Grassley not yet ready to call it a career

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley addresses members of the Cedar Falls Rotary Club Tuesday. (Photo by Pat Kinney for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

CEDAR FALLS – U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley says he’s not yet ready to decide whether his current term of office will be his last.

“You’ll have to ask me a year and a half from now,” the seven-term, 86-year-old senator said Tuesday after an appearance at the Cedar Falls Rotary Club.

“Now if you’d asked me that six years ago, I’d have said I’m running for re-election. But now that I’m 86, I better make sure I can see myself to be 95 years old,” he said.  That is how old he’d be at the end of one more Senate term. He’d be up for re-election for another six-year term in 2022.

“If I can get up and run three miles four times a week, it might be an indication,” said Grassley, a devoted runner. “Now at the farm (in New Hartford), I worked on the elliptical this morning. It was too cold out.

“Now the one thing I want to make sure of is, that I don’t become a Senator (Robert) Byrd, where, the last two years on office, I have to have a nurse with me,” Grassley said. “Or when (Strom) Thurmond left office at 100 years and three months, but the last couple of years, he needed a lot of help.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley chuckles as members of the Cedar Falls Rotary Club play a game of “Grassley Trivia.” (Photo by Pat Kinney for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“I think I should be able to tell the people I’m going to be able to serve out my term,” Grassley said. “That’s looking down the road six years.  Maybe looking down the road six days is  kind of dangerous when you’re 86. But right now, I feel pretty good.”

Grassley said he’d make up his mind eight months to a year before the 2022 election.

Asked if he’d back his grandson, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, to succeed  him, the senator said, “The answer is yes. But I’d never talk him into it. He’d have to tell me he was interested. And he’s never expressed that to me at this point.”

The elder Grassley served in the Iowa House eight years before attaining federal office in 1974, when he was elected to Congress from what was then Iowa’s Third Congressional District, encompassing much of Northeast Iowa. He was first elected to the Senate in 1980. unseating one-term incumbent U.S. Sen. John Culver, who had also served several terms in the House.

Grassley is the senior Republican in the Senate, where his party holds the majority. He is that body’s president pro tempore, which constitutionally puts him fourth in line to accede to the presidency in an emergency.

Grassley conducted a town-hall-style meeting with Rotarians, moving around the room to talk directly with questioners.

He said recent trade deals negotiated by President Donald Trump’s administration with Canada and Mexico, as well as China, Japan and current talks with the United Kingdom following its exit from the European Union has “taken some anxiety out of the economy of the last three years.”

It “brings some confidence, irrespective of what you think about President Trump,” Grassley said. “When he went down this road three years ago, if you weren’t nervous, I was very nervous, but it gives me a little confidence when he’s has these successes on trade. Particularly for those of us in agriculture, there was a lot of anxiety. But I think there’s some comfort there now.”

On Trump’s impeachment, Grassley said, “I looked upon myself as a juror … and I voted ‘not guilty’ based on what I heard there, but also based on the precedent of three other impeachments. The Constitution’s pretty clear.”

He also said a personal priority is gathering additional bipartisan support for legislation he drafted with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., limiting the increase in the cost of prescription drugs, gearing it to the federal Consumer Price Index. Grassley chairs the Senate Finance Committee and Wyden is the ranking member.

“I don’t have anything against pharmaceutical companies,” Grassley said, “except I think it’s outrageous we have these increases in drug prices” outstripping inflation rates, particularly when federal taxpayers effectively subsidize the drug companies through billions in Medicare payments.