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'I am a survivor:' Emotional Sen. Ernst talks about divorce during town hall

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst fields questions Wednesday morning during a Cedar Falls town hall meeting. (Thomas Nelson/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst fields questions Wednesday morning during a Cedar Falls town hall meeting. (Thomas Nelson/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)
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CEDAR FALLS — During a town hall meeting Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst spoke through tears while fielding questions about recent public reports of her divorce.

Ernst, 48, took questions about allegations she was physically abused by her now-ex-husband, Gail Ernst.

“What happened in our private life has now become public consumption,” she said. “I am a survivor.”

Ernst’s divorce was announced in August. She said she thought records containing allegations of turmoil in the relationship would remain sealed, but were the subject of news articles this week.

“I would love to point the finger and say ‘Somebody screwed up, somebody leaked,’ but they’re out there and now I will deal with that. But what I want people to understand is that I am the same person as I was last week,” she said through tears. “You just know more about what’s inside of me now.”

Tuesday, a judge resealed some of the court documents.

“I fully believe that survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don’t want to share those stories, or are not ready to share those stories,” Ernst said. “Unfortunately I have been forced to share my story.”

Ernst said she’s passionate about getting the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized.

“We have to modernize it, we have to reauthorize it,” she said. “It was allowed to expire last fall and that shouldn’t have happened.”

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A skeleton crowd was in attendance at the University of Northern Iowa’s Lang Hall as a snowstorm dropped several inches outside.

Most of the questions from the audience focused on the government shutdown.

“We need to see the government shutdown end,” Ernst said.

Ernst was set to fly back to Washington on Wednesday evening to cast her vote on a bill in the Senate that could end the shutdown but is not likely to gain support from Democrats because it included money for a border wall.

Still, Ernst is hopeful the “compromise bill” bill will be passed.

“People are very anxious,” she said. “Let’s move the bill. Let’s see if it works. It provides something for everyone, but not everyone is going to be happy.”

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