The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Q&A | U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks speaks on new position, reforms to legal immigration

In her office at the nation’s capital, Miller-Meeks discussed her new position as the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, Iowa’s success with clean energy, and more with The Daily Iowan.
Cody Blissett
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks answers questions during an interview at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

WASHINGTON — Sitting down with The Daily Iowan, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks R-Iowa spoke about the influx of calls Congressional members received about TikTok legislation, her new position as the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, and reforms to legal immigration as a solution to the southern border crisis. 

Miller-Meeks also discussed the fiscal 2025 budget, her lack of support for the motion to vacate Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, and her disapproval of President Biden’s second attempt at a student loan forgiveness plan. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Iowan: We are looking into a story about the TikTok bill, and you voted to approve the bill that would require ByteDance to invest. Why did you vote for it and what were your major concerns about the security implications? 

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks: Part of that is classified, and even in the hearing we broke out into a classified portion of the hearing before then discussing the bill. And we had several classified briefings. This has been something that we have been in the works for a little over a year in looking at TikTok and the national security implications. 

Given the information that we had, we are very concerned about number one TikTok’s ability to gather data to target U.S. citizens to utilize data. As you know, TikTok, its owner is ByteDance. ByteDance has 20 percent ownership by the Chinese Communist Party. And by law in China, they have to give all information to the Chinese Communist Party, so that in and of itself is an issue. 

Other people had issues or concerns about how information is fed, especially young people, but for me, the major issue was the national security implications. 

As you know, that bill passed unanimously through [the] Energy and Commerce [Committee]. It has passed in the House and so now it’s at the Senate side, and we’re continuing to work to get it passed on the Senate side, and we’re continuing to work to get it passed on the Senate, as well. 

It’s important to know that in the legislation, it’s not addressing content, so we’re very cautious with any invasion or intrusion into freedom of speech. We support freedom of speech, strong advocates of freedom of speech. [The legislation] is addressing business conduct, not content, which is one of the things that we think makes it constitutional. 

Yesterday, Sen. Grassley said that many House offices were recently receiving calls about TikTok. Is that true? What has it been like to navigate and educate people on what the bill is actually about? 

It was true. We don’t shut off our phones in our office so we take calls and emails. People may not get through if we’re inundated with calls, we were inundated with calls. A great many calls were from young people, some middle school, some high school, some college. 

Many people didn’t even know why they were calling, they just said “I have to get on my app and I can’t get on my app unless I call you.” 

They weren’t familiar with what it is that we are trying to do. So part of the process in getting those phone calls is educating individuals what we’re doing, that we’re not banning TikTok, what we’re doing is forcing a separation from the Chinese Communist Party ownership and TikTok. And that there could be other willing buyers. It’s a very profitable site. And that having another willing buyer who is not an adversary or national security risk to the United States, or to its people or citizens, especially young people. 

So, yes, we were inundated. We had calls, we had emails, a lot of young people. But we accepted the calls, we tried to be polite, nice, explain to them what’s going on, what they’re doing, and then they could get back on their app. 

We also want to talk about your recent appointment to be the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to take that role. 

Since I’ve been in Congress, after being sworn in in January 2012, I went to a conservative climate meeting in Utah with Representative John Curtis. At that time, there were twenty or less members of the caucus. 

When you’re in southeast Iowa, and when you’re in Iowa, and you’re in an agricultural community, number one, our farmers are our primary conservators. They’re stewards of the land. 

We’re working on water quality issues there. We also have hunting, we have conservation when it comes to habitat within our state. So, you really do have a strong environmental focus within Iowa in and of itself. 

Coming into Congress, I think, for me, it was an easy move. Overall, I think we need to have a cleaner, healthier planet to leave to our children and grandchildren, but we need to be able to compete economically around the globe. In a globally competitive environment,  we’re not going to do that on labor costs, so we need to have affordable energy. 

I look at this, how can we reduce emissions to have a cleaner, healthier planet, but also be able to grow an economy. And in growing our economy, all wealthy economies have invested back into cleaning their environment. So I think you can do both of those things. They’re not mutually exclusive. 

You can reduce admissions and grow your economy and reinvest back into a healthier planet, so to have that pragmatic message. Most people don’t know that the United States has lowered emissions more than any other country including all the countries in the Paris Climate Accord, China is the biggest emitter of pollution, and the Paris Climate Accord did not include China. 

While we’re trying to compete economically with China, they’re allowed to pollute and/or build coal-fired power plants in other countries, which they did, 80 of which they built. 

We also know that America’s natural gas is 40 percent cleaner. There are countries who want our natural gas, which is why the president’s ban is very concerning. Because by exporting our cleaner natural gas, we can reduce global emissions. 

It’s something that we should be talking about and you don’t hear that a lot. I think the United States has done a lot when it comes to reducing emissions, improving our climate, our environment. It’s a story that we should tell and be proud of. 

It’s also something that we should want to export around the world because without any repercussions to China, we can help lower emissions globally by the clean energy that we produce in the United States. Also, the other reason, the main reason I got involved is that Iowa has a great story to tell. 

In Iowa, 50 percent of our energy comes from renewables. Now, at the time when I was elected in 2021, or when I was in office in 2021, elected in 2020, 50 percent of our energy was from wind. Now, 50 percent of our electricity is from wind. We are a net exporter of energy. 

We’re not only an agricultural state, we are an energy state. 

Unlike some people who only consider renewables to be wind and solar, we have ethanol, biodiesel, biomass, compressed renewable natural gas. We had nuclear [energy] up until four or five years ago when the Duane Arnold power plant closed. I think that we will revisit it again in the state. We have wind, we have solar, we have manure that is used in digesters, we have farming operations that have a closed-loop system, and working on cover crops, sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture. 

We really are a state that I think is very forward-thinking and we have done it without mandates and without emission guidance. 

The U.S-Mexico border has become a flashpoint for national politics, what are your reactions to what is happening at the southern border?    

I grew up in Texas. My dad was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, at Lackland Airforce base, so having familiarity with illegal immigration is not anything new. 

But I just want to draw your attention to President Obama’s Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, who said, more than 1,000 people coming across our border in a day is a crisis. We have over 5,000 people coming across our border a day. We process them, but we don’t know them. 

Our Department of Homeland Security and DHS has lost over 87,000 kids that are coming here unaccompanied. We have young adults that are military age, who may be gang members, that aren’t processed — you can’t ask for information, you can’t ask for their age. You don’t know any of their immunization status or if they have any communicable diseases. We’ve seen a rise in tuberculosis and in hepatitis in this country. 

I think the southern border is a crisis, but we have four borders. All of our borders should be protected. We’re a sovereign nation. We have the right to have secure borders. 

It is a national security crisis when you have individuals coming across on the terror watch list, you have people coming across from over a hundred different countries — I don’t remember the number now, I think it’s like 140 different countries — people that are in gangs and cartels. We have seen a rise in crime in the United States. So, I think it is a crisis. 

We had a controlled border, and again, I’m going to go back to a Democrat president’s Homeland Security head who said more than 1,000 people coming across our border is a crisis. Why is that a crisis from the mouth of one Democrat Homeland Security secretary, but it is not a crisis under this president?   

Democrats say a reform to the nation’s asylum and legal immigration system is to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border, do you support reforms to legal immigration? 

I support reforms to legal immigration. I have three legal immigration bills. 

One on not tossing and throwing away Green Cards. The State Department has not done its allocation of a million per year, and so they are wasting them instead of renewing them. 

I have a bill on America’s Children Act for young adults who are aged out of the system. They come here often as infants and children on their parent’s visa. They’re here illegally and when they get close to 21, they have to apply for their own visa. Because our system is so inefficient, they don’t get their own visa and at age 26 they’re deported. I think that’s wrong and unconscionable.  

I also am one of the sponsors of the Afghan Adjustment Act, trying to get visas to those individuals that came here when we withdrew from Afghanistan. 

I do think that President Biden, when he came into office, did away with every policy that was working. I think those clarifications to our legal immigration system are warranted, but right now the president has it within his control to stem this tide —over 8 million people, 1.7 million got-aways, untold amounts of fentanyl are coming here. The precursors come from China to Mexico. 

If you’ve been to the border, the cartels have control of our southern border. 

Marjorie Taylor Green brought a motion to vacate the speakership after the 2024 budget got approved with more Democrat support than Republican support. While there isn’t a timeline right now, if it does get brought to the floor, would you support it or would you not? 

I would not support a motion to vacate the speaker. I don’t think it helps us to govern and to legislate and to do the job that we were elected to do by the American people, and certainly that I’m elected to do by the Iowans. 

It’s not a motion that I would vote for, or support. I think Speaker Johnson is in a very tough position. When you have a small minority, it’s a difficult, challenging position. As Republicans,  we tend to be individualistic and we tend to be, you know, free thinkers, and I value all of the input of all of our conference members. But this I think, especially given the short timeline, til the end of the year, we have some very important things that we need to get done. 

We have to consider funding for the disaster of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, we have FISA reform that we have to redo, and we have FAA reform that we need to get across. We need to be working on fiscal 2025 single-subject appropriations, and given that we just passed appropriations, and how difficult that process was, we have until the end of the year to get that done. 

So we have some very important things that we need to get done and I think our time should be focused on those things that are going to impact the American people the most, and that they want to see done.

Speaking of the fiscal 2025 budget, the House Republican Study Committee released a report that would propose raising the retirement age from 67 to 69, reducing benefits for higher-income seniors, and restructuring Medicare. Would you support some of those reforms or do you have any reservations about those?

Well, I think what’s most important is one of the things that was actually in a continuing resolution last September, that unfortunately, did not pass and that was that we would have a dead commission. So we need to have a bipartisan debt commission, as you know, the people most impacted by the 34 trillion in debt that the US has, it’s not me at my age, it’s you, you all are most impacted by that debt. 

Is Social Security going to be available for you when you get to retirement age, despite having paid into that system? So both Social Security and Medicare are systems that we pay into, they are not entitlements. And so I think we need a bipartisan debt commission to go over what can be done with these programs. Do they need to be restructured? 

Means testing is something that Democrats have supported before in the past when it came to Medicare and to Social Security. So I think there’s a variety of things that can be done, but what I think is most important is that both parties have to get together to do this. Otherwise, it becomes a political football.

There’s been some news that President Biden released a new plan to forgive some student debt. What are your reactions to President Biden’s plan?

I think my reactions are that the Supreme Court already struck down student loan forgiveness. And I think President Biden continues to look for ways to go around the Supreme Court and around the Constitution, 

If you incur a debt, you should pay for that debt. It is not fair to the people who don’t go to college, who work, and pay taxes, for them for their taxes to go to forgive somebody else’s student loans that they benefit from. I don’t ask you to pay my car payment, or to pay my mortgage, or to pay anything else I would take a loan out for. 

It’s unfair to ask those people who are working, who have not benefited from your education to have to pay that back or  to have you forgive that loan. 

What I do think it’s important that our bills that I’ve introduced, which is to have education information to “Know Before You Owe” is our bill so that you know what’s your education going to cost.  If you get a loan, how much is the total cost? We do that with mortgages, so not only what the payment is not only the loan amount, but what’s the interest gonna be. 

One of the easiest things the federal government could do right now to help with student loans is to lower the interest rate on student loan payments. Under the Obama administration, student loans came under the province of the federal government instead of private and federal. So almost all student loans except for graduates are at the federal level. 

And so one of the things you can do is, as the government increased spending, which led to inflation, interest rates are higher, that’s something that affects everybody that has a student loan as well as any other kind of loan. That would be one of the easiest things that would give relief to people would be the interest rate that they’re paying on those loans. 

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About the Contributors
Roxy Ekberg
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.