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U.S. Senator Joni Ernst spoke to approximately two dozen constituents at a public town hall meeting Saturday, April 9 as the 34th stop on her annual 99-county tour.
During the one-hour question-and-answer session, Ernst covered a wide range of topics, including:
Care for Korean War vets
One speaker asked about what help can be given to Korean War veterans who are finding it difficult to get VA services.
Ernst explained that the difference may lie in the location of their service.
“There were a number of Korean era veterans that may have served, but they didn’t actually serve in Korea,” she said, “… those that served stateside obviously didn’t have the same level of status as those that actually went over and fought in Korea.”
The questioner said he was currently working with a Korean era vet to find answers.
Ernst asked for the questioner’s contact information so she could examine the issue in more detail.
“There might be programs that are available for him,” she said.
One immigration question dealt with a specific local issue.
Ron Smith of Lamoni explained that he and his wife had adopted a young girl from Liberia in 2009, but due to bureaucratic red tape in both countries, she has yet to step foot in America. The girl is now in nursing school.
Ernst asked for Smith’s contact information which she will forward to her office in Cedar Rapids that will work with the state department to investigate the problem.
Stock ownership by members of Congress
“It’s come to my attention that our U.S. Senators and Representatives are not subject to – I’ll just call it – insider trading,” one questioner said. “That is totally ridiculous!”
“Actually we are,” replied Ernst. “We are subject to the same laws that apply to every other person.”
She went on to cite a handful of incidents where members of Congress or candidates for office have been found guilty of improper stock trading or other financial transactions.
“They can only investigate if they’re suspected of breaking a law.”
Foreign investment in ag land
In response to a question regarding increased foreign investment in agricultural land, Ernst agreed that such investment is a problem
“I’m actually on an effort to try and prohibit foreign ownership of land in the United States,” said Ernst. “It’s really, really concerning.”
She cited a statistic that the Chinese own American land equivalent in size to the state of Tennessee.
One questioner asked if there was any bipartisan effort to remove Joe Biden from office.
“He’s in a position that things could really turn bad in a hurry,” he stated.
“The answer is no areas, no effort,” Ernst stated. “…The only way that really we could remove a president for wrong doing and one there has to be actual wrongdoing.”
“What is the definition of ‘wrongdoing”? the questioner asked.
“Yes, he’s made a lot of gaffes and a lot of missteps,” she said, “but to remove him would take the House leadership starting that process, and who’s in charge of the House, and they’re not going to remove him.”
Supreme Court justice Jackson
A questioner asked why Ernst did not vote for the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court when she supported the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
“They were able to satisfy my at least the questions that I had,” Ernst replied. And I asked the same set of questions of each of the nominees…. she could not answer some the questions… [such as] the definition of a woman.”
Ernst added she was concerned with Jackson’s record on lighter than average sentences for felons convicted of child pornography.
A questioner asked what Sen. Ernst was doing to stop the flow of over 7,000 people a day illegally into the United States along the Mexican border.
“Let me go back to the point I made earlier who has the majority in the House and the Senate,” said Ernst. “I am in a position as is every other person that believes we need to secure the southern border, in a position where there’s not a whole heck of a lot we can do.”
She went on to say she did not support President Biden’s plan to drop Title 42, a rule that prohibits entrance in the U.S. from any country where a communicable disease is present.
Some estimate the lifting of that provision will more than double the daily numbers of migrants crossing the southern border.
Cattle pricing bill
A questioner asked about the status of the bill addressing problems with cattle pricing authored by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley.
Ernst said the bill is up for a full committee hearing yet this session, but progress is slow.
“The way pricing is done down in the South is a lot different than the way it’s done here across the Midwest,” she said. “And the folks in Texas and Oklahoma and other states feel like we put them at a disadvantage… I don’t know that we will have enough traction to get it over the floor, the Senate, even get it out of committee.”
A questioner asked why prescription medicines cost much more in the U.S. than in other countries.
Ernst said she was a co-sponsor on Sen. Grassley bill that would lower the cost of prescription drugs.
She added the bill could have passed three years ago had Democrat sponsors not removed their support back then.
Now the Democrats are back on board with the bill and she hopes it will pass.
“It’s a good bill and it’s a bipartisan bill,” she said.
A follow-up question dealt with the price of insulin.
Ernst shared that her brother and sister are both Type I diabetics, so she is familiar with the struggles to pay for insulin.
Cost of presidential campaigns
One questioner blasted the negative effect the lack of campaign finance reform has had on American politics.
“We spent $14.6 billion campaigning for the presidency,” he said. “That’s $6 billion more than the entire state budget of Iowa.”
He added that the last campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Iowa cost $230 million.
The questioner also targeted the national debit.
“It took us 200 years to get to a $670 billion national debit – 1976 – that was 200 years,” he said. “Since 1977 we’ve gone from $670 billion to $30 trillion… and that’s for both Democratic and Republican administrations.”
“I didn’t really understand why the United States government doesn’t have a balanced budget,” replied Ernst. “We have a lot of foreign investment that comes in to keep us afloat. That’s the only way that we stay afloat. And we shouldn’t rely on other governments to give us money.”
She added several years ago she was a committee to modernize the way the U.S. does its budget and appropriations. They examined how other countries accomplished those tasks.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that could be agreed upon was maybe we could go to a bi-annual budget, which doesn’t solve anything… the problem was that there are so many people in Congress right now when we proposed our ideas, they’re okay with the way things are now… There’s only a handful of us that think we need to do things differently.”
One questioner asked about the investigation over Hunter Biden’s financial dealings in Ukraine and with China.
“I’m not on the judiciary [committee] any longer,” said Ernst, “so I can’t have access to a little more information… they are acknowledging now that yes, it is factual, but beyond that, I don’t know how it’s going to be handled.