October 22, 2021

Unrecognizable

While listening to CNN’s coverage last week of a Senate Judiciary Committee report on the Jan. 6 insurrection, I heard Jake Tapper say, “I don’t even recognize that guy anymore.” My ears perked up as I was curious as to who he was talking about. He was talking about Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

Grassley had completely discounted the committee’s report that documented how the former president tried to enlist the aid of Justice Department officials to overturn the 2020 election. Testimony and emails led the committee to conclude a lot of pressure was put on the acting U.S. Attorney General and other Justice Department officials to reverse Joe Biden’s victory. Fortunately, there were honorable people present with the president that day who threatened to resign if he pursued the matter further.

This is where Grassley comes in. He went before reporters after the release of the report and argued that “the president and several officials talked about overturning the election, but in the end, since the president didn’t actually do it, he did the right thing.” That’s his defense? It doesn’t matter that the discussion went on for three hours, and the reason the president “didn’t do anything” was because all but one of the officials threatened to quit? Grassley, unbelievably, showed no concern whatsoever that a discussion about overthrowing the government was occurring in the oval office.

The senator went on to accuse the committee’s work as “the Democrats’ obsession with trying to destroy Trump,” saying it will “damage the country.” Then he stated (without any sign of irony) that “a president has every right to discuss ideas and strategies with his closest advisors.” Apparently, he thinks it’s OK to discuss sabotaging a constitutional transfer of power. That’s what “damaging the country” looks like.

This really is a different Grassley than the person Iowa has been electing since 1975. This person, who joined the former president’s rally in Des Moines Saturday night, used to have a stellar reputation as a straight arrow, a devout, principled man who fought waste and unethical behavior for more than 40 years. Yet, here he was at a rally where the main topic, as always, was the Big Lie. Here he was, by his very presence, supporting lie after lie being repeated over and over by the most dishonest president in American history.

I have voted for Grassley. During his many years in Washington, there’s been times I thought he was the better candidate. I admired his down-to-earth, common-sense approach to legislating. I trusted his integrity, desire to save money and bipartisan approach to politics. But he’s not that way anymore. His tolerance and support for the former president is very troubling, especially now, after he expressed disgust with him right after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Grassley was first elected to the House, then in 1980 to the Senate. He is 88 years old but has announced he is running again next year for another six-year term. For some, his age is an issue, just as it is for others in Congress well into their 80s. For others, it’s not his age, it’s his political conversion the past few years that creates doubt about him continuing in office.

As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the Republicans held the Senate, Grassley backed the decision to deny a hearing for Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. That decision kept the vacancy open for nearly a year. Then he helped rush through the nomination of Amy Barrett in order to seat her on the Supreme Court shortly before the Republicans lost the Senate. After observing Grassley for more than 40 years, these actions just didn’t seem like the kind of honest politics he promoted all that time.

So, we’re left to ponder Tapper’s bewilderment when he said, “I don’t even recognize that guy anymore.” I’m bewildered, too, and terribly worried about the effect of corruption on the character of someone like Grassley. If he can be persuaded to support and defend the former president, and to discount the tragedy of Jan. 6, how can we expect less experienced people to see it for what it really was?

If an honorable man won’t acknowledge the threat to our democracy propagated by a dishonorable president, we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.