D.C. Dispatch: Biden signs rural mental health bill, Republicans vote against Jan. 6 commission

By: - July 2, 2021 8:00 am

The U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Getty Images)

Ahead of the July 4th holiday, members of Iowa’s congressional delegation led the passage of a veteran’s mental health bill, visited Iowa in a glimpse of what the 2024 caucus cycle might look like and voted on whether to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Here’s what you missed in D.C. this week:

Biden signs rural mental health bill named for Iowa veteran

Rep. Cindy Axne, IA-03, poses with President Joe Biden after the signing of a rural veteran mental health bill. (Photo courtesy of am Axne press release)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill to establish new mental health programs for rural veterans. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, was the bill’s sponsor. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, all Republicans, joined her as co-sponsors on the legislation.

The bill is named for Sergeant Brandon Ketchum, an Iowa native and Army veteran who died by suicide in 2016. Ketchum was turned away by the Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center when he sought in-patient care.

“Brandon asked for help but was turned away because of a lack of resources,” Axne said in a May speech on the House floor. “We must make sure — in his memory and for the sake of others still serving — that when our soldiers return home, they can get the treatment they need.”

House votes to create select committee on Jan. 6 insurrection

The House voted Wednesday to create a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The vote was divided largely along party lines, with just two House Republicans voting in favor. All of Iowa’s Republican representatives voted against the commission. Democrat Axne voted in favor.

Iowa’s senators attend GOP event in Sioux Center

Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst on Tuesday attended a panel hosted by the Republican Party of Iowa. Alongside Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, they discussed the U.S. relationship with China, Democratic policies in Washington and several of the Republican priorities in the state, like banning “critical race theory” and supporting police officers.

Grassley also spoke in favor of the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate. He argued that the filibuster is the only way to ensure bipartisanship in Washington.

House passes INVEST in America Act

The House on Thursday voted to pass a $715 billion infrastructure bill. Over $3.5 billion will go to Iowa, according to a press release from Axne, including new funds for road and public transportation upgrades around Central Iowa.

Axne voted in favor of the bill. Feenstra, Hinson and Miller-Meeks voted against it.

The bill is separate from a bipartisan infrastructure deal that Biden has been negotiating for several weeks.

Biofuel concerns continue

Grassley and Ernst joined four other senators in sending a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him not to “bend to [oil lobby] demands” and lower biofuel targets. The letter follows another, sent two weeks ago to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, on the same issue.

Iowa’s representatives also sent out several letters following a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling last week that would allow broader biofuel waivers for oil refineries. Hinson wrote to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, asking him to hold firm on his position that waivers should be granted only to refineries that already had an exemption. 

“Iowa biofuel producers are working hard against unfair obstacles to provide a clean energy solution for our domestic fuel supply, and they deserve support from the Administration to do the bare minimum of upholding the integrity of a democratically enacted law,” Hinson wrote.

Axne joined the House Biofuels Caucus to issue a statement expressing “concern” over the ruling and asking the Biden administration to continue to apply waivers sparingly.

Republican representatives ask for action on cyber-attacks

Feenstra, Hinson and Miller-Meeks joined a letter urging Biden to take seriously a cyberattack on meatpacking company JBS and consider such attacks “acts of adversarial aggression” from foreign countries. The White House said a Russian crime organization was likely to blame for the JBS attack.

“For chronic offenders such as China and Russia — whose governments have both been directly connected to cybercrime originating within their borders — we urge a strong, punitive stance in relations, and tangible action seeking accountability,” the letter reads.

Feenstra takes on intellectual property

Feenstra led an effort to include language about foreign intellectual property theft in a bill that passed the House on Monday. House Resolution 2225 would prohibit researchers from participating in projects run by “countries of particular concern,” as defined by the State Department. That would include China, North Korea, Russia and Iran. 

“Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on research that could end up in the hands of our competitors or adversaries,” Feenstra said on the House floor.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.