Grassley still a force in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is a loyal Republican who believes in bipartisanship.

That’s often a tough row to hoe for the Iowa farmer, who is now in his seventh six-year term as a United States senator. His lengthy tenure puts him in line to become the president pro tem of the Senate, and therefore fourth in line for the U.S. presidency.

And while he’s a dedicated spear-carrier for his party in the Senate, he understands and respects the division of powers established by the Constitution, and usually tries to protect the legislative authority of Congress. The same can’t be said for many in Congress from both parties, nor certainly in the current executive branch.

A couple of examples:

For several years now, thanks to Grassley’s seniority, he has served as chair of the Senate judiciary committee. In that role he sets the agenda for the committee and decides what bills the committee will consider.

The judiciary committee is ground zero for the firestorm surrounding the investigative work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose team of attorneys is searching out possible political collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign of 2016.

President Trump has made it clear that he wants Mueller’s investigation brought to an end, the sooner the better. Mueller has already gained guilty pleas from some Trump campaign operatives, indicted others and made the entire Trump team sweat profusely.

Trump has threatened several times in the past several months to see that Mueller is fired from his job. Democrats are determined that that won’t happen, and so are a number of Republicans. Grassley is among them.

So Grassley was one of three Republicans on the 25-member Senate judiciary committee to vote “yes” on a bipartisan bill in his panel to provide protection for Mueller. The bill therefore was approved in committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had already proclaimed that he would not allow a vote on the bill on the Senate floor, and Trump obviously would never sign it even if it did pass. So the committee vote had no legs.

But that didn’t deter Grassley.

He was asked about the bill during last weekend’s “Iowa Press” public television program moderated by Jefferson’s David Yepsen. Grassley said he believes Mueller deserves protection to finish his work.

“It has a great deal to do with the constitutional role of Congress as oversight, and I wanted to protect that,” he said.

He added that the 31 bills that came out of his Senate judiciary committee since 2015 have all been bipartisan, even though Republicans constitute a majority of the committee members. He said he tries to set the committee’s agenda in a bipartisan manner.

That’s one example.

Another is his push for federal sentencing reform.

For more than a year, Grassley has helped lead a bipartisan effort to scale back the mandatory sentencing legislation that was enacted following an influx of drug crimes in the 1980s.

He has no sympathy for drug kingpins and violent offenders. Indeed, his bill would make penalties for those offenders harsher.

But low-level, nonviolent drug users are subject to many years of imprisonment under current law, with no leeway for judges to consider individual circumstances. As a result, federal prisons are filled with such people, adding to the cost of incarceration as well as broken families.

The Grassley bill is good legislation. It deserves to be enacted and signed by the president.

But as with the Mueller protection bill, Grassley gets pushback from higher-ups. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes Grassley’s sentencing reform bill, and Grassley isn’t happy about that. He defended Sessions when Senate Democrats badmouthed him.

Grassley is convinced that if his bill were allowed to come to the floor, it would pass. He continues to speak in its favor.

The Mueller protection bill and the sentencing reform bill are only two examples of Grassley’s bipartisan approach. He told the “Iowa Press” panel last weekend that he has five bills that have been approved by his Senate judiciary committee that McConnell will not call up for debate on the Senate floor.

He’s not happy about that situation either.

Grassley never missed a floor vote in the Senate. He visits all 99 Iowa counties every year. No other Senator is as diligent in casting votes or as dogged in engaging with his or her constituents.

I disagree with Grassley on a number of his issue positions. But I admire the way he does his job, and the way he treats people.

Would that all officials, regardless of party affiliation, showed the same consideration.

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