VINTON — U.S. Sen Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, criticized comedian Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner this past weekend for “lashing out at people and making fun of them” while discussing civility in Washington, D.C., during a town hall meeting here on Tuesday.
“It maybe went too far,” Ernst said. “It is OK to roast people — they do that a lot at these correspondents dinners. But at what point does bullying become OK because you are an adult and you are on a public platform?”
Ernst responded to questions for about an hour before a crowd of about 100 people, including about 20 members of the broader community and a large contingent of an AmeriCorps chapter based at the old Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.
Wolf has taken heat for a series of jokes, especially about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, such as comparing her to Aunt Lydia, a dark character in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and suggesting she “burns facts and uses the ash to create the perfect smoky eye.”
“We have to step back and think about the way we are conducting ourselves,” Ernst said. “It’s got to get better.”
Ernst defended the perception of incivility in Congress as overblown by the media, and noted elected officials are quite civil in the halls of congress and work well together on most issues.
“Truly, most members of Congress do get along and do have productive discussions together,” she said. “A lot of us have really unusual partnerships throughout Congress. The media doesn’t often talk about that and I wish they would.
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“It’s not the big sexy topic in the room. It doesn’t sell newspapers. It doesn’t get people to watch their nightly news shows. What does catch attention is when people are really ugly to each other.”
Ernst called on President Donald Trump, who frequently attacks opponents on Twitter — such as calling Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, “very dishonest and sick” over the weekend — to set a more civil tone.
“The president needs to be a leader on this,” Ernst said. “He does throw out inflammatory remarks. But my responsibility is to lead by example. We can’t tell each other how to live our lives but we can certainly lead by example.”
Allen Steen, 64, of Walker, urged Ernst to force the issue of securing the nation’s borders from illegal immigration, including shutting down the government if necessary, and felt Ernst agreed with his point. Al Schafbuch, 78, a farmer from Dysart, urged Ernst to show resolve in tariff negotiations, noting threats to add tariffs have brought more people to the table, and he, too, believed Ernst had Iowa’s interests at the forefront.
Other topics Ernst addressed included:
Tariffs — Ernst said tariffs are a concern because they negatively affect agricultural markets. But she said threats of tariffs have forced countries to the table to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The president is a wheeler and a dealer,” Ernst said, noting the president has put tariffs on steel and aluminum for Japan, Russia and China, but delayed them for other countries such as China and Mexico.
Swamp Act — Ernst has introduced the Swamp Act, a proposal to decentralize federal offices away from Washington, D.C., where land value is cheaper, where bureaucrats are closer to the people they serve, and further from the influence of lobbyists.
“Those headquarters should be located in the states where their decisions are actually affecting their neighbors and their communities,” she said. “They would better understand the nation’s challenges, if they were out there with people they represent.”
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Tax changes — While Ernst criticized the nation’s deficit and debt and Congress for “not doing its job” in long-term budgeting, she defended a massive federal tax cut as a necessary step to grow the economy by encouraging employers to invest more in their employees.
North Korea — As Trump prepares to meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, Ernst said it is import to secure assurances directly from North Korea that it will denuclearize, even though the commitment has been made to South Korea.
“We don’t trust them,” Ernst said. “I don’t know we will ever be able to trust them, but the point is we look forward to trying to alleviate concerns about a nuclear North Korea.”
The process will be complicated to guarantee North Korea would uphold its end of any deal, she said. A treaty or agreement specifying conditions — including allowing any time, anywhere inspections and freedom of movement throughout the country — will be needed, she said. And it will likely need to be a third party because “they don’t trust us, either.”
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