Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst gave several problematic answers in a recent Fox News interview, in which she watered down Turkey’s invasion in Syria, defended the president’s relationships with authoritarian leaders and parroted Republican talking points on impeachment.
Here are three takeaways from her interview with Neil Cavuto:
Excused Trump’s Affinity For Dictators
Cavuto asked Ernst what she thought of President Donald Trump’s willingness to work with and praise authoritarian regimes like those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un.
“I think this is President Trump’s way of approaching difficult situations, is by opening those avenues for us to have these very important discussions,” said Ernst. “And certainly, people like that, we don’t admire or respect them, but it does provide us opportunity to sit down, to discuss these issues and be able to find a path forward. If we’re not talking about it, we’re not going to find a path forward.”
The president has refused to accept the conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, choosing to believe Putin’s denials over the evidence he was presented. Last year, in the midst of negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Trump said he and Kim “fell in love” because of the dictator’s “beautiful letters.”
Dodged Questions On Impeachment
Since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially launched an impeachment inquiry in September, Ernst and most Republicans in Congress have towed the party line and dodged questions on whether soliciting assistance from a foreign country in a U.S. election is an impeachable offense.
When the White House released a memo of the now infamous phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, Ernst said in September Democrats always have been “determined to impeach President Trump” and she didn’t “see anything there.”
In the Fox interview Nov. 14, she maintained the same lines, despite mounting evidence that Trump wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.
“Everything that I have seen, everything that I’ve heard, the transcript that I read; I saw nothing that was an impeachable offense,” Ernst said. “So, we do anticipate that we will have action in the Senate at some point. And at that point I’ll be able to take a look at that information and evaluate as a jurist, but everything that I’ve seen so far coming out of the House, it seems very politically driven.”
Cavuto, however, pressed the senator on whether she thought Trump would care about corruption in Ukraine if he wasn’t trying to dig up damaging information on the former vice president.
Ernst: “Well, again, corruption is corruption. I don’t care who you are, where you are, if it exists, you need to find it.”
Cavuto: “Do you think the president would have been interested if it was anyone else but ostensibly someone who could be his opponent in the next election?”
Ernst: “Well, again, I think there are certain ties that will be explored. But, again, corruption is corruption … we have been talking about this for years and years and years. And Ukraine understands there’s a problem with corruption. We need to get to the bottom of it, they need to get to the bottom of it.”
Missed Opportunity In Erdogan Meeting
Ernst was among the senators invited last week to attend a meeting between Trump and the Turkish president, a meeting she said “bordered hostile” and was “tense, more than just a few times.”
According to Ernst, President Erdogan was unhappy when “we broached the subject of the Kurds and that they were our strategic partners.”
Last month, Trump said he would pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, leaving America’s Kurdish allies to fend off an insurgent Turkish military. Shortly after troops began leaving the area, the Trump Administration said Vice President Mike Pence had brokered a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds, though in reality it only was a five-day break in fighting that quickly broke down.
The abrupt change in American foreign policy in Syria has emboldened Erdogan in the region and caused security concerns for Europe as Turkey starts to send Islamic State detainees back to their home countries.
Instead of forcefully condemning the Turkish president, Ernst had this to say in her interview: “A number of other groups that we talked about … they named a number of those Kurdish groups as terrorists. We feel a little bit differently in those areas, but again, we decided to disagree and understand that we all have those complicated relationships.”
With a sly smile, Cavuto replied, “That’s a very diplomatic way of framing it.”
By Elizabeth Meyer