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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks during Ashley Hinson’s BBQ Bash at the Linn County Fairgrounds Sunday, August 28, 2022. (Matt Sindt) Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks during Ashley Hinson’s BBQ Bash at the Linn County Fairgrounds Sunday, August 28, 2022. (Matt Sindt)

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks during Ashley Hinson’s BBQ Bash at the Linn County Fairgrounds Sunday, August 28, 2022. (Matt Sindt)

By Liam Halawith October 12, 2022
By Lyle Muller October 12, 2022

Chuck Grassley and Mike Franken tossed several barbs at each other in their lone televised debate for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa. For example, there was the time Franken took Grassley to task, saying Grassley opposed anything that helped women.

"This is a guy who’s made it his career to ban abortion, to support unequal pay, to do nothing for paid family leave, to many times vote against the Violence Against Women Act," Franken said.

Grassley leaned on his lectern, looked at Franken, and said, "My colleague, you’re in no position to lecture me about women."

It was a reminder that Franken’s former female campaign manager accused him of kissing her on the mouth in an unwanted action earlier this year. Police have investigated and concluded that no criminal intent was found.

Grassley, 89, of New Hartford, and Franken, 64, of Sioux City, debated on Iowa Public Television on Oct. 6. But the battle between them over women’s issues, as well as many others, kept going. A few days later, on Oct. 10, Grassley announced that he had introduced a new Healthy Moms and Babies Act that could help reduce mother and infant mortality rates.

Beyond the bill’s potential merits, message was clear given the closeness to the November election, that Grassley would need to stay in the Senate to push his bill. "Bill will improve care coordination/expand telehealth/support community-led prevention efforts," a tweet from Grassley read. The bill would insert maternal and perinatal health and mental health in sections of the Social Security code to ensure that they are covered by Medicaid if eligible.

Franken was on Twitter, too, on Oct. 10. One of his posts was a retweet of a Democratic Party tweet that celebrated Indigeneous Peoples Day with a photo in which almost every person was a woman, the exception being children, carrying a sign that read: "My mom, sisters, aunties + grandmas are sacred." 

So goes the fight for women’s vote in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race. Grassley, a farmer, has been in elective politics most of his life, from 1959 through 1974 in the Iowa Legislature, 1975 through 1980 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 1981 to the present in the U.S. Senate. Franken is a lifelong naval officer who reached the rank of vice admiral and served as a Department of Defense senior staffer and adviser before retiring in 2017. 

Franken was accurate during the debate when saying Grassley has followed a pro-life platform that includes trying to restrict abortion, and Grassley strongly lets people know he is pro-life. But Franken also was accurate about Grassley voting against bills codifying fair pay for women, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2018 or, more recently, the 2021 Paycheck Fairness Act, when Grassley voted against cloture that would have allowed a Senate vote on that bill.  

Grassley was a "no" vote on federal laws that expanded family leave. They included the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act that allowed up to 12 weeks off with pay for the birth or adoption or foster care placement of a child; to care for a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition; or to overcome their own serious health condition that makes doing their regular work impossible.

In 2020, Grassley supported a failed Republican-led effort to strike federally mandated sick pay and paid family leave and shift that responsibility to the states, where it could be administered unemployment insurance systems and funds. That bill also called for sending the states federal financial support to take on the tasks.

But Franken’s assertion about Grassley on the Violence Against Women Act left out the fact that Grassley voted "yes"when the act was renewed in March in an omnibus appropriations bill. Yet, Grassley voted "no" on the original bipartisan legislation that contained the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. That bill, called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, contained widespread changes in then-President Bill Clinton’s overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice system.

Plenty of other claims candidates are making about each other in interviews, ads and campaign appearances. Here is a look at a few that came out of the Oct. 6 debate, and our check on the facts.

Grassley, speaking about Franken: "He wants abortion to be available to the last minute birth. He wants taxpayers to pay for that abortion. And he doesn’t want parents to have a voice in the abortion of a minor."

This claim of wanting abortions to be legal until the last minute of birth is common from Republicans about their Democratic opponents. It is a reference to the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. PolitiFact has addressed it several times, including in Iowa’s 1st District congressional race. We consistently have rated the claim to be Mostly False because it ignores that Democrats’ proposal only would allow the procedure if a mother’s life were in danger. 

Debate moderator O. Kay Henderson asked Franken when he thought a fetus was viable for birth but Franken passed on giving a specific number of weeks or days. He replied that "during these most private times, personal times in a woman’s life we shouldn’t have the government stepping in to determine when viability exists." 

Franken said he supports turning into law the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that said the right to an abortion was constitutionally protected. The Supreme Court overturned Roe in the 2022 ruling, Hobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Franken, responding to Grassley about late pregnancy abortion: "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."

The claim that Republicans would allow no exceptions is a common one Democrats running for office are making but Grassley’s voting record, albeit guaranteed to be pro-life, shows otherwise. Grassley has said multiple times that he would not want to restrict abortions to women whose pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life were in danger. He also has said laws about abortion belong at the state level.

He has had ample opportunity to vote on various federal bills related to abortion because of his longevity in Congress. For example, in 2007, he supported in a vote leading up to a Health and Human Services funding bill a failed amendment to prohibit using federal funds to pay for abortions. Grassley voted "yes" on the funding bill, though. He has remained consistent in repeated attempts to stop federal funding for abortions, most recently as a co-sponsor for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021 that did not advance in the Senate.

Grassley said in the debate that he would vote "no" on a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to ban abortions at 15-weeks gestation except in cases of rape, incest or a mother’s health. Grassley said the matter should be decided by individual states, not the federal government. But at the beginning of 2021, Grassley co-sponsored a similar Graham bill that would have established a new criminal offense for performing or attempting to perform an abortion after 20 weeks gestation, except in cases of rape, incest or a mother’s health.

Grassley explained that he supported federal intervention because "the Supreme Court in Roe took the issue of abortion away from state policymakers and made it a federal issue." Grassley spokeswoman Taylor Foy wrote to PolitiFact Iowa in a follow-up email after the debate. Hobbs sent the matter back to states, where Grassley thinks the decisions should be made, Foy wrote.

Franken: "There is no instantaneous thing you can do as a Senator that is going to suddenly reduce inflation."

Grassley had already criticized Franken in a campaign commercial released Sept. 28, saying Franken didn’t have a plan to combat inflation. The commercial quoted Franken saying, "senators have no role in that whatsoever." 

During the debate, Franken clarified that there are many things that Congress can do to combat inflation but cautioned that they aren’t instantaneous. Franken accused Grassley of failing to do anything to combat inflation, such as cutting the costs of prescription drugs like insulin. 

Grassley voted against the original version of the Inflation Reduction Act that had the $35 insulin price cap Franken mentioned, and supported an amendment in the U.S. Senate to remove the provision from the bill. Grassley voted no against the final version of the bill. 

However, Grassley introduced the Prescription Pricing for the People Act that he would direct the Federal Trade Commission to ensure competitive drug pricing. Grassley also introduced the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 that would prevent manufacturers from increasing prices faster than inflation. 

Back to the main statement: can U.S senators fight inflation instantly?

No one can instantaneously fight inflation, and it takes time to fight inflation because of a delay in the market’s response to monetary policy, former Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke said at the 2007 Monetary Economics Workshop of the National Bureau of Economic Research Summer Institute. 

Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard, an independent economic research firm, said in a February 2022 CNBC interview that changes produced by monetary policy take time in order to avoid damaging the economy. 

However, legislative attempts can be made to fight inflation. The Committee for a Responsible Budget, a nonpartisan organization that aims to educate the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact, has reported six ways the federal government could fight inflation: government spending; lowering the cost of healthcare through payments to Medicare providers and by controlling the costs of prescription medication; raising more tax revenue; lowering energy costs by reducing taxes on energy imports; and limiting discretionary spending. 

Grassley: "Remember, inflation was 1.4% when this President went in, and you can’t blame the war in Ukraine like Biden wants to do because it was still 6% at the start of that war."

Grassley was right on the first number but off slightly on the second one. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the Consumer Price Index was 1.4% during the 12-month period ended in January 2021. 

In February 2022, when the Ukraine war began, the Consumer Price Index was 7.9%.

Grassley: "It seems like my opponent believes in an open border because he said the wall was an idiotic thing."

Franken, as Grassley pointed out, called the wall "idiotic" in a May 2020 tweet. While disagreeing with how to secure the U.S.-Mexican border doesn’t equate automatically to wanting an open border, Franken has spoken favorably about growing the number of immigrants allowed into the United States.

"We should redouble efforts to increase immigration," he said in a KCCI television interview that was published online in May. "We should find a pathway for those who are here to future, full citizenship. And, I’m a fan, ultimately, of bringing those undocumented individuals in America into the light. Stop living on a wage scale that’s not livable, with multiple jobs and inhumane conditions that might surely exist for your living arrangements."

VoteSmart, the Des Moines-based nonpartisan collector of politicians’ political positions, shows Franken answering "no" when asked: "Do you support requiring immigrants who are unlawfully present to return to their country of origin before they are eligible for citizenship?" The question was asked in VoteSmart’s Political Courage Test, which gauges, in part, candidates’ willingness to answer a question.  

No answer appears for Franken to the question: "Do you support increasing security along the southern U.S. border?" That means Franken didn’t answer the question but also that VoteSmart researchers could not find anything recorded that would help them answer the question, VoteSmart’s test protocol says.

Franken rejected Grassley’s "open border" accusation in the debate, referring to his military career. "So, open borders and a military service really doesn’t jive," he said. "And I’m a law and order type of individual and I believe civil authority reigns supreme in a free and open society. So, let that just hang there."

In the debate, Grassley said the border needs to be controlled particularly to stop illegal, dangerous drugs from coming into the United States. "Not just for marijuana, for fentanyl that killed 200 Iowans, 70 Americans and with an open border this stuff is just coming into the country," Grassley said.

Franken replied that a large amount of fentanyl comes across the border via DHL-tracked packaging via mail or shipping vehicles. and the mail and the like. "That which is brought across the border isn’t being humped back by illegal people crossing, by undocumented individuals crossing the border," he said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration backs up Franken’s statement. Its most recent National Drug Threat Assessment report, in 2020, said drug cartels in Mexico primarily to blame for fentanyl shipments into the United States use concealed compartments and commingled legitimate goods in commercial tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles, underground tunnels and major highway routes. They also use commercial cargo trains, ultralight aircraft, drones, passenger buses, backpackers and couriers when smuggling drugs across the southwest U.S. border, the report said.

PolitiFact previously has written about claims that what Republicans call an open border has produced an increase in fentanyl shipments, rating the claim to be Mostly False. "The term ‘open border’ seems created to deceive and mislead," Katharine Neill Harris, a fellow in drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said in a February 2022 PolitiFact story.

"Whatever its official or original meaning was, I think when the public hears it they imagine that people are being allowed to cross into the country the way they can cross state lines. That is just not true."

Emily Delgado contributed to this report.

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Our Sources

PBS Iowa debate and transcript

Chuck Grassley campaign website and biography

Mike Franken campaign website and biography

N’west Review, "Naval officer retires from military," by Renee Wielenga, Sept. 2, 2017

Iowa Field Report, "Exclusive: Police Report: Mike Franken’s Former Campaign Manager Accused Candidate of Assault," Sept. 19, 2022

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), "No legal restriction on former campaign staff, Mike Franken says,"  Sept. 22, 2022, "Chuck Grassley on Abortion"

OnTheIssues,org, "Michael Franken on Abortion"

H.R.3043 – Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008; textvoteamendmentamendment vote

S.92 – No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021; text and co-sponsors

S.4840 – Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act; text and co-sponsors

H.R.7 – Paycheck Fairness Act text and Senate cloture vote

S.181 – Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 text and Senate roll call vote

H.R.2471 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022; roll call vote

H.R.8296 – Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022

H.R.1892 – Violence Against Women Extension Act of 2021

H.R.3355 – Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 text and roll call vote

White House fact sheet on Violence Against Women Act extension

H.R.1 – Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 text and roll call vote

S.Amdt.1558 to H.R.6201 text and roll call vote

Committee for a Responsible Budget, "Six Ways to Fight Inflation," June 30, 2022

Chuck Grassley press release, text of proposed Healthy Moms and Babies Act and tweet, Oct. 10, 2022

Chuck Grassley campaign commercial

Chuck Grassley campaign website positions on abortion

Mike Franken campaign website positions on abortion

Mike Franken retweet of Iowa Democratic Party tweet

PolitiFact Iowa email exchange with Chuck Grassley communications director Taylor Foy, Oct. 11, 2022

PolitiFact, "No, this Colorado law does not allow abortions ‘up until the moment of birth’; April 7, 2022

U.S. Supreme Court Hobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling

Investopedia, "Response Lag," by Katelyn Peters, June 24, 2022

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for January 2021

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for February 2022

Encyclopedia Britannica, "Russia-Ukraine War"

MilitaryTimes, "Veterans in the 117th Congress, by the numbers,"  Dec. 28, 2020 

Des Moines Register, "Grassley, Ernst opposed Inflation Reduction Act, which includes Democrats’ plan to cap insulin prices," by Brianne Pfannenstiel, Aug. 8, 2022

Iowa Starting Line, "I’m For $35 [Insulin] Caps" Grassley Tells Iowans After Voting Against Them," by Pat Rynard, Aug. 18, 2022

Franken tweet, May 18, 2020

Breitbart, ‘The Wall Is Idiotic’: Radical Iowa Democrat Mike Franken Pushes Open Borders on America, Argued Illegal Immigration Is ‘Not A Crime’  by Matthew Boyle, July 6, 2022

H.R.5376 – Inflation Reduction Act of 2022

Steven Blitz biography on TS Lombard’s web site, "Tired of inflation? The Federal Reserve’s actions won’t provide any relief for months," by Jeff Cox, Feb. 10, 2022

S.2543 – Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019.

S.1388 – Prescription Pricing for the People Act of 2021

KCCI-TV, Michael Franken profile, immigration position 

VoteSmart web page, Political Courage Test methodologyMike Franken pageChuck Grassley page

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

PolitiFact, "Fentanyl seizures are not evidence of an ‘open border’," by Jeff Cercone, Feb. 24, 2022

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Liam Halawith

Fact-checking claims from Iowa's Senate debate on abortion, inflation and the border