POCAHONTAS - U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley repeated his call for securing the country's southern border on Wednesday and said he supports the American air strikes underway in Iraq.
The Republican who is Iowa's senior senator held a town hall meeting at Pocahontas Community Hospital Wednesday afternoon and the first three questions he received from the roughly 35 people present were about illegal immigration.
Grassley said efforts to secure the border have been insufficient.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, speaks to about 35 people during a Wednesday town hall meeting at Pocahontas Community Hospital in Pocahontas.
According to the senator, there are two reasons why efforts to beef up border security have not been very vigorous.
"One group wants more people to come in to get more people to participate on their side of the political activity," he said. "Second, there's some people that want an open border just for cheap labor."
He did not identify what groups want more people to participate in politics or which groups want cheap immigrant labor.
Grassley said he voted against the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year because he felt it did not do enough to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the border.
"Let me make clear, the border is not secure," he said.
The senator explained one flaw in the current border security practices. He said lots of land in Arizona along the border with Mexico is controlled by the U.S. Department of the Interior, but the Border Patrol can't operate in that territory. A bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would give the Border Patrol access to that land, he said.
When a resident asked for an update on military operations in Iraq, Grassley said he had not received any "secured briefings" on them. However, he said humanitarian assistance to members of a religious minority under attack in Iraq is justified.
He added that he supports the air strikes.
Grassley said destroying the heavy weaponry of the fighters who have overrun large parts of Iraq should be the goal of the air strikes. He said much of that heavy weaponry was given to the Iraqi army by the United States, but Iraqi troops abandoned it.
"With air strikes we ought to be able to take that out," he said.
"At least we ought to make it more difficult for them to do what they want to do and destroy their firepower as much as we can," he added.
Grassley said a cutback in the Renewable Fuels Standard proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would be "the biggest win for Big Oil."
The Renewable Fuels Standard requires a certain amount of ethanol to be used every year. Currently, it calls for 14.4 billion gallons to be used annually. The EPA has proposed setting that level at 13 billion gallons. Grassley said he doesn't know when the EPA will issue its final ruling.
Grassley fielded one of the more unusual questions at the very end of the meeting when a woman asked if there is a "conspiracy to bring the United States down because we have a weak president."
"To be fully honest with you, I don't really know, but I don't think so," he replied.
Grassley said that in America's open society with a free press any such conspiracy would be revealed.
"I can't visualize it not being exposed," he said.
Following the town hall meeting, Grassley said an extension of wind energy tax incentives he pushed through the Senate Finance Committee in April probably won't be voted on by the full Senate until after the November election. He said the incentives are part of a larger bill containing 53 tax provisions. He said there is a lot of pressure to bring the bill to the Senate floor because it includes a research and development tax credit used by many businesses.
Grassley said a bill he co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that would give certain consumers access to broadcast television content via satellite should pass without any controversy. Such access is currently required, but that law will expire at the end of this year.