promise to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

“I just disagree with his legal analysis,” Branstad told reporters this morning during his weekly news conference.

Branstad pointed to Vander Plaats assertion several years ago that Iowa’s governor had the authority to undo the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

“He’s also the one that said…a governor could overturn a Supreme Court decision by an executive order and I think we all know that’s not true,” Branstad said. “And we’ve now seen the United States Supreme Court step in on that issue.”

Planned Parenthood does not get taxpayer money to cover abortion costs, but it does get reimbursed for providing other services to Medicaid patients, like annual reproductive health tests and breast cancer screenings. Vander Plaats said last week that a letter from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal “schools” Branstad on how to cut off that money to Planned Parenthood, but Branstad said Jindal has been sued for making that move.

“As has the governor of Alabama, the governor of Arkansas and I think, most recently, the governor of Utah,” Branstad said. “So we have carefully reviewed and analyzed what we can do.”

The contracts that provide reimbursement to Planned Parenthood cannot be broken, according to Branstad.

“Unless we can show a violation of the terms of their grant, the attorney general has told us we don’t have any authority to do so,” Branstad told reporters this morning.

Branstad said if he did issue an executive order to cut off all taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood sued, the chances he’d win the lawsuit are “not very good at all.”

“I’m interested in working with the legislature on these issues, but I also respect the limitations on the authority that I have,” Branstad said.

The Family Leader has launched a “Keep Your Promise” ad campaign to pressure Branstad on the issue.

Iowa Congressman Blum part of funding hearing with Planned Parenthood CEO

Rod-BlumIowa Congressman Rod Blum, a Republican from Dubuque, was part of the House committee which held a hearing with the leader of Planned Parenthood Tuesday on the organization’s use of federal funds.

Republicans are pushing and effort to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood in the wake of undercover videos allegedly showing representatives of the organization trying to sell the body parts of aborted babies.

Blum had five minutes to question Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards and asked her about how the federal funding is used in an exchange where they often talked over each other. “Your providers, do they make money, your individual affiliate offices, do they make money providing abortions, in general,” Blum asked. “In general, there is no general,” Richards says, “I mean we are a nonprofit. There are three sources of income. There are federal and public funds and there are donations,” Richards started to say, but Blum jumped in,”I’m talking about individual abortions if someone can’t afford to pay for it. What’s an abortion cost?” Richards responded, “It depends, depending on the state, depending on the procedure.”

Blum asked Richards if providers used profits from Medicaid to fund abortions. “As you know across the country, Medicaid rates vary widely. In some states they come closer to paying for the cost of the services. In a lot of states we actually have to raise private donations to supplement what it costs for,”Richards says. “So, you may make money on some Medicaid reimbursement services, correct?,” Blum asked. “I don’t know that anyone does, but I would be happy to find out,” Richards replied.

Paying for abortions with federal funds is illegal except in a few cases. Blum continued to ask Richards about the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. “The profits generated from taxpayer funded sources such as Medicaid reimbursements, are any of those profits used to help cover the cost of abortions?,” Blum asked. “I don’t believe…we can go through all of our 990’s, happy to go through with the committee, but I don’t believe that there are any profits from any Medicaid services in this country,” Richards answered.

Blum questioned Richards as part of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.


Boehner out, giving life to King’s dream of ‘fresh blood’ in House leadership

Congressman Steve King. (file photo)

Congressman Steve King. (file photo)

Congressman Steve King publicly expressed a lack of confidence in soon-to-depart House Speaker John Boehner 15 months ago during an appearance on Iowa Public Television and a member of King’s staff says King played a crucial role in the internal GOP revolt that weakened Boehner and led to his exit.

“There comes a time for fresh blood,” King said on IPTV in June of 2014, “and I know that dialogue is out there and there’s an open discussion about who that might be.”

In January, seven months after making that statement, King nominated a Florida congressman named Daniel Webster to be House Speaker. Webster got more votes for speaker than any other candidate challenging Boehner. A spokesperson for King today said King’s move had weakened Boehner’s leadership position and added: “That’s what ultimately did Boehner in.” King has indicated he is not interested in being speaker himself.

“It’s not my style,” King said last year.

Leaders have to build coalitions, according to King, to the point where they’re pushing a consensus position rather than sticking to their personal beliefs.

“I learned in the Iowa Senate that wasn’t my role,” King said on IPTV. “My role was to be the conscience of the conservatives — the constitutional, principled conservatives. That’s my role today in congress, too.”

King and Boehner have had very public squabbles during the five years Boehner has been House Speaker. Boehner publicly rebuked King for comments King made two years ago about young undocumented immigrants. Five years ago Boehner did not promote King on a committee that King had been in position to lead and, earlier this year, Boehner cancelled a foreign trip King was set to take. Fifteen months ago, King was directly asked if he would vote to keep Boehner on as speaker.

“If you look at the pattern of his behavior, you could understand why that would be a difficult decision for me,” King said.

First-term Republican Congressman Rod Blum of Dubuque did not vote for Boehner in January either. Boehner announced this morning during a private meeting of House Republicans that he would resign at the end of October. King and other conservative Republicans in the House have been pushing for a showdown with President Obama over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Boehner has been trying to navigate the conflict and avoid a government shutdown.

King told The Omaha World Herald today that Boehner “handled himself with grace and class” in announcing his exit from congress and King said it was time to “reassess” who would be best to lead House Republicans as speaker.  Congressman David Young, a Republican from Van Meter, told The Omaha World Herald Boehner’s move to step down was “a great act of courage and humility.”

Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa City, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, issued a written statement commending Boehner for his service.

“While I have not always agreed with him, I understand that the challenges of leading a fractured and ideological party must have been extremely difficult,” Loebsack said. “…It is my hope that the Republican Party will elect a Speaker who is able to stop the partisan games that have ruled Washington for far too long and start working for the American people.”

Increased pressure on Branstad to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood

The Family Leader Foundation is pushing Governor Branstad to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Family Leader Foundation is pushing Governor Branstad to defund Planned Parenthood.

A Christian conservative group is again calling on Republican Governor Terry Branstad to use his executive power and stop any taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood organizations in Iowa.

The Family Leader Foundation released a video yesterday to put more pressure on Branstad. A female narrator mentions that during the 2010 campaign Branstad said he didn’t think any government funds should be directed to Planned Parenthood.

“We’ve been waiting five years, governor,” the narrator says.

The web video ends with this demand of Branstad: “It’s time you keep your promise and defund Planned Parenthood now.”

The State of Iowa does not provide funding for any abortions, but Planned Parenthood operations in Iowa received $2.8 million last year to cover other services like reproductive health exams and cancer screenings for Medicaid patients. Branstad says Medicaid is a program administered by the state, but under federal guidelines, so there are no direct state contracts with Planned Parenthood that he can cancel. Branstad says Planned Parenthood has been “quick to sue” over state restrictions, like the Board of Medicine’s unsuccessful attempt to ban so-called tele-medicine abortions, so any action taken at the state level must be on “solid legal footing.”

Pressure on the issue intensified nationally this summer after an anti-abortion organization released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of tissue from abortions. None of the Planned Parenthood officials in the videos are from Iowa. Democrat Tom Miller, the state’s attorney general, has said he has no authority to launch a criminal investigation at the state level because “there are no state laws governing the transfer of fetal tissue.”

The Family Leader started a public campaign in early August to pressure Branstad to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood.


Senator Ernst unhappy with vote on Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Joni Ernst on floor of U.S. Senate with picture of Micah.Pickering.

Senator Joni Ernst on floor of U.S. Senate with picture of Micah Pickering.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst says she’s “deeply disappointed” legislation that would prohibit almost all abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy was rejected in the U.S. Senate Tuesday.

Ernst and other supporters of the House-passed “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” claim 20 weeks into a pregnancy marks a point when unborn babies can feel pain and survive if born prematurely.

“The United States is currently only one of seven countries in the world that allows abortions after five months,” Ernst told Iowa reporters in a conference call after the Senate vote. “We are in the same company as China and North Korea.” The bill needed 60 votes to advance in the Senate. It received the support of 54 Senators, with 42 in opposition.

On Monday night, Ernst took to the floor of the U.S. Senate and was joined by Clayton and Danielle Pickering of Newton and their three-year-old son Micah. Micah was born prematurely at five months. “As Micah proves, babies at five months can survive outside of the womb,” Ernst said Tuesday. “As a mother and a grandmother, I remain committed to urging my colleagues not to deny these babies the right to life.” Three Senate Democrats supported the bill, while just two Republicans voted against it.

Democrats have blasted Republicans over scheduling a vote on an abortion-related bill on the week that Pope Francis visits Capitol Hill and at a time when the House and Senate are trying to negotiate a government funding measure to avoid a shutdown. Many Republicans in the House have vowed to reject a bill to keep the government operating unless it excludes money for Planned Parenthood.