Weekly News Roundup: Grassley Joins Calls to Delay Scalia Successor, Dems Seek to Halt Medicaid Privatization

A (belated) roundup of the stuff making headlines over the past week or so:

Grassley joins GOP calls to delay nomination of Scalia’s successor: News of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death Saturday at a ranch in West Texas was quickly followed by statements from leading Republicans that a successor should not be nominated by the GOP-controlled Senate until a new president takes office next year. The Republicans included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year,” Grassley said in a statement. “Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”

President Obama has said he will nominate someone anyway; names floated have ranged from Sri Srinivasan, a D.C. Circuit Court judge nominated by a 97-0 Senate vote in 2013 — he would be the high court’s first Indian American justice but in the past has represented some shady corporate clients — to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who’s been called the “most likely candidate” by SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein. In the absence of an immediate replacement, Scalia’s death could still have major implications for pending cases including ones involving abortion, redistricting, immigration, and public sector unions.

Legislative roundup: Iowa’s Legislature is split, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats the Senate. Given that, plus Gov. Branstad’s veto pen, an effort by Senate Democrats to put a stop to the governor’s controversial plans to privatize Medicaid may not get very far. On Monday, a bill that would improve drug laws relating to heroin overdoses was sent to the Senate floor (read this IowaWatch story for a backgrounder on the shortcomings of current Iowa law). In the House, a subcommittee recently approved a bill that would provide water quality improvement funding through a school tax measure, a controversial proposal some critics have said would pit water quality and education against each other. The Legislature is also considering bills that would introduce regulations for sports concussions, Uber drivers, and revenge porn.

Dems consider Iowa caucus changes: After some recalculations, Hillary Clinton maintained her victory over Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, although her lead narrowed slightly. In the face of criticism over the process, Iowa Democratic Party officials have said they will look into making changes to the caucus system — but probably not a significant overhaul.

No decision yet on Bakken pipeline: The Iowa Utilities Board wrapped up a series of four public meetings this week without reaching a decision on whether to grant Dakota Access LLC a hazardous liquid pipeline permit for its Bakken pipeline project that would funnel crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, intersecting 18 Iowa counties along the way. The board scheduled another meeting for Feb. 19, with at least two more likely in March.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.