DES MOINES, Iowa (DTN) -- An Iowa senator's fundraising motorcycle ride for veterans on Saturday turned into a rousing rally for President Donald Trump and his first five months in office, as well as a push to get the Senate moving on health-care reform.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst held her third "roast and ride" event with Vice President Mike Pence. The senator rode to the event on a Harley Davidson, leading more than 300 motorcycles of all shapes and styles on a 50-mile trek through central Iowa. Between 1,000 and 1,400 people attended the stump speeches at the Central Iowa Expo outside of Boone.
Pence did not ride the route from the start of the rally, but did ride a motorcycle a short distance at the expo later in the day. Pence addressed the president's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, citing that the president's decision showed he was putting the country's forgotten men and women first -- "and he always will." The vice president reiterated some of Trump's comments that the Paris accord punished the U.S. economically.
"How great is it to have a president who is more concerned with Des Moines than Denmark?" Pence asked, to strong applause.
Ernst, a freshman senator, said Pence's visit helped highlight the level of optimism among Republicans in the Trump administration and agenda. Ernst declined to say whether she agreed or disagreed with Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement, but she noted that former President Barack Obama agreed to the accord without seeking Senate approval. Still, Ernst said the U.S. will remain a leader in green energy without the mandates of the climate treaty.
"We want to be a leader here in Iowa with renewable energy sources," Ernst told reporters before the rally. She added that the market will drive renewable energy. "Other governments have decided they are going to force businesses to engage, but we live in such an incredible country where in our market-driven system, customers are demanding clean energy. And so our businesses are engaging in clean energy without government interference. I think that says a lot about the United States and our people."
Pence also told those at the expo that Congress needed to come together to repeal and replace Obamacare. Pence pointed to a couple from a small town in western Iowa who Pence said had seen their health-care premiums increase 70% in the past two years and now were facing a canceled policy. Pence called the couple's situation "heartbreaking." He added, "The Obamacare nightmare is about to end."
The House passed a health-care reform bill in early May, but there has been a lot of speculation over whether the Senate can quickly produce a comparable bill. Ernst and fellow Iowa GOP Sen. Charles Grassley each stressed the need for the Senate to move quickly this summer because Iowa risks not having an insurer for the individual insurance market in 2018. That could affect as many as 77,000 people.
"We would not have any choice for health-care providers as a result of the Affordable Care Act," Ernst said. "That can't be allowed to happen."
Farmers will be among those facing the struggles of simply finding a policy next year, Grassley said. He noted that includes his son who buys insurance through the exchange.
"It won't be any different for farmers or small businesses or individuals," Grassley said in an interview with DTN. "Obamacare has not delivered on its promises, so it is essential for us to get something done."
Grassley also stressed that passing a health-care bill is critical for the Senate to move on tax reform. The issues are intertwined, Grassley said, because of budget issues. Linking back to farmers, Grassley added tax reform will be an opportunity to eliminate the estate tax.
"So we'll be able to pass on the family farm from one generation to another," Grassley said.
Bill Couser, a Nevada, Iowa, cattle producer who hosted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at his feeding operation last month, said the key issues on his mind as a producer were keeping the Renewable Fuel Standard in place "because that's our support system right now." Trade is another concern, and Couser is excited about former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad taking over as ambassador to China.
"The thing we need to concern ourselves as farmers is who does our president surround himself with because those are the people we are going to work with," Couser said. "After meeting Secretary Perdue the other day, and hopefully we'll get to meet the EPA gentleman -- Pruitt. That's what we need to work on is getting those relationships formed."
Couser said there is some potential that the U.S. could see some pushback from trading partners over President Trump's decision last week to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. "We'll have to see. We just have to take it one day at a time."
Couser rode a "trike" while his wife, Nancy, rode a Ridley on the rally ride.
Tim Barrett, a corn and soybean farmer from Shelby, Iowa, told DTN that his crops were planted and decided late in the week to make the rally. Barrett said he is a Trump supporter and is frustrated with the establishment in Washington right now. Still, Barrett sees the president as making significant headway in Washington.
"I think he's accomplished more than many of them in the past in this amount of time and if he could just keep the bad ... negativity ... the liberal journalism down out there," said Barrett, who rode a Kawasaki on Saturday.
Like many farmers, Barrett is more focused on his crops than politics.
"Prices are a sore point for everybody," Barrett said. "Inputs have stayed high and prices are about half of what they were."
Barrett added he did not see anything in the near term to improve prices. "I think price improvement would have to come from the unknowns, a drought somewhere or something taking someone else's crop someplace, basically."
The ride raised funds for the veterans' organization Hope for the Warriors. Before running for Senate, Ernst was a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, which included a tour in Kuwait as a company commander for a transportation company during the Iraq war in 2003-04.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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