Joni Kay Ernst (nÃ©e Culver, July 1, 1970) is an American politician and former military officer serving as the junior United States Senator for Iowa since 2015. A Republican, she served in the Iowa Senate from 2011 to 2014. She served in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1993 to 2015, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress and the first female combat veteran elected to the United States Senate from any state.
She was elected vice chair of the United States Senate Republican Conference in November 2018.
During her 2014 campaign, she cast herself as an independent Republican. In 2019, Politico characterized her as "a reliable vote for most of Trump's agenda."
In March 2019, Ernst was one of thirty-eight senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue warning that dairy farmers "have continued to face market instability and are struggling to survive the fourth year of sustained low prices" and urging his department to "strongly encourage these farmers to consider the Dairy Margin Coverage program."
In April 2019, Ernst and Debbie Stabenow led five other senators in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue urging the Agriculture Department to implement conservation measures in the 2018 Farm Bill "through a department-wide National Water Quality Initiative, which would build off the existing initiative housed at the Natural Resource Conservation Service."
In May 2019, Ernst was a cosponsor of the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Ben Sasse and Jon Tester intended to reform hours of service for livestock haulers through authorizing drivers to have the flexibility to rest at any point during their trip without it being counted against their hours of service and exempting loading and unloading times from the hours of service calculation of driving time.
In 2014, when asked about President Barack Obama's recess appointments, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously were unconstitutional, Ernst referred to Obama as a dictator who should be "removed from office" or face "impeachment." She said, "He is running amok. He is not following our Constitution."
Ernst opposes the federal minimum wage and has said that states should have sole authority to set their own minimum wages. She has pointed to differences in the cost of living in various states, "I think $7.25 is appropriate for Iowa, but that's up for our state legislators to decide, and I'm willing to have those discussions at the state level." In response to a Congressional Budget Office report which projected that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift 900,000 out of poverty, but would cost 500,000 people their jobs, Ernst stated that "government and government-mandated wage increases are not the solutionâ€”especially when doing so comes at the expense of the jobs of hard working Americans."
Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service. During the 2013 legislative session, Ernst worked on legislation which reduced property taxes in Iowa. She says she supports a "fairer, flatter, and simpler" federal tax code. In 2017, she voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
In 2014, Ernst expressed support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, as well as a reduction in spending on entitlement programs and discretionary spending. She has expressed support for a partial privatization of Social Security accounts for young workers while protecting Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement.
In May 2018, Ernst was one of nine Republican senators to introduce a rescission package meant to fulfill President Trump's wish to curb spending by $15.4 billion as part of an attempt to roll out the legislation to ensure it reached the Senate floor within a 45-day window while avoiding a filibuster from Democrats.
In December 2018, Ernst voted to confirm Kathy Kraninger as the next Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a decisive vote. The measure ultimately cleared the United States Senate chamber with all 50 present Republicans voting in favor of the confirmation and all 49 Democrats voting in opposition.
She has advocated eliminating the U.S. Department of Education "not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it's coming from the state."
On the subject of global warming, Ernst has stated: "I don't know the science behind climate change, I can't say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it's manmade or not", and believes that any regulatory role by the government to address it needs to be "very small." Ernst has proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and criticized its interpretation of the Clean Water Act as applied to farms. In a Republican primary debate in May 2014, Ernst said she would have voted against the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and stated her view that the Clean Water Act is damaging for business. Ernst has expressed her opposition to cap-and-trade. She supported President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords in 2017.
In January 2014, Ernst warned that Agenda 21, a 1992 United Nations voluntary action plan for sustainable development, could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place. During the general-election campaign, Ernst moderated her tone, saying: "I don't think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers ... I think there are a lot of people [who] follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans."
In June 2018, Ernst said of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, "He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet."
In June 2019, Ernst confirmed she had spoken with President Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler when they were in Council Bluffs on limiting the EPA's issuing of small refinery waivers, saying President Trump had kept his promise but that the "EPA has a harmful habit of handing out small refinery waivers like candy â€” doing so behind closed doors, with no congressional oversight."
Politico described Ernst as a "a strong supporter of the ethanol industry."
Ernst speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on February 26, 2015
In 2013, Ernst said Congress shouldn't bother to pass laws "that the states would consider nullifying", referring to what she describes as "200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights." Courts have consistently ruled that nullification is unconstitutional. During the 2014 Senatorial general election, the Ernst campaign argued that she did not support nullification, and that "her comments on it were about encouraging Iowans to send her to Washington to pass good laws."
She opposed the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
Regarding the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction, Ernst stated: "We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in, however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the intelligence that was operated on. I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction. My husband served in Saudi Arabia as an Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area." After criticism from Iowa Democrats and some commentators, Ernst then issued a clarifying statement in which she stated that she did not mean to suggest that Iraq had WMD at the time of invasion, but rather that Iraq had had WMDs in their past which they used, and that her point was that "we don't know exactly what happened to those weapons."
When asked whether she supports the limited airstrikes conducted in Iraq in August 2014, Ernst said: "What I can say is what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer and perhaps we wouldn't have this situation today."
In February 2016, Ernst criticized the Obama administration's ISIS strategy as ineffective.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Ernst said that she was sexually harassed in the military, stating that "I had comments, passes, things like that" which she was able to stop, and said she will support removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command.
On February 16, 2017, Ernst condemned the behavior of Russia as "totally unacceptable" and said President Trump would be needed in leading the US to "show strength against Vladimir Putin" during a call with reporters. In July 2018, Ernst stated that she would proceed with caution if the US collaborated with Russia to form "a way we can partner and put a lid on Iran" and that she did not believe " Russia would ever be a true friend or ally to the United States of America." She cited North Korea as an example of a country where the US should cautiously work with leadership to develop "a resolution where the world becomes a safer place" if possible. Following the 2018 Russia-United States summit later that month, Ernst stated her hope that President Trump "delivered a strong message behind closed doors that Russia will continue to be punished for their illegal annexation of Ukraine in 2014, their abhorrent support for the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and their aggressive actions in U.S. domestic policy" and added that she was hopeful Trump had talked with Putin about the role of Russia in the Balkins amid Kosovo's continued threats by the hybrid warfare tactics of Russia in Serbia.
In April 2018, following the missile strikes against Syria carried out by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, Ernst stated that she was "uncomfortable going forward" in the event that President Trump wanted to commit more American troops there, citing the US presently having "an effort to fight against ISIS in the region" as the main focus. In December, after President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops in Syria, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a letter expressing concern for the move and their belief "that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia."
In June 2018, Ernst stated her disagreement with President Trump's decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea and questioned why they would be suspended given their legality. In July, Ernst advocated for the United States continuing military exercises in South Korea in the event that talks between the US and North Korea did not continue.
In March 2018, Ernst voted to table a resolution spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee that would have required President Trump to withdraw American troops either in or influencing Yemen within the next 30 days unless they were combating Al-Qaeda. In November 2018, following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Ernst stated that Saudi Arabia was "great strategic partner" but that Congress should consider a legislative response due to the commitment of the United States to human rights and the rule of law. Ernst furthered that President Trump should become involved "if there are indicators coming from those intelligence agencies". In December, Ernst warned against a resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen possibly complicating peace talks in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia should be punished for Khashoggi's death but that "those consequences are I see as right now are separate from the discussion of the Saudis and their actions in Yemen engaging the Houthis."
In July 2019, Ernst was one of sixteen Republican senators to send a letter to Acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin encouraging them to work with them to prevent a continuing resolution "for FY 2020 that would delay the implementation of the President's National Defense Strategy (NDS) and increase costs" and that the year long continuing resolution suggested by administration officials would render the Defense Department "incapable of increasing readiness, recapitalizing our force, or rationalizing funding to align with the National Defense Strategy (NDS)."
In October 2019, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a bipartisan letter to President Trump calling on the president to "urge Turkey to end their offensive and find a way to a peaceful resolution while supporting our Kurdish partners to ensure regional stability" and opining that leaving Syria without installing protections for American allies endangers both them and the US itself.
Ernst is a gun owner. She has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA endorsed her during the 2014 election stating "In contrast to anti-gun Bruce Braley, Joni Ernst is committed to protecting the Second Amendment and will continue to oppose all attempts to ban lawfully-owned firearms and magazines. She will stand strong against President Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control agenda." Since 2014, Ernst has received $3,124,273 in financial support from the NRA.
Ernst has expressed her support for allowing law-abiding citizens to "freely carry" weapons but abide by rules against carrying in public buildings like schools. In February 2013, Ernst co-sponsored a resolution addressing "the Iowa General Assembly's refusal to recognize or support any statutes, presidential directives, or other regulations and proclamations which conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and which are expressly preempted by the rulings of the United States Supreme Court". She has also received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association for her support of gun-rights issues.
In response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Ernst said "Our prayers are with the lives lost, those injured, and their loved ones in this senseless act of violence in Las Vegas."
In October 2017, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to sign a letter to acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) Thomas Brandon requesting that the bureau review an Obama administration decision on bump stocks with the belief "that this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced."
Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Ernst stated that mental illness was the "root cause" for many mass shootings. Ernst also was a cosponsor of the NICS Denial Notification Act, legislation developed in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that would require federal authorities to inform states within a day of a prohibited person attempting to buy a firearm failing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
In January 2019, Ernst was one of thirty-one Republican senators to cosponsor the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill introduced by John Cornyn and Ted Cruz that would grant individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state the right to exercise this right in any other state with concealed carry laws while concurrently abiding by that state's laws.
Ernst indirectly endorsed Paul Ryan's partially privatized Medicare model in a 2011 Iowa Senate vote. According to an August 2014 article in The Gazette, she has not laid out a detailed plan for Medicare reform.
Ernst supports repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) saying that it is "an additional tax of $1.2 trillion on the American people over the next decade and I believe we need to eliminate Obamacare but replace it with free market alternatives." She voted for all three versions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 that came up for the Senate during the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
In 2012, Ernst answered "Yes" when asked if she would support legislation that would "nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement [it]."
In August 2018, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to cosponsor a bill amending federal law to add a guarantee on the availability of health insurance to Americans including those with pre-existing conditions regardless of the outcome of a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act filed by Republican-controlled states.
In November 2015, Ernst said the U.S. should halt the immigration of Syrian refugees, calling for a "thorough vetting process", and commenting that President Obama did not have "a clearly communicated and comprehensive strategy".
In June 2018, Ernst, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to United States Defense Secretary James Mattis of their being "deeply troubled by the department's decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases" and expressing the view that dispatching "twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel" before urging Mattis to maintain the military lawyers within the military justice system.
In July 2018, Ernst was one of thirty-one Republican senators to submit a resolution endorsing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and opining that its abolition "would allow dangerous criminal aliens, including violent and ruthless members of the MS-13 gang, to remain in communities in the United States."
In January 2019, during the 2018â€“19 United States federal government shutdown that resulted after President Trump demanded 5.7 billion toward a border wall, Ernst told reporters that she would "tend to agree that not all areas of our border need a physical barrier" and that the US would not need a barrier in areas "adequately patrolled by Border Patrol agents", with "technology to monitor those areas without having a physical barrier", and if agents could "adequately respond in a timely manner to illegal border crossing".
Relationship with Steve King
Ernst's relationship with Steve King, a House Representative known for his racist rhetoric and support for far-right politicians, has stirred controversy. In 2016 when King faced a primary challenge for his House seat, Ernst endorsed him, saying he "stands strong for life and liberty." When King stirred controversy in 2017 by saying "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and by supporting European far-right politicians, Ernst said she did not condone King's behavior but she would not ask for his resignation. In 2017, the Des Moines Register wrote a scathing editorial against King, which criticized Ernst for endorsing him in the past and not condemning him. In 2018, she appeared with King at a rally in his district after King had endorsed a Canadian politician with neo-Nazi ties. In 2019, amid extensive criticism of King by Republican politicians after King made controversial remarks about white supremacy, Ernst rebuked him. The New York Times wrote that Ernst's belated distancing to King might harm her 2020 re-election efforts, as she previously "had spent years embracing Mr. King." Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, condemned the belated response by Ernst, describing it as "hypocrisy" for her to condemn him only weeks after campaigning with him and when his views had been well-known for a long time. The editorial board of the Des Moines Register questioned why it took national condemnation for Ernst to rebuke King.
Ernst has said she believes marriage is a "state issue." She co-sponsored a failed bill to amend the Iowa constitution to have marriage legally defined as between one man and one woman. She opposes same-sex marriage.
Ernst is pro-life, believing that life begins at conception. She voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa Senate in 2013 and has said that she would support a federal personhood bill. On October 31, 2019, Ernst voted in a 12-10 party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the nomination of anti-abortion attorney Sarah Pitkyk to the Senate for confirmation to the federal bench. Pitlyk defended Iowaâ€™s six-week abortion ban, one of the earliest pre-viability bans. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, defendants' attorney Pitlyk equated hormonal birth control with abortion, arguing that providing employees birth control coverage as mandated in the Affordable Care Act requires employers to â€œcooperate in the destruction of human life.â€ She also repeatedly defended Planned Parenthood smear-campaign fake video producer David Daleiden. The nonpartisan American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously found Pitlyk "Not Qualified" to serve as a federal judge.
When File 79 was up for a vote in the Iowa Senate, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, Ernst expressed concerns that the drug "would ultimately end up in the hands of minors."
In 2018, as Trump imposed tariffs as part of his trade policy and other countries responded in kind, Ernst said she was willing to give the president some leeway but worried about the impact on farmers. In May 2019, amid a trade war between the United States and China, Ernst said she did not like tariffs but that the "president's way of negotiating ... brings people to the table." She said that Iowa farmers are "disappointed" but that they recognize "that China is the one that is forcing this."
In January 2018, Ernst was one of thirty-six Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st Century. In August 2018, Ernst warned that failure to finish trade deals would "reflect negatively upon our Republican candidates" and advocated for completing NAFTA and continuing to work with the European Union.
In July 2019, Ernst accused Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of "slow-walking" the passage of a North American trade agreement and stated that she believed there was enough support in the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate to ratify the agreement: "By and large, Americans think it's a good way to go."