Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who is seeking reelection in 2020, finds herself in a difficult position. Ernst is a GOP incumbent in a swing state that went to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but to President Donald Trump in 2016 — and she needs those swing voters but is also fearful of offending notoriously thin-skinned Trump supporters. Ernst’s political challenges were illustrated this week at a townhall event in Templeton, Iowa, when she was confronted by an angry voter, Amy Haskins, who was clearly outraged over the Ukraine scandal.
Ernst has yet to call Trump out over the reason why he is facing an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives: a July 25 phone conversation in which he tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. And Haskins was angry over not only that phone conversation, but also, Trump asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate the Bidens.
Haskins demanded to know, “Where is the line? When are you guys going to say, ‘Enough’ and stand up and say, ‘You know what, I’m not backing any of this?’…. You still stand there silent, and your silence is supporting him.”
Haskins’ comment inspired a round of applause at the town hall. And the Iowa resident continued, “You didn’t pledge an oath to the president. You pledged it to our country. You pledged it to our Constitution.”
Ernst gave Haskins a vague answer, responding, “I can say, ‘Yay, nay,’ whatever — the president is going to say what the president is going to do. It’s up to us as members of Congress to continue working with our allies, making sure that we remain strong in the face of adversity.”
Haskins responded, “I beg your pardon, but all of our allies, he is pushing aside. He’s making fun of them on Twitter.” And Haskins described Ernst’s response as a “non-answer answer.”
Trump, during a recent United Nations event, implied that the government whistleblower whose complaint set off the Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry should face execution for treason along with those who helped the whistleblower. Although Ernst wouldn’t say anything directly critical of Trump, she did tell Haskins, “Whistleblowers should be protected” — to which Haskins responded, “Our president shouldn’t be threatening them, and he also should not be encouraging other countries to investigate his political rival.”
Ernst is among the incumbent GOP senators who is considered vulnerable in 2020 and whose seat the Democratic National Committee (DNC) would love to flip — along with Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona. In order to achieve a Senate majority next year, Democrats will need to flip at least four GOP-held seats while keeping all of the seats they are defending.
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