MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, September 27th, 2023.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s time for Washington Wednesday. Today, a conversation with WORLD Opinions contributor Hunter Baker. We’ll talk about the potential fallout from the indictment of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.
REICHARD: But first, campaigning for president in Iowa.
Every four years, presidential hopefuls make their case to the American people…but some Americans have easier access to the candidates than others. This is particularly true in Iowa, where candidates not only visit every major city, but also every county looking for votes. It’s one-on-one politics.
EICHER: Why is Iowa such a big deal, and what’s it like these days? Carolina Lumetta works in WORLD’s Washington bureau, but she decided to get outside the beltway and find out.
SOUND: [Jethro’s Diner]
CAROLINA LUMETTA: On an average fall Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, a hungry crowd gathers at Jethro’s Barbecue n’ Bacon Bacon…eager for scrambled eggs with a side of presidential politics.
On a makeshift stage in the corner stands Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations.
HALEY: Thank you so much for coming out! It’s a good Saturday morning here in Iowa.
For new Iowa residents Brad and Cathy Bennett, Haley wasn’t their original favorite. But her performance at last month’s Republican National Committee debate has them reconsidering.
BRAD BENNETT: We listened to her in the debate. Actually, I was kind of leaning towards Ron DeSantis earlier. But I watched the debate, and I was very impressed with what she did and what she said. And I've been following her since and we've just committed that we want to support her.
Haley spent roughly 2 hours pitching her brand of politics focusing heavily on “kitchen table” issues like fixing the economy, securing the border, and maintaining religious liberties. Guests came ready with their questions:
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Yes, I've not heard anything that you've said today that I don't totally agree with. But one thing that–
HAYLEY: Get this man to caucus for us! [laughter]
MAN: One thing that you've skirted around just briefly, is the fact that the academic community …
Winning caucus votes in Iowa isn’t for the faint of heart. To make the cut, candidates like Haley are expected to meet voters in all 99 counties by January 15th. That’s when caucus voters will convene at their local precincts for a 2-hour Republican Party meeting. Instead of visiting the polls at any point in the day, Iowans gather in the evening to hear the ballot list and cast their anonymous votes. These are counted on site and then added to the rest of the precincts.
Polk County Republican Chair Gloria Mazza works behind the scenes to run caucus night. In the lead-up to January, she introduces White House hopefuls at town halls across the county, including Haley at Jethro’s.
GLORIA MAZZA: We know that we're here to help vet the candidates for the rest of the country. And we're proud of that moment…
Later in the day, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appears as a special guest at the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ.
SOUND: [Worship service]
Pastor Mike Demastus hosts DeSantis and various evangelical figures who issue a call from the pulpit for religious liberties.
DESANTIS: So people say you know, what do you need to do to be a good leader? Well, one of the things I would recommend? Put on the full armor of God if you want to– [Bystander: “Amen”, applause]
Jasper County resident Rosemary Nikkel likes to spend election season watching several campaigns. She hasn’t yet made her choice for president, but she does commit to caucus every year.
ROSEMARY NIKKEL: We've heard Tim Scott speak in person. We've heard Vivek Ramaswamy speak in person. This is the third time we've heard Ron DeSantis. I like some of the other things I'm hearing people say. But I think that he's delivered on a lot of things that he's promised and that's I think that's important.
Wooing Iowa’s many Republicans takes more than a single appearance and a handshake.
MODERATOR: And now, Nikki Haley, who will interviewed by Ralph Reed.
Across town, Haley, DeSantis, and eight other candidates also appear at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet. They take turns sitting for 10-minute interviews in front of the massive banquet hall.
INTERVIEWER: What are we really going to do to get spending in the federal government under control?
TIM SCOTT: There are a few things you have to do. First thing you have to do to get the federal spending under control is to fire Joe Biden. That’s number one.
Jen Turner, a local organizer for Moms for Liberty, says she likes living in a state that offers so many opportunities to interact with candidates.
TURNER: Well, I like this afterwards, right? You walk around and the candidates are just walking around the lobby, right. I'm like a political geek these days, right? This is our Super Bowl!
There was just one “Super Bowl” level candidate missing from the banquet: Donald Trump. He’s currently sitting at a comfortable 41 point national primary lead and so opted to skip the event along with the next RNC debate in California. Here in Des Moines, some Trump campaign staffers did host a table in the lobby. And volunteers handed out yard signs at the exit, telling Iowans they may as well be prepared for the general election.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Carolina Lumetta in Des Moines, Iowa.
REICHARD: Now let’s turn our attention to Capitol Hill.
Last week, federal prosecutors from New York charged New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife with a years-long bribery scheme. He’s also accused of using his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the government of Egypt. The unsealed indictment released last Friday details what federal agents found at the senator’s home: gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in closets and jacket pockets.
EICHER: No surprise Republicans were quick to call on Menendez to resign, but they found agreement from AOC.
Here’s Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on Face the Nation on CBS.
CORTEZ: The situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interests for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment. And while, you know, as a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias. But I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear.
So what’s going on in D.C.?
Here to talk about it is Hunter Baker, professor of political science at Union University. Hunter, thanks for being here.
HUNTER BAKER: Thank you. Happy to be here.
REICHARD: Menendez says he is innocent, but he is relinquishing his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What does that leadership role entail, and who will his successor be?
BAKER: Well, he'll be succeeded by the the next most senior Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland, who is well known for his advocacy of human rights. So I think that will be fairly seamless. But this is a really big deal. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is one of the most important committees in the Senate. A number of former presidents, including President Obama, previously served on that committee. And so this is a committee where people are working on high level treaties, diplomacy, appointments of ambassadors and diplomats. And there would be intense lobbying of that committee at all times. And so these allegations would be involving, perhaps under the table lobbying of Senator Menendez by officials from Egypt.
REICHARD: Well, just yesterday, there were several Democratic senators, including fellow New Jerseyan Cory Booker, who called on Menendez to resign. Hunter, why is that? Shouldn’t they want their guy to stay in office?
BAKER: First of all, it's kind of funny that it's a New Jersey Senator, this is almost like something out of a Hollywood movie, right? The corrupt New Jersey politician. But why do they want it to go away? I think that the big answer to that is, first of all, it's never good for your party to have a major corruption scandal in the front pages. But second, there is an ongoing controversy that's been literally since the last election regarding Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. And the question of whether Hunter and Joe, our president now were working together then to influence policy in Ukraine, was Hunter selling access to his father and certain public policy outcomes in exchange for what may have been millions of dollars? And I think that I think that it's understood that Hunter did profit. The question is whether his father actually cooperated in that or not, that's what is yet to be understood. But this Menendez situation is the same sort of a thing, right, that people might draw an analogy. And the fact is the senator had enormous amounts of cash on his person in his dwelling. And typically, when somebody does that, that's because they're avoiding banking reporting requirements, which almost always gives rise to an inference of some kind of crime or wrongdoing. So the Democrats are eager to put away the Menendez story because they don't want that to add fuel to the fire on the Biden story.
REICHARD: Shifting gears just slightly here, last week Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer finally brought some individual military promotions to the floor for confirmation. For tk months now, Sen. Tommy Tuberville has voted against these batch promotions as they call them due to an abortion travel reimbursement policy the Pentagon implemented last year. Where do you think this showdown ends?
BAKER: I mean, what they're going to have to do is to settle on some kind of more enduring policy. I fear that where we're headed is in the same kind of direction that we have with the Mexico City abortion funding policy, where every time you have a new president, a new president from a different party, they issue a new executive order and change the policy. We don't want to have a situation where the Pentagon policy on this is changing with presidencies. So what we really need to do is to have some leadership to work this thing out. The Pentagon should not be a source of ideological gamesmanship. And I really think that some of that's what's going on right now.
REICHARD: And finally, tonight we’ll be watching the second Republican National Committee debate, hosted at the Ronald Reagan National Library in California. Are you going to be tuning in, and if you are, what are you going to watch for?
BAKER: I will absolutely be watching. I'm intensely interested in the interplay of these candidates. Based on the last debate, I find that the people I'm watching the most are, first of all, Vivek Ramaswamy, largely for entertainment value. He was so incredibly provocative in that last debate, it was just fun to watch. But also, Ron DeSantis, who has a lot to lose as a potential major challenger to Donald Trump, you know, he was a little bit absent in that debate. I think he did okay with voters, but he didn't make a big impression. He may want to consider whether it's time to take a risk. But also Nikki Haley, I just thought that Nikki Haley looked like a candidate who could win a general election. And if Republicans are trying to find the person who could really win a general election, to win it convincingly, to do a lot for the people who are running down ticket. Nikki Haley kind of looks that way to me. She looks very competent and serious, and she probably could win back a lot of those suburban women that Republicans lost in the last election.
REICHARD: Well, we’ll be watching too, then. Hunter, thank you so much.
BAKER: Thank you.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.