See what Chuck Grassley, Mike Franken say about abortion and inflation in Iowa's U.S. Senate race

Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley faces a challenge from Democrat Mike Franken as he seeks his eighth term in the U.S. Senate.

Grassley was first elected to the seat in 1980 and has regularly defeated his opponents by wide margins. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from July found Grassley leading Franken, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, by 8 percentage points, 47% to 39%.

While Grassley leads, it's his narrowest margin recorded by an Iowa Poll since he was first elected to the Senate.

To help voters, the Des Moines Register sent questions to all federal, statewide and Des Moines area legislative candidates running for political office this year. Their answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Early voting begins Oct. 19 for the Nov. 8 election.

More: A guide to voter rights in Iowa. What you need to know before you cast a ballot

Mike Franken (left) will challenge U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in November.
Mike Franken (left) will challenge U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in November.

Who is Mike Franken?

Age: 64

Party: Democrat

Where did you grow up? Lebanon

Current town of residence: Sioux City

Education: Morningside College, University of Nebraska (BA), Naval Post Graduate School at MIT

Occupation: Retired 3-star vice admiral in the U.S Navy

Political experience and civic activities:

  • U.S. Senate candidate in 2020 and 2022

  • Chief Legislative Liaison to Congress for Department of the Navy (Obama Administration)

  • Legislative aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy

Who is Chuck Grassley?

Age: 89

Party: Republican

Where did you grow up? New Hartford

Current town of residence: New Hartford

Education: B.A., M.A. Political Science from the University of Northern Iowa, Ph.D. work, University of Iowa

Occupation: Farmer, U.S. senator

Political experience and civic activities:

  • U.S. Senate: 1981-present

  • U.S. House of Representatives: 1975-1981

  • Iowa House of Representatives: 1959-1975

  • Iowa Farm Bureau, Butler County and State of Iowa Historical Societies, Pi Gamma Mu, Kappa Delta Pi, Prairie Lake Church of Cedar Falls

More: Gov. Kim Reynolds has controlled $2.7 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. Here's how she's spending it.

What is the most important domestic policy you would champion as a senator?

Franken: The rising cost of healthcare is unsustainable: Iowans cannot afford the rising costs of going to a doctor, and doctors are torn between treating patients and negotiating with insurance companies who prioritize profit over the delivery of care. I want all families to have the same healthcare my family and I received as an officer in the military. We must expand Medicare to cover hearing, dental and vision care, treat mental health with the same urgency as other illnesses, cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, and pass legislation affirming a woman’s right to choose.

Grassley: By refusing to enforce our nation’s immigration laws, President Biden has given human smugglers, potential terrorists and drug traffickers free rein at the border. Mexican drug cartels push deadly fentanyl into our communities. A record 470 Iowans died from overdoses last year; 44 deaths under age 25. On Biden’s watch, more than 2 million illegal border crossers have been encountered. Include so-called "got-aways" and that’s the entire population of Iowa coming to America without permission. This is unsustainable to the taxpayer, unfair to those who follow the law and undermines U.S. sovereignty. I’ll continue fighting to secure the border and shut down the flow of deadly fentanyl.

More: Coronavirus aid gave Gov. Kim Reynolds unprecedented spending power. How well has she used it?

What is one specific piece of bipartisan legislation you would advocate for in Congress?

Franken: No one priority should be looked at as a bipartisan effort. Too often, good legislation fails because it’s the opposing party’s idea. I’ll work with anyone to support good legislation for the people of Iowa, like the SAFE Banking Act and the Electoral Count Act right away — and look for other opportunities to make life better for Iowans, like capping insulin at $35 a month and protecting a woman’s right to choose with the support of Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Grassley: At my 99 county meetings, I hear from Iowans about the sky-high costs of prescription drugs. I wrote the comprehensive, bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act with Sen. Ron Wyden to bring common sense relief to consumers. It passed 19-9 on a bipartisan vote when I chaired the Finance Committee. It would save taxpayers $95 billion and save seniors $72 billion. It would cap out-of-pocket expenses at $3,100 and rein in annual increases of Medicare Part D drugs by capping it to the inflation price index. Our bipartisan bill would lower costs without harming life-saving cures and treatments the American people expect.

More: Gov. Kim Reynolds agrees to 1 debate against Deidre DeJear. She's not the only one to avoid more

Iowans are struggling with rising costs and inflation. What can Congress do to help them make ends meet?

Franken: As the youngest child of 9, born to a dad who fixed farm implements and a mom who was a one-room schoolhouse teacher, I know what extra costs do to the family dynamic. I know the sense of dread you feel at the end of the month when bills come due and there’s not enough money. Instead of letting corporate special interests call the shots, I’ll work to extend the child tax credit, make free school lunches for our children permanent, make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share in taxes, and stop oil and gas companies from price gouging consumers at the pump. And unlike my opponent, I won’t take a dime of corporate PAC money.

Grassley: Iowans tell me their biggest concern is the rising cost of living and 40-year high inflation. It’s harder for families to pay the bills and buy food. It costs more for farmers to put their crops in the ground and take them out. President Biden insisted inflation was “transitory” when he pushed through an additional $2 trillion after Congress already enacted $4 trillion in pandemic relief in 2020. I know what it takes to tighten the belt to get inflation under control. Canceling student debt and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Biden’s social spending program will fuel the fires of inflation, not extinguish them.

More: This new website aims to help Iowans access treatment for opioid use disorder

Congress passed a bipartisan gun safety law this summer. What further action, if any, should Congress take to address gun violence?

Franken: While the bill passed had some good elements in it, it did not go far enough. There need to be standards applied to gun ownership, just as we apply standards to car ownership. In the military, no one handles firearms without strict training and understanding of the responsibilities associated. No one disputes the right to own firearms. The responsibility for safe use must be on the owners of firearms themselves. Responsible firearm ownership is supported by the vast majority of Iowans and Americans, we must strive toward that end. I’ll work with anyone willing to come to the table.

Grassley: I’d like the Senate to pass my EAGLES Act named after the mascot in Parkland, Florida. I worked with one of the Parkland dads on my bipartisan legislation that would expand the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center to help schools prevent gun violence. Schools ought to be one of the safest places for our kids to be. I’ll continue working with parents, educators, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals to prevent crime in our schools and communities, including passage of the Safe Schools Act. One issue is certain. Defunding the police makes communities less safe. We need to ensure we keep guns out of the wrong hands without infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and get people struggling with mental health the help they need.

More: Iowa SOS candidates Paul Pate, Joel Miller trade heated jabs on election integrity, voting

Should Congress pass federal legislation addressing abortion, either to restrict the procedure or to preserve access?

Franken: Congress must immediately codify Roe v. Wade into federal law. Every man and woman has a fundamental right to make their own healthcare decisions, and our federal code needs to reflect this. The Supreme Court’s decision is out of step with the lives of Americans. Congress can change that and the president can affirm it. We need to go forward, not back half a century. Congress must act to rectify this.

Grassley: The Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs to return this issue to the states closest to where the American people live and work. Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg criticized the Roe v. Wade decision for overstepping and invalidating almost every state law in force at the time. This ruling returns the decision back to the states unless and until the courts or Congress acts. Abortion regulations ought to be decided by elected representatives closest to the people, not unelected judges.

More: Here's what Sen. Chuck Grassley thinks about a proposed nationwide 15-week abortion ban

What policies would you advocate for including in the next farm bill?

Franken: Agriculture policy of recent decades has incentivized farm consolidation; has diminished the resiliency of independent, diversified farms; has greatly reduced opportunities. Policies and programs in the 2023 farm bill must be designed to address and reverse these trends and gain stability and quality of life for Iowa’s rural population. The supply and processing sectors of the food chain have undergone consolidation and severely limit farm purchasing and marketing choices. Robust action is required to break up monopolies and deconcentrate corporate agribusiness. Lastly, we need to support and adequately incentivize soil and water stewardship and carbon-reduction goals for the farm sector.

Grassley: As a lifelong family farmer with a seat for Iowa on the Agriculture Committee, I bring real life experience and legislative expertise to the policymaking table. As we write the next farm bill, I’ll work to strengthen crop insurance as a risk management tool, advocate for flexibility in the Conservation Reserve Program and opportunities for beginning farmers, push for reasonable farm payment limits to close loopholes that undercut support for our farm safety net and boost support for ag research. Farmers help feed and fuel 98 percent of America who don’t make a living on the farm. It’s a way of life and livelihood that I’m proud to champion every day.

More: Iowa abortion providers argue no legal basis exists to enact near ban

What is your appraisal of the work of the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol?

Franken: January 6th was a horrifying example of what happens when leaders refuse to accept the outcome of free and fair elections. It’s why I’m in this race — I didn’t fight and serve my country for nearly 40 years in uniform for partisan politicians to aid and abet a coup attempt in our country. We need a senator who isn’t afraid to defend our democracy, put country over party and secure our future.

Grassley: Obviously, I witnessed the events of Jan. 6, 2021, firsthand. In fact, I was escorted out of the U.S. Capitol. At that time, I was presiding over the U.S. Senate, doing my job as president pro tempore. That very day, I condemned the violence and said those who broke the law ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That’s happening right now in the courts. Unfortunately, the partisan bias on the Select Committee undermines its credibility to the American people. I can tell you what Iowans are most concerned about: paying for food, gas and utilities under historic inflation in the Biden economy.

We've been the news Iowa depends upon since 1849. Subscribe to help us continue our mission.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Where Chuck Grassley, Mike Franken stand on issues in Senate race