Weekly News Roundup: Obamacare Repeal, McCain Slams Grassley on Russia, Pate Says Iowa Thwarted Election Hackers

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Grassley: Campaign promise to repeal Obamacare outweighs substance of Graham-Cassidy bill: During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley made an eyebrow-raising comment about the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP’s latest effort to repeal Obamacare. “You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” he said. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

Other prominent Iowa Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, have publicly supported the last-ditch congressional effort to repeal President Obama’s signature healthcare law that may have been dealt a death blow Friday when Arizona Sen. John McCain announced he could not “in good conscience” vote for the bill because of how many Americans it would affect coupled with its lack of bipartisan support.

At a town hall meeting in Charles City Friday, Sen. Joni Ernst did not definitively back the Graham-Cassidy bill, according to the Des Moines Register. However, the newspaper reported, she “complimented the plan,” which would give states more control over federal healthcare dollars — and, critics contend, likely eliminate Obamacare’s protections for people with so-called pre-existing conditions.

McCain slams Grassley over Russia probe: A letter Grassley sent Wednesday (PDF) to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking if the agency had warned the Trump campaign about the ties between some of its top staffers and Russian intelligence included a reference to briefings McCain’s 2008 campaign received about its manager’s foreign lobbying. In response, McCain spokesperson Julie Tarallo issued a terse statement. “Facts are stubborn things, and the fact is no member of Congress has done more to push back on Russian aggression, human rights abuses, and corruption than Sen. John McCain,” she said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is clearly intended to distract from the serious ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in our election system.”

Pate: Iowa elections not hacked last November: On Friday, the federal government notified officials in 21 states, including Iowa, that their election systems had been targeted before the 2016 election by hackers possibly linked to Russia, the Associated Press reported. In an exchange on Twitter with the progressive activist group Indivisible Northeast Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said the state’s systems had not been successfully penetrated. “Do you define hack as ‘entering the system’ or ‘entering the system & altering data’?” the group asked. “They did neither,” Pate replied. “Attempts were made to enter the system. They were blocked by us.”

Iowa Environmental Protection Commission rejects stronger CAFO rules: An effort Monday by progressive advocacy groups Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch to petition the state Department of Natural Resources for a more robust review process for concentrated animal feeding operations failed after the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission unanimously voted to reject the request. The groups had asked for stronger criteria for judging environmental concerns in a voluntary scoring system called the master matrix. Most Iowa counties use the system to decide whether to recommend that the DNR approve applications for new CAFOs, which have been a major contributor to water pollution in the state.

Pro-climate super-PAC slams Clovis USDA nomination: Climate Hawks Vote, a California-based super-PAC, took aim at former talk radio host and Morningside College economics professor Sam Clovis, who was recently nominated by President Trump to be the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist. In an email Monday, the super-PAC slammed Clovis, who has no background in food policy or the hard sciences as required by law under the 2008 Farm Bill, as a “bush-league Rush Limbaugh clone.” As a radio host, Clovis floated conspiracy theories that President Obama, whom he said had “communist” roots, was foreign-born. Clovis has also dismissed climate change as “junk science.”

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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.