Franken and Grassley spar on women’s rights and drug crisis in debate

By: - October 6, 2022 11:42 pm

U.S. Senate candidate retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken, left, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley meet for a debate at Iowa PBS in Johnston, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Press)

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken criticized each other for being too extreme on issues from abortion to immigration at an Iowa Press debate Thursday.

The U.S. Senate candidates answered questions from reporters during the Iowa PBS event as Franken challenges the longtime Republican senator, who is seeking his eighth term. A July Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found Grassley holds the lead, but has the smallest margin, 8 points, since winning the Senate seat in 1980.

In addition to discussing their policy positions, Franken also responded to allegations of kissing a former campaign staff member without her consent following an article from the conservative outlet Iowa Field Report on the police report filed on the incident.

The Democratic candidate said that the accusation was unfounded. The Des Moines Police Department found there was “insufficient information and evidence” to pursue a criminal case, and no charges were filed. Franken said the Grassley campaign was “weaponizing women’s rights” using the allegation.

“This is a guy who has made it his career to ban abortion, to support unequal pay, to do nothing for paid family leave, too many times vote against the Violence Against Women Act,” Franken said. “I don’t have a problem with this issue. He has a problem with women.”

In response, Grassley said that his campaign did not release the police report — the conservative outlet Iowa Field Report first published the police report — and said his opponent was in “no position” to criticize him on women’s rights.

“My colleague, you are in no position to lecture me about my position,” Grassley said.

Grassley calls for states to make abortion law decisions

The candidates also discussed the future of abortion rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Grassley said that he would not support legislation introduced by his Republican colleague U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to federally ban abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions in the case of the life of the mother, rape or incest.

Grassley said the U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case in June by returning the issue of abortion back to state legislators. While he is anti-abortion, he said he would give states time to pass abortion legislation before considering any federal actions.

“We’ve been waiting for a long period of time to get this back to the states, and that’s where it should be, and that’s where I want it to be,” Grassley said.

But Franken said he supports taking federal-level action to secure abortion rights following the court’s decision. He supports codifying Roe v. Wade in Congress, but denied Grassley’s comment that he wants abortion “available to the last minute birth.” The government should not be involved in determining viability when passing abortion rights legislation, Franken said, and said that late-term abortions are often in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

“This last little bit that he mentioned in a woman’s pregnancy, this is the most personal time of all,” Franken said. “The name has been chosen of that child, the room has been painted, the cradle has been bought, gifts have been made, cards have been sent out and a malady happens. A woman’s life is in danger. Chuck Grassley’s world is let health just rule the day, no exceptions, no bans when in fact this doesn’t happen in reality.”

Marijuana decriminalization talks shift to immigration policy

The candidates also responded to President Joe Biden’s announcement Thursday to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, in addition to reviewing the substance’s classification as a Schedule I drug. Both candidates said they needed time to fully review Biden’s plan, but Franken said he supports decriminalizing marijuana both medically and recreationally, and said the president’s action was “step one” in national decriminalization efforts.

Grassley said that the president’s action was constitutional, but questioned the plan because most federal marijuana charges involve more than simple possession. People who took plea bargains to reduce their charge to simple marijuana possession could be pardoned through this executive action, he said.

The senator also claimed that most marijuana comes from across the border, as do other drugs.

“Most of this marijuana comes across the border, an open border,” he said. “It seems like my opponent believes in an open border because he said the wall was an idiotic thing. And we’ve got to control the border, not just for marijuana but for fentanyl that killed 200 Iowans.”

Franken disagreed with Grassley’s claim that he does not want a strong border. He also said that much of the drugs trafficked into the U.S. are not brought by undocumented immigrants.

“Regarding the fentanyl coming across the border, a vast amount of it is shipped in via packages via DHL and the mail and the like,” Franken said. “That is well known in the authorities. That which is brought across the border isn’t being humped back by illegal people crossing, by undocumented individuals crossing the border. It has come across in traffic, merchandising and trucks, etcetera. Let’s be honest about this.”

This is the only scheduled debate between Grassley and Franken before the election, Nov. 8. Early voting begins Oct. 19.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.