Weekly News Roundup: Branstad Returns to Iowa, Discusses North Korea Threat

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad returned to the state shortly before Christmas to attend the funeral of his 67-year-old brother Monte, who died after a struggle with poor health. During the trip, Branstad, who has served as the US ambassador to China under President Trump since May, also attended the Iowa-China Business Forum in downtown Des Moines on Dec. 22, where he discussed the efforts to contain North Korea’s nuclear threat. “I am appreciative of the cooperation that we have had from China and the UN Security Council’s resolutions,” Branstad said, referring to the reclusive Korean dictatorship’s violation of UN resolutions and continued testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

At the forum, Branstad also reportedly claimed that “the chemistry” between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping was “very good.” He may have spoken too soon: On Thursday, Trump alleged on Twitter that China had been caught “RED HANDED” shipping oil into North Korea. “There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” Trump tweeted, providing no evidence for his accusation, which if true would be a violation of the UN Security Council’s sanctions.

On Friday, the Chinese government responded by publishing a commentary in its state-run Global Times newspaper denying Trump’s claim, which likely originated from a report Wednesday in South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo that Chinese ships had been caught delivering oil to North Korea roughly 30 times since October. “Trump’s tweet is one of the strongest responses from the US and South Korea,” the commentary stated. “He concluded that China was caught before the truth was clarified and commented in a strong tone. This is not how a US president should behave.”

Trump’s handling of the North Korea threat during his first year in office has been rocky at best. His administration pressured the international community to cease trade with the country in hopes of crippling its economy and leaving it no choice but to negotiate on its weapons programs. But numerous news reports have recently suggested that China, Russia, and US allies including Germany have continued to secretly trade with North Korea, which appears to have made significant strides in its efforts to create a nuclear bomb capable of striking the US mainland.

“A lot of the media tends to dwell on the negative, but there are a lot of things that we are working on together,” Branstad said at the Dec. 22 forum, about the Trump administration’s relationship with China.

Agency Report on Iowa’s New Family Planning Program Coming Soon

The Iowa Department of Human Services plans to release a report Jan. 8 on the initial impact a new family planning program is having in the state, according to the Associated Press. During the 2017 legislative session, Republican lawmakers chose to forgo millions of dollars in federal funds in order to establish the new $3 million, state-funded program, which allowed them to exclude organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide abortion services. However, no state or federal funds were previously used to cover the costs of abortions.

The report will analyze the new program’s activities over the first quarter of the fiscal year that began in July, according to the AP, and focus on information about patient enrollment, program use, health care providers, and pharmacy and other service costs.

After anti-abortion lawmakers cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood in Iowa, the organization was forced to close four clinics in the state. Public opinion polls conducted as the Legislature was discussing changes to the state’s family planning program showed that about three-quarters of Iowans still supported state or federal funding for the organization’s non-abortive services.

Independent Candidate Ends Bid for Iowa Governor

In a Dec. 26 Facebook post, Iowa filmmaker Brent Roske announced that he was ending his campaign as an independent candidate for governor. Citing changes in his personal life, including his marriage and wife’s pregnancy, as well as the difficulty of running outside of the two-party system, Roske said he was glad to have been a part of the conversation about cleaning up the state’s polluted waterways and advocating for universal healthcare.

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.