As more scrutiny is aimed at what some Senate Republicans were saying about the coronavirus pandemic behind closed doors early on in the crisis, a video obtained by Starting Line offers up a look at how Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst discussed the initial stages at a private campaign event with Iowa voters. While meeting supporters in Muscatine in late February, Ernst praised President Donald Trump’s preparations, calling his early actions “the absolute right thing” and “absolutely appropriate,” and that overall he “has done quite well.” She also blamed Democratic leaders for trying to “stir up panic.”
During a Feb. 29 campaign event in Muscatine, Ernst spoke with a room full of mostly older supporters.
When asked by an attendee about the methods the U.S. government was taking to combat COVID-19, Ernst first expressed her concern for how poorly China managed the containment of the virus before praising Trump’s early travel restrictions.
“I think they have widely under-reported what’s going on in their country, and which really jeopardizes every other country that has interactions with China,” Ernst said. “But with our administration, I think they, they did exactly what they needed to do.”
Ernst noted that some were critical of the travel bans when they first happened, but that she felt they turned out to be the proper response. Most of her comments on Trump’s actions seemed to focus largely on that travel ban, as well as quarantining Americans coming back on an infected cruise ship.
Around that same time in late February, it was becoming increasingly clear that preparations for the virus’ spread in the United States was going to be lacking. As many news outlets were already reporting, the CDC had problems with the test they were developing to detect the virus, which was setting back the country’s preparations.
“I think that the response by the administration has been absolutely appropriate,” Ernst added later.
Ernst also offers up what could be seen as varying levels of warning about the seriousness of the coronavirus.
“The coronavirus, it is really significant, folks,” she began her answer to the man’s initial question.
Ernst later compared aspects of it to the flu, suggesting general hygiene precautions would help protect many people.
“It’s tricky because we don’t understand the coronavirus,” Ernst said. “We don’t understand it, but it is still — it’s the flu. It is a variation of the flu. So what we have to do is make sure that we are washing our hands. I mean, it’s so simple folks. The hygiene aspect of it, washing our hands. If you are prone to, susceptible to flu, you know, just take the proper precautions. And, you know, I shake hands, and, you know, I love to hug people. I’ve got a cough, so I’m trying not to shake as many hands. But just taking proper precautions is really, really important, and you know we’re tracking it.”
That was more personal advice to attendees, and she didn’t really get into any discussion of what more government leaders should do as it spreads. Of course, scientists and health officials were warning long before this time that COVID-19 was much more dangerous than the common flu. Ernst repeated a line similar to this in a press call in early March.
At one point, Ernst pushed back against criticism over the Trump Administration’s oversight of the CDC and funding levels.
“So under Republican leadership, we’ve actually increased funding to CDC and the NIH,” Ernst said. “Roy Blunt and I talk about this all the time because the NIH has a lot of grant dollars. Very large grant dollars that go to the University of Iowa, and those are things that I track. So, we have a lot of dollars that are going into research, and that’s with this administration and this Republican-led senate.”
Ernst mentions an AP report calling Democrats’ claims false, but the interesting thing about it is that Trump has tried to cut CDC funding in every one of his budgets, it’s just that Congress overrode those budget proposals each time. A week and a half after Ernst’s event, Trump’s budget director even stuck to Trump’s latest proposal to cut CDC funding in the 2021 budget. So, Trump has tried to slash the CDC’s budget, he’s just failed.
And what Ernst also fails to mention is that she herself voted against several appropriations bills that allocated funding to the CDC (HR 244, vote; HR 1625, vote), though those were very large pieces of legislation that incorporated many subjects.
Finally, Ernst slams Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over their criticism of Trump, suggesting they’ve blamed the coronavirus itself on Trump and are now attempting to spread panic.
“I mean, you’re going to see Chuck Schumer strike, and Nancy Pelosi,” Ernst said. “Basically they’ve said that the coronavirus is the fault of the president … And now, they’re the ones trying to stir up the panic, yeah.”
by Pat Rynard
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