Chuck Grassley, the senior U.S. Senator from Iowa, has started to grow concerned that his benefactors in Big Corn aren’t going to be able to feed off the government teat forever, and he’s flexing his muscles in an attempt to strong-arm the Trump Administration.
The Trump Administration’s EPA is apparently not paying enough deference to ethanol. Specifically, they are handing out renewable fuel standard (RFS) waivers like party favors. Grassley and other pro-ethanol politicians haven’t been happy about that, and since past threats haven’t worked out, Grassley is pulling out the “bigs guns,” so to speak. Via Politico:
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley reminded the Trump administration of his clout Tuesday in slamming EPA’s decision not to reallocate small refiners’ waived obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard. “As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I … have concerns that EPA may be ignoring or abusing the Administrative Procedure Act as they continue to grant waivers in secret and refuse to respond to congressional oversight and public information requests regarding the practice,” Grassley said in a statement.
This is the first time Grassley has invoked his Judiciary chairmanship in discussions over the RFS, a Republican Senate aide noted to [Politico Morning Energy]. The committee has jurisdiction over the APA, as well as judicial nominations that are a priority for the president and GOP leaders.
It’s curious to see Grassley go this route. There is a growing number of conservatives who see the RFS as just another government handout. Grassley normally counts himself as a conservative, but it appears that money talks a little more than ideals do. He is fighting for that government handout and using his government power to keep Big Corn’s influence and power in Washington.
And while Grassley’s power play here is new, it wasn’t exactly unforseen. Philip Wegmann at The Washington Examiner saw it coming.
Sen. Grassley, R-Iowa, warned the White House on Tuesday that he will lead a revolt against Trump’s EPA nominees if the president supports a reduction of the Renewable Fuels Standard, that federal mandate which determines the amount of ethanol and other biofuels blended into gasoline and diesel fuel. But if Grassley really wants to scare off Trump, he will go after his judicial nominees.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley can open and close that pipeline anytime. He controls when nominees get hearings and which nominees make it to the Senate floor for a vote. A Republican holding judges hostage would be an administration nightmare.
Frustrated legislatively, Trump has devoted much of his focus to the judiciary. Every confirmed judge represents a small but a lasting win, victories that the conservative base craves. Standing next to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Rose Garden earlier this week, Trump heralded his success and called it “an untold story.”
“Nobody wants to talk about it,” the enthusiastic president said. “But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying that it has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge—but 40 years out.” Nodding enthusiastically along, McConnell noted that the Senate is in “the personnel business.”
Frankly, Trump can’t take a slowdown in getting judges picked. He’s finally got some momentum coming, and a SCOTUS pick is looming. Will Grassley really hold up judges in order to get the EPA to begin supporting ethanol again, or is he just bluffing?
Grassley’s threat came before Anthony Kennedy announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court, though. I cannot imagine for a moment he’s willing to play that game with Trump. If he does, he will lose. He’s not going to risk the ire of every Republican who is finally getting a chance to feel good about the Supreme Court.
Even if Kennedy hadn’t decided to retire, I am really not convinced Grassley is actually going to take on Trump directly, and going after his judges is going to pit him squarely against Trump. He’s not going to fare well in that battle.
Godspeed, Chuck. You’re gonna need it.