Sen. Joni Ernst highlights military service, praises Trump’s derecho response in RNC speech

Source: By Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2020

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst spoke of her military experience and praised President Donald Trump’s response to the windstorm that struck Iowa two weeks ago during her Wednesday night Republican National Convention speech.

Ernst, a first-term senator from Red Oak, was elected in 2014 and is up for reelection this year. She is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate and the first woman Iowa has sent to the U.S. Senate.

“Service. It’s more than a word to me. It’s a mission. A way of life,” Ernst said.

Wearing a plaid shirt before a farm-rich background, Ernst described traveling to Cedar Rapids in 2008 while serving in the National Guard to assist after historic flooding left much of the city’s downtown underwater.

“We thought we had seen the worst. But, twelve years later, these same communities have faced an even more devastating disaster: the recent derecho storm,” Ernst said.

The derecho battered Iowa two weeks ago with winds that reached up to 140 mph, damaging buildings, toppling trees, destroying millions of acres of crops and leaving hundreds of thousands without power in the days that followed.

“If you don’t live in Iowa, you may not have heard much about it at first. While reporters here in the state were in the trenches covering the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane, most of the national media looked the other way. To them, Iowa is still just flyover country,” Ernst said.

Ernst credited Trump’s visit to Cedar Rapids eight days after the storm for helping draw attention to the disaster.

“When President Trump came to Cedar Rapids, the national media finally did too,” she said.

Trump flew into the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids where he stayed for about an hour, speaking with local elected officials, including Ernst. He did not tour damage from the storm.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds also focused on the derecho in her address to the convention on Tuesday. Reynolds praised Trump for his partial approval of a request for federal aid to deal with the storm’s damage. Portions of the request remain under review.

Ernst has been critical of the Trump administration’s small refinery waivers for oil companies, but in her speech she praised the president for allowing E15 fuel with a higher blend of ethanol to be sold year-round.

“That means more choices for you at the pump, and more jobs for farmers in the heartland,” she said. “This is something the Obama-Biden administration failed to do in eight years.”

Ernst said she worked with Trump to scrap President Barack Obama’s Waters of the United States rule, which she said “would have regulated about 97% of land in Iowa — in some cases, even puddles.” PolitiFact has previously found that claim to be “mostly false.” She also claimed former Vice President Joe Biden would “essentially ban animal agriculture,” which the Biden campaign quickly disputed.

“Once again in a response to Republicans starting with ‘can’t believe I have to say this’ but no, Biden/Harris will not ban farm animals,” Biden’s Iowa state director, Lauren Dillon, wrote on Twitter.

Ernst previously addressed the RNC in 2016, when she discussed her military experience and criticized then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s credentials on national security issues. Trump considered picking Ernst for vice president that year before deciding on Mike Pence.

Ernst faces a competitive reelection race against Democrat Theresa Greenfield this fall. A June Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Pollshowed Greenfield leading Ernst with 46% of likely voters to 43%, within the poll’s margin of error. Other polling has also shown a tight race.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith, in a call with reporters Wednesday ahead of Ernst’s speech, said the senator “is putting her party first” by speaking at the convention, “instead of being an independent leader for Iowans.”

Smith also criticized her for “claiming personal credit” for Trump’s partial approval of federal aid for the derecho. Trump approved public assistance for debris removal, utility repair and cleanup in 16 counties and individual assistance for homeowners in Linn County, but 26 other counties have yet to be approved for individual assistance. Reynolds said Tuesday it’s likely some of those counties won’t receive additional aid.

“Well, Sen. Ernst, if you’re going to try to claim credit for relief then you’ll be damn sure also to be responsible for every community that has been turned away,” Smith said.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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