A few years back I was led to a little, windowless office beneath the U.S. Capitol Building. I’d heard that senators with enough seniority get these secondary offices where they can wait comfortably for votes up on the floor. To get here, I first had to meet Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) press-relations person in the Hart Senate Office Building and then go downstairs to take an underground train that only members, staff and their guests may take to the Capitol Building.
From there, it was a short walk to this private basement office. The ceiling was low and ductwork took over part of the room, but it was clean, had a desk and chairs and was quieter than the main offices of senators I’ve previously been in.
Moments later, the door opened and in came Sen. Grassley wearing a warm smile. The senator’s eyes were glowing with life. He had a white linen handkerchief in his suit’s lapel pocket and cufflinks on his sleeves.
I’d just watched him, as head of the Judicial Committee, grilling Department of Justice officials about then-President Barack Obama’s (D) gun-running scandal, Operation Fast and Furious. All of the senator’s questions were surgically sharp. Grassley doesn’t have a penchant for sensationalism. He has a reputation for doing the research so he can cut right to the underlying facts.
One way he gets to the hard-to-find truth that enables him to parry talking points is by working with actual whistleblowers. Grassley has long been a proponent and protector of whistleblowers. At the time, several Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents had come forward to publicly testify about the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious.
We discussed the investigation into that gun-running scandal for some time, and I was about to leave, as his time is precious, but he urged me to stay as he waited for a vote. We had transitioned to talking about the Founding period of this nation, as a stray comment about the Second Amendment told him I enjoy that particular part of American history. It was quickly clear that he has read deeply about this part of American history as well. We discussed the tragic 1804 duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and then talked about the guns of that period and how companies ignited the American industrial revolution by making arms for both citizens and the military. And, when the light came on, signaling it was time for him to go and vote, I left, impressed and intrigued.
So, as we are now on the precipice of another critical election, I thought it would be grand to get Sen. Grassley’s insights about this midterm election and where we now stand in the struggle to regain and hold onto our Second Amendment freedom.
A1F: You received an A+ rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund for your legislative record defending the Second Amendment. An A+ is reserved for legislators not only with excellent voting records on critical NRA issues, but also who make a “vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment.” Given your strong and unrelenting efforts to stand up for this critical freedom, what advice would you give a freshman member of Congress regarding the peoples’ Second Amendment rights?
Sen. Grassley: I’d tell them one of the most-important things a legislator can do, especially when it comes to fundamental issues like Second Amendment rights, is to stand firm in your beliefs. There are some members of Congress who would stop at nothing to repeal the right to bear arms, even if that means destroying our institutions by abolishing the filibuster or packing the U.S. Supreme Court. Others make claims that firearms are to blame for problems that have other causes—like soaring violent crime rates—when, in reality, the crime wave we’ve seen over the past couple of years has been caused by liberal, soft-on-crime prosecutors, terrible bail-reform policies and anti-police rhetoric that emboldens criminals. These issues have nothing to do with the right to bear arms; it’s a scapegoat for a broader anti-Second Amendment agenda. I’d advise them to keep in mind ulterior motives and stand firm for the U.S. Constitution.
A1F: Clearly, our Second Amendment rights are on the ballot in this midterm election on Nov. 8, but how do you recommend we articulate this to the millions of citizens who’ve recently chosen to buy their first gun?
Sen. Grassley: All you have to do is look at the current state of liberal-run cities across the country. Homicides in Los Angeles are up, where they have a progressive prosecutor. Homicides in Washington, D.C., are up, where city leaders chose to defund the police and are now playing catch-up. Homicides are even up in Milwaukee, where they enacted bad bail-reform policies, which let a dangerous man who should have been locked up run his car through a parade last year. Many crime-riddled cities like Chicago and New York City coincidentally have some of the strictest gun-control laws. Elections have consequences, and that’s made clear by soaring crime rates in cities that elect overwhelmingly liberal leaders.
A1F: As the Second Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights protects a civil right, it clearly should not be treated as a partisan political issue; in fact, not that long ago, party affiliation all by itself did not tell a voter where a candidate stood on this critical issue. Do you see any signs in the U.S. Senate that the Second Amendment might one day be treated as the nonpartisan freedom issue it actually is?
Sen. Grassley: I fully agree that fundamental rights that are so clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution shouldn’t be subject to partisan debate. Unfortunately, we see that happen all too often. It’s a sad commentary that partisanship in the Senate has only become more entrenched in recent years. I want to note that it’ll only get worse if Democrats abolish the filibuster, which would eliminate the 60-vote threshold needed to advance legislation. Right now, that’s where my focus is, ensuring the world’s greatest deliberative body remains intact. There are currently members of the Democratic Party who threaten to pack the Supreme Court or “nuke” the filibuster every time an issue doesn’t go their way. When it comes to issues like firearm ownership, increased polarization has resulted in a much-lower number of Democrats willing to cross the aisle to support the Second Amendment. Given how much the far-left wing of their party has grown in aggression and influence, I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future.
A1F: The U.S. Senate is currently 50-50 and the U.S. House of Representatives is separated by just a few seats. How do you like your party’s chances this fall? If you regain the helm of the Judiciary Committee, what can you do to stop judicial nominees who don’t respect the peoples’ constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms?
Sen. Grassley: When I previously served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee when President Donald J. Trump (R) was in office, we made confirming judges a top priority. We worked hard to confirm judges and justices who had reputations of upholding the Constitution as written, not activists who had histories of legislating from the bench. Throughout the past year, multiple court decisions have demonstrated just how important our work has been. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the Constitution provides the right to carry firearms outside a person’s home—correctly upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. If Senate Republicans are in the majority in 2023, you better believe I’ll be working tirelessly to continue confirming constitutionalist judges and opposing judicial activists who pose a threat to our rights.
A1F: You objected to the recently passed “The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” because of its vague, ambiguous and problematic language and poor due-process protections. Is your “Safe Schools Act” a better example of what you would like to see put into law? Why or why not
Sen. Grassley: First, let me address the so-called Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Unfortunately, that bill had definitions too vague to be enforced, or at least consistently enforced, which raised serious due-process concerns. Courts shouldn’t be making the law; they should be interpreting the law; but some of my colleagues claimed the courts would have to sort out what the bill means. That’s unacceptable, and it could easily result in law-abiding gun owners being stripped of their Second Amendment right. Instead, I’ve worked on several bills that focus on bolstering public safety. First, I’ve reintroduced the EAGLES Act, which seeks to expand the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) to work with local school districts, churches and workplaces to better assess indicators for targeted violence. Specifically, the bill would expand NTAC’s programs for violence prevention, research and early intervention.
The Safe Schools Act, which I introduced in June with Sen. Marshall of Kansas, would allow billions in unused COVID funds to be spent on school security measures. It’s pretty simple: schools ought to be able to utilize existing funds to improve security efforts. These are just two examples of how we can work to keep our schools safe without infringing on constitutional rights.
“If Senate Republicans are in the majority in 2023, you better believe I’ll be working tirelessly to continue confirming constitutionalist judges.”
A1F: You helped to block passage of a so-called universal background check bill that Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wanted to push through, pointing out that the bill “will not prevent crime, but will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.” Clearly, such bills criminalize normal, law-abiding use of this right—things Americans have done since our founding period and before—but aren’t these legislative gambits also an attempt to create a backdoor gun registry of law-abiding Americans?
Sen. Grassley: This is an issue that comes up repeatedly. My Democratic colleagues have tried multiple times to pass overly expansive background checks, inserting the government where it shouldn’t be. As you know, background checks are already required for commercial sales, but not for private sales between two friends or family members. The only way to enforce a “universal background check” requirement effectively, as some Democrats have admitted, is by implementing gun registration. Here’s the other problem: criminals, who are supposed to be the target of these checks, already don’t comply with the processes we have in place to buy and sell firearms. Instead, “universal” background checks would do nothing to reduce crime while limiting private sales for law-abiding gun owners, putting a useless restraint on the Second Amendment.
A1F: I remember how strong and involved you were while investigating former President Barack Obama’s (D) gun-running scandal (Operation Fast and Furious). Obama, at the time, used executive privilege to keep a lot of documents from investigating committees and the American public. Will we ever see this information?
Sen. Grassley: There was litigation over the relevant information and documents for years. Congress didn’t get everything it asked for. President Obama wrongly asserted executive privilege to stiff-arm the American people, and officials and bureaucrats continued to cover up and keep the American people in the dark. I’m still intent on ensuring there’s some sort of transparency. My investigations never really stop because I always keep the door open to more congressional oversight to shine a light on bad government conduct. The way I see it, we can never give up on holding the federal government accountable to the people. I’d say that it’s important for our constituents to also hold us accountable on these issues, so we continue to hold bureaucrats and administration officials accountable. We need more members of Congress who are willing to pick up the baton of dogged oversight.
A1F: You have long stood up for real whistleblowers. But, during the Trump presidency, the Whistleblower Protection Act seemed to have been abused by people with political agendas. As we might again need to hear from officials inside, for example, the ATF, just as we did during the aftermath from Operation Fast and Furious, what can be done to separate the wheat from the chaff with these individuals?
Sen. Grassley: Unfortunately, during the last administration, several members of Congress and their friends in the media took un-vetted and unverified whistleblower allegations and ran with it. Every piece of information we get has to be vetted and verified before it’s acted on. Transparency brings accountability. Of course there are always people out there who will try to contort both information and the law. But there are just as many—hopefully even more—who want to patriotically shed light on government waste, fraud or abuse. Whether it’s Attorney General Eric Holder’s illegal gun-running that led to American deaths or political bias infecting the FBI, we need to ensure whistleblowers have a legally protected outlet to share information about abuse.
A1F: Do you like to shoot? If so, what disciplines do you enjoy?
Sen. Grassley: While I haven’t shot in a while, my first exposure to shooting dates back to growing up on the farm. Our little .22 was a varmint rifle, meaning it was more farm tool than a part of recreation or shooting sport. But it taught me the importance of promoting a culture of firearm safety as well as building a deep respect for the protections provided for us all in the Constitution. Every fall, we open the Grassley farm to hunters to make sure they can harvest game after the crops are all out of the field.
A1F: How can people follow, contact or help you?
Sen. Grassley: On social media, people can follow me on Twitter @ChuckGrassley, on Facebook by going to facebook.com/grassley and on Instagram @SenatorChuckGrassley. People can learn more about what I’m working on and contact my office by visiting my website at grassley.senate.gov.