From the onset of COVID-19 in the United States, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst largely has taken her cues on how to respond to the pandemic from the Trump Administration, even when the facts on the ground did not back up Republican talking points.
Ernst, rarely one to criticize the president, has praised Trump for his handling of the public health crisis and often blames China for the pandemic rather than evaluating the missteps that have taken place since Jan. 21 when the virus was first confirmed in the U.S. (China has been a punching bag for President Trump throughout the pandemic and he never has admitted fault for mistakes in the federal government’s response.)
Here are six examples of how Ernst and Trump have aligned on coronavirus messaging.
Feb. 28, 2020: Campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina
Trump: “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus … One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over … And this is their next hoax.”
Feb. 29, 2020: Ernst campaign event in Muscatine
Ernst: “Basically they (Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) have said the coronavirus is the fault of the president. I don’t know. It’s just absurd, everything is absurd — and they (the Trump Administration) acted swiftly. I don’t know what’s wrong with acting swiftly. I think the administration has done quite well. … Now they’re the ones that are trying to stir up the panic.”
May 8, 2020: Trump interview on “Fox and Friends”
Trump: “It should never have happened. It should have been stopped at the source by China. I did a very early — a very, very early stoppage of Chinese people coming in when I saw what was going on.”
All over the World the CoronaVirus, a very bad “gift” from China, marches on. Not good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
April 29, 2020: Ernst Facebook Live town hall
Ernst: “Some people have suspected that it was either the Wuhan lab or those Chinese wet markets that started this current pandemic. We want to make sure that we are not sending taxpayer dollars in China and supporting those types of inhumane and unsanitary procedures. We could go on and on and on, of course, about China.”
— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) May 15, 2020
Attacking Obama Administration
Ernst and President Trump have taken slightly different tacts when it comes to criticizing the Obama Administration on its handling of public health emergencies. Trump has focused attention on his predecessor’s handling of the swine flu while Ernst has continued to bring up the Ebola outbreak Obama dealt with during his second term.
Biden got failing grades and polls on his clueless handling of the Swine Flu H1N1. It was a total disaster, they had no idea what they were doing. Among the worst ever!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020
Biden/Obama were a disaster in handling the H1N1 Swine Flu. Polling at the time showed disastrous approval numbers. 17,000 people died unnecessarily and through incompetence! Also, don’t forget their 5 Billion Dollar Obamacare website that should have cost close to nothing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Rather than take hold of President Trump’s comparison of the coronavirus pandemic to the swine flu, in a July 5 interview on CNN Ernst did not explain why she described President Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak (which killed two people in the United States) as “failed leadership” but has not been critical of Trump. (As of Sunday morning at least 154,912 people in the U.S. have died due to COVID-19.)
Dana Bash: “Is the president, right now, exhibiting failed leadership?”
Ernst: “No, I think that the president is stepping forward and we have Vice President Mike Pence that is spearheading the task force efforts on the coronavirus. Understanding where this came from, how it developed — of course the pushback that we got from Democrats when we did try to shut down travel from some of those hotspots — it was an extremely difficult environment to operate. We know different today than we did at the beginning of the spread of the virus and we should continually learn from those efforts and make sure that we are doing the right thing by moving our nation forward.”
Comparing COVID To The Flu
March 9, 2020: Trump on Twitter
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
March 8, 2020: Ernst interview on WHO-TV
Ernst: “As the governor and I were talking before this segment, we actually see more deaths here in the United States from the flu.”
Liability Protections For Businesses
May 7, 2020: Trump in the Oval Office
Trump: “I think you have to have something to do with liability for COVID. Because you can’t have a restaurant … and somebody leaves, and they say, ‘Oh, I’m going to sue them,’ because they caught the plague. And now, whether he was guilty or not, the legal fees will drive him out of business. You can’t do that.”
May 26, 2020: Ernst on CBS “This Morning”
Ernst: “Working together, of course, we need to make sure that there are liability protections in place for those businesses that are getting things back up and going in our economy.”
Keeping Meatpacking Plants Open
In addition to long-term care facilities, outbreaks at meatpacking plants in Iowa have contributed significantly to coronavirus cases and deaths in the state. When new outbreaks were cropping up on a weekly basis in the spring, Republican leaders in Iowa and in the federal government were advocating for the packing plants to reopen despite complaints from workers and advocacy groups about an inadequate amount of personal protective equipment. Early in May, Iowa ranked No. 1 in its rate of meat industry-related infections.
Despite the statistics, Trump forged ahead with an executive order mandating meatpacking plants to stay open for the duration of the pandemic. Early in May, Ernst and several Republican leaders joined Vice President Mike Pence in Iowa to discuss supply chain issues related to the pandemic and the importance of keeping the packing plants open.
April 28, 2020: Trump executive order
“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans. However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of facilities’ production capacity. In addition, recent actions in some States have led to the complete closure of some large processing facilities. … Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”
April 27, 2020: Ernst letter to Vice President Mike Pence
“It is critical that plants continue to operate,” the letter, signed by Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, states. “Worker safety is paramount, and the packing industry is doing everything it can to ensure it and follow local, state and federal recommendations. We urge you to utilize every authority available to keep plants open, and to re-open closed facilities as it is possible to do so safely.”
Iowa feeds & fuels the world, so maintaining a strong food supply chain is critical to our state. That’s why we’re working at all levels of gov't to keep workers safe & plants up & running. Grateful to be w/@VP & @SecretarySonny & serve alongside @IAGovernor & @ChuckGrassley. pic.twitter.com/WgDpX3NnwY
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) May 9, 2020
By Elizabeth Meyer
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