The decision by Grassley, who has served in the U.S. Congress since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, boosts Republican prospects for holding the seat next year, when control of the chamber will be at stake. Recent polling has shown Grassley with a sizable lead over Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer.
Perhaps Grassley’s most consequential impact on the country has been his recent tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position that gave him significant influence in pushing through the nominations of dozens of judges during the Trump presidency as well as three Supreme Court justices, including the divisive nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh.
In 2016, Grassley backed the decision by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to deny Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court, a vote let alone a confirmation hearing, keeping the seat vacant for about a year.
With Democrats controlling the Senate, Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
On legislation, Grassley joined with Democrats in pushing for criminal justice reform and built a reputation for heralding and protecting whistleblowers, frequently tangling with the Trump administration as the former president repeatedly fired inspectors general for the agencies and departments.
Grassley’s national lawmaking career began in 1975 with his election to the U.S. House; he secured the Senate seat in 1980.
Even as his profile grew nationally, Grassley aimed to remain connected to the Iowans he represented and has done so most notably by regularly visiting 99 counties each summer to hear from voters.
Recently, he’s been one of the most visible Republicans in the Senate taking the lead on criminal justice reform.
Grassley was an original co-sponsor of the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice bill passed during the Trump administration. And he is currently working with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) on a criminal justice reform package that among other things would make it easier for elderly inmates to be released from prison and continue to erase racial disparities in sentencing for drug-related crimes.
Finkenauer, a former Democratic congresswoman, hopes voters share her belief that Grassley is more concerned with remaining in power than representing the needs of everyday Iowans.
“My parents could not give me a trust fund or debt-free college, but they taught me about seeing work to be done and doing it,” the 32-year-old said in July when she launched her Senate campaign.
“It’s politicians like Senator Grassley and Mitch McConnell who should know better but are so obsessed with power that they oppose anything that moves us forward,” Finkenauer added. “Since the Capitol was attacked, they’ve turned their backs on democracy — and on us.”
But in the most recent Des Moines Register poll, the former lawmaker trailed Grassley by nearly double digits.
“It looked like he had some vulnerability, but a majority of likely voters still view him as a winner,” pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., told the Register in September. “Fifty-five percent is not huge, but it’s solid at this point.”
Interest in Grassley’s future had grown since he announced in September that he would make his decision public in November — a year before the 2022 midterm elections.
Grassley along with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is one of the longest serving lawmakers in the Senate, which has drawn increased criticism for having a makeup that is quite different from the Americans the lawmakers represent. And age is one of those areas where there appears to be a significant gap between lawmakers in the Senate and the American public.
Grassley is not the oldest, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is three months older.
John Wagner contributed to this story.