WASHINGTON — Many governors continue to vent their frustration about a lack of information concerning Syrian refugees coming to their states, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Saturday.
Syria and Iraq," said Branstad, a Republican. "They won't tell us who they are, who they're being placed with. They want us to trust them but they don't trust us and we don't think that's fair."
In a separate interview, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, also a Republican, said that he has actually seen more willingness from federal officials to provide information on their vetting process and acknowledge the need for special attention to refugees from Syria and Iraq.
But he stressed that more needs to be done.
"The federal government really has bypassed us and it ought not to be that way. We ought to be a partner in this," Ricketts said. "Ultimately at the end of the day these refugees aren't settling in some generic place called the United States. They settle in our communities, in our towns and they're in our states — and it's the job of the governors to protect the people in our states."
Ricketts and Branstad spoke to The World-Herald between sessions at the National Governors Association's winter meeting in Washington.
This is where governors from across the country gather annually to compare notes, share best practices — and complain about the federal government.
Ricketts and Branstad both talked about the importance of fighting for state prerogatives in areas ranging from federal water regulations to changes in the structure of the National Guard.
Ricketts said he got some good ideas from colleagues on workforce development and remains as committed as ever to resisting an expansion of Medicaid, while Branstad praised a session that highlighted the importance of supporting entrepreneurs. Multiple sessions Saturday focused on economic trends. In one, several economists talked about the high likelihood of a recession in the next few years.
While Ricketts was unimpressed with the suggestion that a recession might be in the offing simply because the country hasn't seen one in a while, he said it's important to be prepared.
Branstad also said it makes sense to be cautious. In particular, he said, farm states such as Nebraska and Iowa face headwinds as the prices of corn and soybeans, pork and beef dip below the costs of production.
Asked about the hotly contested GOP presidential race, both governors said they aren't ready to endorse anyone.
Both marveled at the success Donald Trump has been having.
Ricketts ascribed the businessman's rise to people being fed up with the federal government, while Branstad pointed to Trump's ability to dominate the media as no politician before him has.
"In the end, whether that really works or not as a strategy, I don't know," Branstad said. "It sure is unconventional."
While not backing a particular candidate, Branstad had urged Iowans to reject Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, citing his opposition to federal ethanol mandates. Cruz went on to win the Iowa caucuses, but Branstad remains critical of the senator.
"I don't think he's going anywhere," Branstad said. "I just talked to Bob Dole, and (Cruz) doesn't have a friend in the United States Senate."
The association's summer meeting will be held in Des Moines.
During Saturday's opening session, Branstad urged his fellow governors to bring their families to that meeting, and got a dig in at West Virginia, which hosted last year's summer meeting at its Greenbrier resort.
"Also, it's a lot cheaper than going to the Greenbrier," Branstad said of Iowa.
"We had a great time at the Greenbrier, but Iowa is a very economical place to bring your whole family, so we encourage you all to come."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, chairman of the association, said there's another advantage for governors to head to the Hawkeye State.
"We can ... act like we're all running for president," Herbert said.