Here comes the Judge: Iowa politics play out under the dome

By Hannah Hess | 03/09/2016 07:05 AM EST

As the prolonged fight about who should replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rages, Democrats yesterday warmly welcomed former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge (D) to Capitol Hill while ramping up their attacks on Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"She did a good job with the caucus," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters after Judge sat down with Democrats for lunch. "She said a number of things I agree with and I am very impressed with. But the thing she said that was really very, very powerful is that she’s one Judge that Senator Grassley can’t ignore."

Grassley, 82, was considered untouchable in his bid for a seventh term until a few weeks ago.


Judge, one of four Democrats who want to take on the senator, made her bid official last week (E&ENews PM, March 4).

Reid and others have piled on Grassley, sensing new political vulnerability, as Republicans refuse to hold a hearing on President Obama’s forthcoming nominee. Reid characterized the senior senator as inept and easily manipulated for partisan warfare earlier this week.

Republicans, including the Senate’s most senior GOP senator, are rushing to defend their colleague. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former Judiciary chairman, took to the floor yesterday afternoon to shield his longtime friend from the fresh blast of criticism.

"I want to categorically reject the notion that a difference on opinion means that someone like Senator Grassley is compromising the integrity or independence of the Judiciary Committee," Hatch said. "That comes very close to impugning his character, and that sort of attack is beneath the dignity of this body because everybody in this body knows that Chuck Grassley is a man of great character, great honesty, great service and care for this wonderful country."

Democrats have suggested Grassley is "taking orders" from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and groups on the far right side of the political spectrum. With each passing day, Reid said Monday, Grassley is "trying desperately to justify his blind loyalty to the Republican leader and Donald Trump."

Hatch, who has served on the Judiciary Committee for 40 years, including 35 alongside Grassley, said he was "irritated" by such rhetoric. "I don’t like it," he concluded. "Neither would anybody else who has any brains or thought about what’s decent and honorable."

Grassley has plenty of resources to continue the Iowa political fight that played out under the Capitol dome. He is equipped with a war chest of nearly $4.4 million.

Judge was defeated in a 2010 run for re-election as lieutenant governor. Grassley characterized that as "thrown out of office" while speaking to a Roll Call reporter last week. She previously served as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture and more recently as co-chairwoman of America’s Renewable Future, a bipartisan political action committee that advocates for the renewable fuel standard.

"Patty Judge is a candidate, I think, who shows that the people of Iowa are not happy with their senator’s stand, and that’s true throughout America, as these clips show," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday, clutching a stack of news reports from around the country.

Former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) published a guest column in the Cedar Rapids Gazette last week calling on the Senate to let the president put forward a nominee, "maybe even an Iowan," then let the Senate have its vote.

Harkin may have been referring to Judge Jane Kelly, an Iowan appointed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013, who is reportedly on the president’s short list for the Supreme Court (Greenwire, March 3).

Grassley maintains "letting the people decide" in November’s presidential election comes first.