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An Interview With U.S. Senator Charles Grassley

John Pemble
Senator Chuck Grassley speaking during the 2015 Ag Summit. 3/7/2015

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, as the senator faces an election for what could be his seventh term in the Senate.

This week, Congress overwhelmingly rejected President Obama's veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

Here’s Sen. Grassley, on his position to vote to override the veto, and his response to whether the legislation could seriously hurt U.S. national security interests and possibly make the United States vulnerable in other courts around the world:

“It will not make us vulnerable in other courts around the world because it does not, it specifically prohibits lawsuits arising from acts of war,” he says. “So claims that the law would lead to lawsuits against soldiers and diplomats is very misplaced. Without this legislation, courts would block terrorism-related claims that Congress intended to permit, and it enables families of 9/11 victims to pursue justice against those who sponsor acts of terrorism.”

“It’s got to be on U.S. soil, and it does it by preventing them from invoking what lawyers would call sovereign immunity in cases involving attacks on U.S. soil. So it will not in any way allow individuals to be sued. It’s a, it only when it involves the Saudi Arabian government.”

During the show, Greg in Waterloo emailed in, with this comment and question for the senator:

“I voted for you in the past and enjoyed the Harkin-Grassley exchanges in the Senate. I understand and accept your desire for a conservative supreme court. That is your choice. Are you ready to take responsibility for your connection to a candidate that espouses xenophobic, racist, misogynist and birther ideas? If you do not embrace the same views as Trump, then you need to say it and tell the people you cannot vote for this man.”

Sen. Grassley's response:

“I look at specific issues; but it really doesn’t matter to me what a president thinks. He’s head of the executive branch, I’m head, I’m a member of the legislative branch. We have separate constitutional power, and I will exercise my powers and my judgment within the powers that the Constitution gives me. When I agree with the president, I agree with the president, and when I don’t agree with the president, then you have disagreement. Pretty simple under the constitution."

“Whether you have a Republican president or a Democrat president. Sometimes you agree with them and sometimes you don’t agree with them,” he says. “My disagreements maybe been sometimes greater with certain Republican presidents, let’s say like Reagan, on how much money ought to be spent on defense during the 1980's, as an example. I led the battle to freeze the defense budget in the 1980's when we had a Republican president.”

Sen. Grassley, on his decision not to consider a nominee to the Supreme Court until after the next president is elected:

“We’re very clear that we follow the precedent set by several people before we made this decision. You can go back to the Lyndon B. Johnson nomination when senators said in the last year of that presidency that the new president should make the decision, so Nixon made that decision. We have the statement by then-Senator Biden,” he says. “And that’s kind of where we are, because you can’t have one rule when you have Republican presidents and another rule when you have a Democrat president. So we decided that who's ever elected in November would make that decision after January 20, 2017.”

Sen. Grassley on what he can do to ensure money for flood protection gets approved:

“Thank God it’s not a big lift. For this reason, that when we have disaster relief, there’s money put in at the beginning of the fiscal year,” he says. “But if it runs out during that 12-month period of time, it’s generally replenished without any controversy whatsoever.”

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River