What happens when an elected Republican official spends all their time in a right-wing bubble? They start to sound like Sen. Joni Ernst, who seemed totally unprepared to answer some basic and common questions about her policy and political goals in an Iowa Press interview on Friday.
The most newsworthy moment that came from the taping with a trio of top Iowa reporters was Ernst admitting that she would back a lame-duck Supreme Court nomination at the end of this year, even if President Donald Trump was defeated and even if Senate Republicans lost their majority.
As most will remember, that runs directly counter to her position in 2016, when she argued, “We must wait to see what the people say this November.” Now, Ernst wants to ram through another Trump nominee even if the people do speak and reject Trump and herself.
That wildly hypocritical position was bad enough, but what was also astonishing in Ernst’s answer (and the rest of the interview, really), was just how poorly she explained her position. Take two minutes (really, just take two minutes) and watch her response as the reporters press her on a nomination.
The Joni Ernst SCOTUS comments are much more stunning in the actual video. Watch the 2 minutes. Ernst's reasoning for a lame-duck confirmation is simply that Republicans control the White House and Senate pic.twitter.com/scuuphSEXx
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) July 17, 2020
“We have a Republican-held Senate and a Republican president, so I don’t see there would be any difference between the president and the Senate on a selection of a Supreme Court justice,” Ernst said, noting 2016 was different because there was a Democratic president.
Pressed several times on the matter, Ernst repeatedly returned to the simple argument that Republicans control the White House and Senate, and that’s why they should get to appoint a new justice, even if voters outright reject them in November.
“It is a lame-duck session, I would support going ahead with any hearings that we might have, and if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I would be supportive of that … even though it’s a lame-duck session, it is still a Republican president and still a Republican Senate,” Ernst added.
Now, Ernst is probably correct in the brazenness of Republicans’ intentions. Mitch McConnell has already stated he’d back hearings if an opening happened in the election year. This, though, to our knowledge anyway, is the first time a Republican senator has said they’d go through with it during a lame-duck session, even if their party lost the election.
But this is the way you might expect a political scientist or cable news analyst to explain it. Ernst was simply describing the raw power politics of it, not giving an actual explanation as to why it would be justified for her to support a lame-duck nomination, especially after her stance in 2016.
It’s obviously a very difficult position to defend, but you’d think Ernst could at least give it a try.
Say the upcoming Supreme Court decisions are too important to leave it open. Claim voters intended this because of the attention on the last Supreme Court seat opening during the election. Talk about how proud you are of the conservative judicial appointments you’ve already made. Sidestep it completely by saying you’re not going to comment on a hypothetical, especially if it involves someone dying. Make something up about the “Biden rule.” Anything!
Nope. Instead, it was just “Republicans are in charge, so there.” And this is a senator in the middle of a very challenging reelection race.
But while Ernst’s Supreme Court comments received the majority of press attention (including from us), what was perhaps even more stunning was how ineptly she described her health care position, or the lack thereof.
The great albatross around Republicans’ neck in the 2018 election was their constant past votes attempting to overturn the Affordable Care Act, with no backup plan, especially when it came to covering preexisting conditions. Ernst has been hammered on the topic repeatedly, and a bill she signed onto didn’t guarantee the same level of coverage for people with preexisting conditions as the ACA does.
So, you’d think after all this time she’d have a good answer, right?
When asked about the very real possibility that the ACA is ruled unconstitutional by the Trump-backed Texas lawsuit, Ernst struggled to explain her vision of what would happen next.
“I think it’s very important to continue supporting those that have preexisting conditions or very complicated health histories,” Ernst said, citing her concern for her family members who have diabetes.
But when it came to what her plan was, this is all she could muster.
“I would back a plan that would support using federal and state dollars, set aside, to help those with the most difficult of medical needs,” she explained. “…There are a number of plans, and we will go back and revisit those plans, but the difficulty is bringing everyone together in consensus on the appropriate plan to move forward. But I think understanding that we are facing a very hard reality with a Supreme Court decision, making sure we can get everyone into a consensus and ready to act quickly, and hopefully the House will be ready to support what we are able to do on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.”
Now, if you’re an Iowan with a preexisting condition, how comfortable would you feel from those statements?
Some federal and state dollars are going to be set aside to “help those with the most difficult of medical needs.” What on earth does that mean? Money set aside for insurance options, or just funds to help some folks cover various medical costs? Who does those with “most difficult of medical needs” cover? If you have asthma, do you lose your coverage under Ernst’s plan?
And then Ernst acknowledges the difficulty that D.C. will have on agreeing on a plan, which she notes will require everyone to “act quickly.” Ernst also frames it as the House will have to accept whatever Senate Republicans come up with.
So, Ernst is offering an extremely vague solution to Americans losing preexisting conditions coverage, which would need to move incredibly fast through a deadlocked Congress. It’s almost like Republicans never should have advanced a lawsuit to overturn the ACA in the first place, especially when they clearly have no post-ACA plan for people’s health care.
There’s other odd parts of the interview, like how Ernst is always saying she’ll “discuss” something, instead of laying out her plan. The Iowa Democratic Party picked up on that in this mashup:
Did you catch Sen. @JoniErnst’s latest embarrassment on Iowa Press?
— Iowa Democrats (@iowademocrats) July 20, 2020
And then there was the part where she bizarrely suggests that some day military bases who drop their Confederate general names will have to be renamed again because some in the country will say the new person it’s named after didn’t treat their grandmother right or didn’t go to church enough.
Ernst developed this aura around her of a gifted campaigner during her 2014 bid, but it’s increasingly clear that was based too much on her initial “Squeal” ad. Having a set, coherent answer on health care policy, which always polls as the most important issue for Iowans, should be the absolute bare minimum for a senator after nearly six years, but Ernst doesn’t even have that.
With less than four months until the November election, Ernst seems utterly unprepared to defend her record or lay out a vision for her second term.
by Pat Rynard
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