DES MOINES — Scores of motorcycle riders had ideal conditions of partly overcast skies and 80-degree temperatures for Saturday’s fourth annual Roast and Ride put on by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
Ernst, a Red Oak Republican, was accompanied by a huge star-spangled and leather entourage that included Gov. Kim Reynolds and her husband, Kevin, on the 45-mile trek from Des Moines to Boone, where participants planned to feast on barbecue pork with all the fixings and political speeches.
The focus shifted from pageantry and patriotism to politics with Ernst and Reynolds delivering double-barreled criticism of the Democrats’ nominee for governor, Fred Hubbell.
Reynolds went first, ripping Hubbell for answering “absolutely not” when asked if he agreed with Iowa’s “best state” ranking from U.S. News & World Report.
“The man who wants to lead the state told the entire nation that Iowa is not the best place,” Reynolds told the enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 people, many who turned bright red under the blue skies and sunshine. “If you don’t think Iowa is the best place, then you just don’t know Iowa.”
Ernst called it “ludicrous” that Hubbell would deny Iowa’s No. 1 ranking.
“Iowa is it, folks, and I know Kim Reynolds will teach him a little lesson about the greatest state in the nation,” Ernst said.
Although she’s not on the ballot this year, Ernst promised to be active in the campaign, especially for Reynolds.
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“She’s a dear friend of mine and a great leader,” Ernst said. “I would not put the time and energy that I am going to put into this if she were not a great leader. I believe in her. I believe in what she stands for. She is everyday Iowa, and that’s what we need in the governor’s mansion.”
The first half of the Roast and Ride was launched at Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines by Travis Mills, an injured veteran from Maine who has a foundation that provides retreats and other assistance for veterans and their families. Ernst said the Mills foundation would be the recipient of the ride portion of Saturday’s fundraising event.
North Korea summit
Talking with reporters before heading north as a lead in the motorcycling portion of the festivities, Ernst said she “very excited” about the prospects in Singapore when President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their much-anticipated summit Tuesday.
“We have faced a nuclear North Korea for quite a while now. That is something we don’t want to face, and so the president is attempting to address that,” she said.
“Now, it’s a two-way street. The North Koreans have to want to play, as well, and so we hope that Kim Jong Un will step up to the plate, will visit with the president, and we will have some good results, hopefully.
“Again, we have to remind everyone, this is just a first step. This is a long road, but we hope that the North Koreans will be compliant.”
The first-term Iowa senator was less enthusiastic about the Group of Seven summit. The group consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. President Donald Trump has suggested allowing Russia, which was suspended from the Group of Eight in 2014, to rejoin.
“I haven’t spoken to the president about this. He kind of snuck up with his comments the other day,” Ernst said.
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Ernst said she thinks the United States and its allies with work through their current trade differences. But as far as a welcoming gesture to Russia, she said, “I don’t trust the Russians any further than we can throw them. And so I would have to think long and hard about that because I just don’t know that they would contribute the way that we would want them to contribute as the United States of America.”
EPA’s leader Pruitt
Ernst also was asked about prospects for the Trump administration to maintain its commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard and recent differences she and others have had with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. She told reporters that if Pruitt’s Senate confirmation vote was now instead of last year, she would be “hard-pressed” to back his EPA appointment.
“I would say that I appreciate what he did for Waters of the U.S. (rule) and some of the other regulatory relief, but I’ve got some real heartburn over the fact that he has been undermining the RFS, and I’ve called him a liar. What he put on paper to me, he is not standing by,” Ernst said.
“He’s very swampy, and we’re trying to drain the swamp, right?” she added.
“Even outside of the RFS, there are a lot of other transgressions out there that Scott Pruitt has had that the American taxpayer does not appreciate. So he’s got a long ways to go to repair any damage he’s done in our relationship, what little there was.”
Ernst was joined at the Boone leg of her Roast and Ride event by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who said Reynolds’ remarks convinced him to move to Iowa.
He praised Ernst for being able to project both toughness and kindness while being committed to her values.
He also praised Iowa’s other U.S. senator, Chuck Grassley.
“He may not be an attorney,” he said, “but he got you (Supreme Court Justice) Neil Gorsuch and a bunch of judges. He does it with a humility you don’t often see in politics.”