February 13, 2016

Iowa students stranded in the nation’s capital by storm

Remsen St. Mary's students play in the snow while stranded in Washington, D.C.

Remsen St. Mary’s students play in the snow while stranded in Washington, D.C.

A group of Remsen St. Mary’s students, chaperones and school officials are stranded on the east coast after participating in the “March for Life” in Washington, D.C.

Remsen St. Mary’s principal, Pete Haefs, says 24 students, or about one-third of the high school, and eight chaperones are with him at the National 4-H Center located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, waiting for their chance to return home. He says there looks to be more than two feet of snow as it is well past his knees in a deeper spot.

The annual “March for Life” on Friday marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Haefs says the 4-H Center has been a good place for the students to wait.

“They’ve been absolutely wonderful working with us, giving us access to their movie areas so we can watch some movies. And the game room so we can play some games. And we happen to be truly blessed to be snowed in with another group of Catholic school students from the Twin Cities area,” Haefs says.   “So, they’ve been socializing a lot, had a few snow fights out in the snow.  And just really been bonding in prayer and fellowship with each other, and just running around in the snow and playing games like Midwesterners would do.”

Nearly every store is closed because of the snow storm, and trucks are unable to travel on the streets and highways, but he says his group still has food. He says the bus company picked up some snacks during the march and the 4-H Center serves meals. “So they have been very gracious to make sure that we are stocked with food. We’re comfortable warm and well fed,” Haefs says.

Haefs says the students’ attitude has been great throughout the experience, and he anticipates the group will be able to return to Iowa sometime this afternoon.

(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)

GOP leader doesn’t expect showdown over ‘defunding’ Planned Parenthood

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

Christian conservatives have been calling on state officials to “defund” Planned Parenthood, but the top Republican in the legislature is suggesting there will not be a showdown over state funding of Planned Parenthood services for 30,000 low-income Iowans.

“I anticipate that we will do similar language that we did last year,” says Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake who is the new speaker of the Iowa House.

Under current policy, no state tax dollars are used to pay for abortions, but some state funds go to Planned Parenthood to cover the costs of other services for low income Iowans like cancer screenings and birth control.

“The focus is the dollars on women’s health services as opposed to abortion services,” Upmeyer says. “We just don’t think the taxpayers want to pay for abortions, so we want to set it up that they don’t need to. The governor, I believe, is supporting that same language. We appreciate that he is taking that position.”

Governor Terry Branstad says state spending on non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood for low-income patients is required under federal Medicaid contracts and the federal government is suing other states that have tried to “defund” Planned Parenthood. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says legislators found “common ground” last year on the issue and Upmeyer’s comments suggest a repeat this year.

“If you take away women’s access to contraceptives and cancer screenings and those kinds of things across the state of Iowa, I actually think you wind up with more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions when it’s all said and done,” Gronstal says.

Gronstal and Upmeyer made their comments during taping of IPTV’s “Iowa Press” program which will air tonight at 7:30.

Five years ago Planned Parenthood critics in the legislature tried to cut off all state funding for the organization, but were unsuccessful. This summer secretly-recorded videos were released of Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donations. The videos prompted The Family Leader, a Christian conservative group, to run ads criticizing Governor Branstad for failing to cut off all state funding for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit yesterday against the organization that recorded the undercover videos. None of the videos were recorded in Iowa.

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.”