Weekly News Roundup: Blame Goes Around for Government Shutdown, Baltimore Hit with OWI, Gun Charges

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Boone state Rep. Chip Baltimore.

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

Iowa Dems, GOP Trade Blame for Federal Government Shutdown

Iowa Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for Friday’s federal government shutdown, which happened after President Trump — a self-proclaimed expert dealmaker — failed to reach a government funding deal with Democrats and his own party, which controls both chambers of Congress. House Republicans, including the three from Iowa, had approved a four-week continuing spending resolution that would have reauthorized the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years but not renewed protections from deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United State as children — both priorities of Democrats. The House subsequently adjourned, leaving the Senate to either accept its resolution or shut down the government. The Senate rejected it.

“Paul Ryan and Republican leaders in the House have yet again resorted to kicking the can down the road just so they can get out of town for the weekend,” said Congressman Dave Loebsack, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, who voted against the continuing resolution. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley blamed Democrats for the shutdown over the immigration issue. “It’s disappointing that Democratic leaders chose to vote against legislation that would have kept the government up and running just to make a point about a policy unrelated to government funding,” he said in a statement.

FBI’s Investigation into NRA’s Possible Use of Dirty Russian Money Has Connection to Iowan Pete Brownell

National Rifle Association President Pete Brownell, who owns the firearms parts manufacturer Brownells Inc. near Grinnell, may have a connection to an FBI investigation into whether a Russian oligarch illegally funneled money to the NRA to spend during the 2016 election to support Donald Trump. The oligarch, Alexander Torshin, helped found a Russian gun group called Right to Bear Arms, which NRA officials including Brownell met with in Russia in December 2015, according to a recent report by McClatchyDC. Torshin has alleged ties to organized crime and is close with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is illegal in the US to spend foreign money to influence federal elections. The NRA spent at least $55 million in 2016 supporting Republicans including Trump — more than any other outside spending group.

Boone Republican Arrested in Ames on Drunk Driving, Gun Possession Charges

State Rep. Chip Baltimore, a Boone Republican, was arrested early Friday morning in Ames for drunk driving and possessing a firearm — a Smith & Wesson pistol — while intoxicated. Baltimore is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and in recent years has supported legislation to toughen penalties for drunk drivers. In a statement, Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer criticized Baltimore’s actions. “Drunk driving is unacceptable behavior for anyone, let alone a state legislator,” she said. “We will work through this issue and take appropriate action quickly, We will also work with Rep. Baltimore to get him the help and support that he needs at this time.” In the past, state lawmakers have not always faced repercussions for similar arrests.

Iowa Insurance Commissioner Appointed to Leadership Role in National Organization

Doug Ommen, Iowa’s insurance division commissioner, on Thursday was appointed chairman of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance and Annuities Committee. The national group is governed by the heads of state insurance commissions and helps set standards and regulate insurance policies. Ommen was appointed to the state commissioner position by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2017. Last year, he was involved in an unsuccessful effort to establish a “stopgap” health insurance plan in Iowa meant to help the state’s failing Affordable Care Act marketplace by replacing subsidies with tax credits. Ommen has said that he has no plans this year to make a similar proposal, which President Trump last year personally intervened in to block in an effort to undermine Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

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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.