Government

Ernst at town hall says she fears voter backlash if trade issues are not resolved quickly

INDEPENDENCE — Farmers are nervous about escalating trade tensions, and unless President Donald Trump makes progress, Sen. Joni Ernst fears a backlash at the ballot box.

“I absolutely do” fear voters will punish the president’s party in the midterm elections in November, the Iowa Republican said after a town hall meeting Wednesday at Independence High School. “I think that it’s critical we get these things done now.”

Ernst’s town hall meeting attracted more than 100 people — at least three times as many as turned out for a similar meeting in Fayette earlier this summer.

“I think a lot of that is trade and tariffs,” she said. “I think a lot of people are concerned about that.”

But it wasn’t only trade that was on participants’ minds. She fielded questions about health care and mental health, school violence and gun control, tax changes and the difficulty the GOP is having enacting its agenda despite control of the White House, Senate and House.

Asked about “anti-Trumpers” and infighting among Republicans, Ernst acknowledged that image “is out there, and the media does a really wonderful job playing up the fact that many of us have differing opinions.”

Responding to a “lifelong Republican” who voiced concern that the GOP seems to have turned its back on opposition to deficit spending, tariffs and closer ties to Russia, Ernst agreed it’s time “to get back to traditional Republican values.”

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Ernst, who earlier in the week told producers in northwest Iowa that she has the president’s ear on agriculture issues, said she differs with him on a number of issues.

At the same time, she appreciates the access she has to the president.

“We do visit on phone, and I do actually get to see him at the White House,” Ernst said. “I can voice concerns to him. He may not appreciate sometimes what I am saying.

“I will support him when he needs to be supported in things that are really beneficial to Iowa,” she said. “I do push back … There’s probably no president I would agree with 100 percent.”

Trade policy is one of those areas. Ernst appreciates that Trump is pushing back on China, but is concerned at the cost it could inflict on Iowa.

“Farmers are very nervous right now. There’s a lot of angst out there” among the farm community and rural bankers, she said.

Trump still has leverage with the Chinese, she said, but China is “running out of things to tariff. The Chinese are feeling the hurt.”

“Hopefully, we can get some of these trade deals done in short order,” Ernst said, adding that she might have tackled them one at a time rather than all at once.

She is encouraged by progress on trade policies with the European Union and predictions that North American Free Trade Agreement reforms will be completed before Labor Day.

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“We want trade, not aid,” she said referring to Trump’s proposed $12 billion assistance package for farmers. “So now’s the time to step up and get these deals done.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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