D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers cite Israel-Hamas war as new U.S. border threat

By: - November 3, 2023 3:55 pm
migrants in silhouette in line at the border

Members of Iowa's congressional delegation are raising fears of Middle Eastern terrorists entering the U.S. through the southern border. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation worked this week to highlight a new argument for southern border security: the war in Israel.

Iowa’s lawmakers also focused on foster children, rural pharmacy stability, recycling, youth homelessness and more.

Check out what Iowa’s lawmakers did this week:

Grassley and Ernst warn of Hamas border threats

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley both raised the war in Israel as a threat to U.S. security at the southern border.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, Ernst and 10 other senators suggested Hamas terrorists could access the country through the southern border.

They called for Biden to “take every necessary step to ensure the protection of the homeland and to both prioritize and resource this task accordingly,” and expressed concern of potential Hamas attacks on American land. 

The senators emphasized the southern border as a “matter of deep national concern and insecurity,” and called for a member of Biden’s administration to address Congress in a classified briefing to address homeland security plans. 

In letters to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations, Grassley shared a similar sentiment. “The recent heinous attacks by Hamas terrorists, who used arms and explosive-rigged drones against Israeli civilians, underscores the very real risk that could happen at our southern border and against Americans. Moreover, recent reports warning of the risk that Hamas and Hezbollah fighters could soon attempt to enter the U.S. through Mexico highlights that the need to immediately secure our southern border is paramount.”

More border security issues

Grassley, in a letter to Customs and Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security, objected to a low rate of DNA collection from undocumented immigrants by Customs and Border Protection.

Grassley said justice is being undermined. “Collecting even minimal DNA samples of illegal immigrants has resulted in further investigative leads and potentially solving cold case crimes against American citizens,” he said in a statement. “CBP’s low percentage of DNA collection on illegal immigrants will undermine the service of justice and allow criminals to enter the United States to commit more crimes and threatens the safety of Americans.”

Grassley also introduced legislation that would require reporting on migrants at the border, which would be handled by the Department of Homeland Security.

According to Grassley’s office, the proposed reported numbers include: the number of migrants paroled at each port of entry and in each patrol sector, how many were apprehended and how they were handled after, number of petitions for parole received and granted by Immigration Services and the total number of migrants paroled into the U.S. each fiscal year and if they were granted work authorization. 

Rep. Randy Feenstra also wrote a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, encouraging the passage of two bills he has introduced: the Build the Wall and Fight Fentanyl Act and Sarah’s Law. 

Israel aid

The House passed a $14.3 billion spending bill, with the aid directed toward Israel in support of its war against Hamas. The measure did not include aid for Ukraine, Taiwan or additional security for the southern border, as Biden has requested.

According to the White House, Biden would veto such a measure if it reached his office, but the bill stands no chance of passing the Senate. 

All of Iowa’s representatives voted in favor of the bill. 

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks posted about the measure on X:

Grassley bill for foster children passes Senate

The Find and Protect Foster Youth Act, a bill led by Grassley, unanimously passed the Senate. The bill moves to the House for a vote. 

The bill would require the Administration for Children and Families to report to Congress the progress the organization has made toward finding missing foster children and detail how the group is preventing runaways, according to Grassley’s office

“A fundamental purpose of foster care is to keep kids safe,” Grassley said in a news release. “Sadly, cracks and roadblocks in the current system leave children susceptible to exploitation. These children are at greater risk of going missing and being trafficked. For this to happen to even one child is unacceptable.”

Currently, states are required to establish mitigation plans and plans to identify instances of missing foster children. 

Nunn on youth homelessness

A bill that would increase funding to provide services for homeless young people was introduced by Rep. Zach Nunn. 

“Every young person deserves a safe and secure environment to grow up in,” Nunn said in a news release. “This bipartisan legislation ensures young people in vulnerable situations can receive the help they need to sleep, eat, study and develop.” 

Nunn’s bipartisan bill, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act of 2023 would be a reauthorization and expansion of the original version of a 1974 law. 

The proposed bill would create a prevention services program to provide resources such as counseling and medication to young people to prevent them from running away. The bill would also increase grants to support rural youth and require the Department of Health and Human Services to estimate the prevalence of homelessness among youth every three years, according to Nunn’s office. 

Miller-Meeks recycling infrastructure act

Miller-Meeks introduced a bipartisan bill to establish an Environmental Protection Agency pilot program for areas that have limited recycling options. 

States, local governments, Indian tribes and public-serving partnerships with one or fewer recycling facilities within a 75-mile radius would be eligible to receive EPA grants.

The grant money could be used to expand curbside recycling collection programs, leverage public-private partnerships to reduce the costs associated with recyclable materials and increase the number of transfer stations. 

“In many cases, recycling in rural communities can require driving long distances to reach facilities that can process recycled materials,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release. “However, the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act rethinks rural recycling programs, works with states and local governments to support partnerships to process recyclable materials and creates good-paying jobs for our rural and underserved communities.”

Feenstra reintroduces forecasting bills

A two-bill package to enhance weather forecasting, passed by the House in the previous Congress, has been reintroduced by Feenstra. 

One of the bills in the package, would upgrade the communications network used by the National Weather service, NWS Chat. The network, which is used to relay information to the general public local emergency management officials, is outdated, according to Feentra’s office.

The second bill aims to research the effects of wind turbines and other structures on radar detection and prediction capabilities. A research and development program would be created between the National Weather Service and the Assistant Administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to conduct the research. 

“This legislation will enhance our national weather forecasting capabilities to ensure that our communities receive timely updates when severe weather strikes and that our farmers can count on reliable weather information,” Feenstra said in a news release.

Ernst works to sanction Houthis, Iran

Ernst introduced an act that would redesignate the Houthis, a Yemen-based group aided by Iran that has claimed attacks on Israel, as a foreign terrorist organization. 

Designating an organization as a terrorist organization allows for the enforcement of sanctions and disrupts financial support to the organization. 

“… I am taking action to enforce sanctions against Iran-backed Houthis to help protect our partners, like Israel, and save American lives,” Ernst said in a news release

Ernst also introduced an act to enforce oil sanctions on Iran. The proposed law would invest $150 million to the Iran Sanctions Enforcement Fund, which according to Ernst’s office, would equip Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to enforce oil sanctions on Iran. The money, if dispersed, would be required to be paid back in 10 years. 

The law would also put 25% of funds from U.S. oil seizures toward the fund, and excess toward paying down the national debt, which now stands at $33 trillion.

The act would also prevent a future president from repealing the sanctions. 

“Instead of allowing Iran’s illegal actions to continue, I’m working to cut the red tape and equip HSI, and its proven record of enforcing sanctions, with the support and resources it needs to go after and stop Tehran,” Ernst said in a news release. “By removing this money from Iran’s hands, we can provide more support to victims of terrorism and pay down our national debt.”

Grassley advocates for rural pharmacies

Grassley is advocating for a short-term solution for rural pharmacies during a change in Medicare Part D compensation. 

On Jan. 1, regulations will hit drugstores, allowing for post-point-of-sale compensation. While calling the regulatory changes “welcome in the long run,” Grassley’s office says lower reimbursement and high clawbacks will cause added risk to rural pharmacies. 

“Rural pharmacists in Iowa are considering closing or going without pay for some time, so that they keep their staff employed and the lights on,” Grassley said in a news release

Grassley is calling for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to conduct oversight of Medicare plans and pharmacy benefit managers. 

Grassley weighed in on the topic on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Recommendations for CMS include encouraging payment plans between PBMs and rural pharmacies, a method for pharmacies to report issues with clawback changes and a review of Medicare Part D contracts to assess availability and accessibility of services. 

Ernst amendment passes to return federal workers to offices

An effort Ernst and Rep. Ashley Hinson have led to curb remote work by federal employees, initially allowed a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, was passed as an amendment. 

Ernst has made several statements on the floor of the Senate and to network television outlets, calling for federal government employees to return to work in offices, instead of working from home. 

Since the pandemic, many of the office buildings housing federal offices have been empty, according to an October report from the Government Accountability Office

“Frustrated Americans are sick and tired of being put on hold while many federal employees are phoning it in, ‘working’ from home,” Ernst said on the Senate floor

Ernst called the statistics reflective of “Biden’s game of bureaucrat hide-and-seek.”

“Taxpayers are picking up the cost of maintaining these mostly empty buildings,” Ernst said. “If federal employees can’t be found at their desks, exactly where are they?”

The amendment passed will take attendance at government agencies and will lead an examination on how service is affected by remote work, according to Ernst’s office. 

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.