JOHNSTON, Iowa — Abortion rights and an allegation of an unwanted kiss that Des Moines police dismissed six months ago brought some of the most prolonged exchanges in what could be the only debate between the two major party candidates in Iowa’s U.S. senate race Thursday night.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a New Hartford Republican seeking his eighth term, and retired Navy Vice Admiral Mike Franken, a Sioux City Democrat debate on Iowa PBS in the hour-long, live debate.
Kimberley Strope-Boggus, who previously served as Franken’s campaign manager before getting fired, alleged in May to police that Franken gave her an unwanted kiss after the two met to discuss her wish to rejoin the campaign. Des Moines police investigated the allegation and, along with the Polk County Attorney’s office, found no credible evidence to pursue criminal charges.
Franken has denied the allegation. When asked about the allegation during the debate, Franken responded, “That matter was investigated and found to be unfounded. You know, I’m a husband, two kids, a girl and a boy, a wife of 33 years, a 40-year history of zero tolerance of sexual malfeasance, sexual misdeeds, of gender-related harassment.”
Franken then criticized Grassley and his campaign for politicizing the dismissed claim. “But what is particularly annoying about this issue is I also have zero tolerance for the politicization of this issue and how my opponent has taken this as…of his age and seniority and time in the Senate… to use this as a tool and what he’s doing is weaponizing women’s rights. This is a guy who has 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. I don’t have a problem with this issue. He has a problem with women. And we’re seeing this manifest itself with the series of other bills that he is now working, that he’s bringing these things to the platform like with various bills. And it is just a ploy because he’s got a problem, because it is known that he has got some anti-woman activity in his career.”
Debate moderator Kay Henderson then asked Grassley for his response. He replied as he turned to Franken, “My colleague, you are in no position to lecture me about women. You are in no position to do that. And I would clarify for you, Kay, that the Grassley campaign did not release this. His former campaign manager filed a police report. The police report was made public by a journalist. And I knew about it when I read it in the paper.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade has put increased attention on the positions of federal and state candidates.
Franken declined to define viability. “The short of it is 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, etcetera. The doctor knows this, the woman knows this. This is not something for government to step in and make those determinations.”
Franken claimed that Grassley wants to ban all abortions, something Grassley denied. Grassley said, “I think everybody knows that throughout my life I’ve been pro-life, pro-mother, pro-family. I think the Supreme Court decision was the right decision. Now, for 50 years because the Supreme Court decision was the law of the land I accepted it. The Supreme Court has overturned that back to the states so elected representatives of the people of the United States get a chance to voice their opinion through their elected representatives and that surely is better in a democracy than unelected judges of the courts to make that decision. And that is where I stand and if you look at what my opponent wants to do he has the most extreme position on abortion you can have. 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. I think that is a very extreme position.”
That brought this response from Franken: “Some of those are a surprise to me. But let me say this, that Chuck Grassley has made a career since first announced this in 1972 to go after a woman’s right to choose. Now, I have a long career supporting people’s rights, our way of life internationally and domestically in the United States military. And it’s very interesting that I come back here now having to defend rights of a woman to choose what is best for her. And this last little bit that he mentioned in a woman’s pregnancy, this is the most personal time of all. 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. This is a private time where a tough decision has to be made where a lawyer being in the room is not part of the equation nor is an intrusive government and a Supreme Court that is idealized after Senator Grassley.”
Grassley said that he would oppose a plan proposed last month by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. Grassley said that he continues to support abortion exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Franken wants Congress to codify Roe v. Wade to protect the federal right to an abortion.